Ed Hall

Posted: February 2nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: interviews | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

banner: a flag or other piece of cloth bearing a symbol, logo, slogan or other message.


May Day march, London, 2008. Courtesy of Ed Hall

In the past, banners have been mainly used for processions in a religious context. Nowadays as the banners usually hang on the walls of churches, religious processions tend to fade away. You can still find some revival in the French region of Brittany with the so-called pardon. This kind of pilgrimage has some celtic origin and happens on the occasion of main religious celebrations such as the Assumption on the 15th of August. On the same day the unconventional bikers pardon takes place in Porcaro. Established in 1979 by abbot Prévoteau -a biker himself- in order to celebrate Fatima and the bikers’ guild, this event is now gathering 20 000 people each year in the small village of Brittany. Although quite different from the current social parades, pardons are also events involving people sharing a mutual cause or celebration.

According to Dr Myna Trustram, organisations in the UK that have a marching tradition have made banners for centuries in order to identify themselves. This includes trade unions, friendly societies, temperance groups, co-operative societies, Orange orders, suffrage, women’s and peace organisations and political parties, but also non-political organisations like churches, chapels and Sunday schools. Mines, mills, factories or messages are part of the traditional iconography.


May Day march, London, 2008. Courtesy of Ed Hall

London, Thursday 21 January. It is almost 11:00 AM and I have an appointment with Ed Hall, the famous banner maker. He has been designed and created banners for more than twenty years for ‘organisations committed to social and political causes‘. Some of his work is now among the Folk Archive and part of the British Council collection. An important retrospective of his banners has been displayed on the occasion of From One Revolution To Another, the show curated by Jeremy Deller and collaborators at the Palais de Tokyo in 2008. Nearly 40 of them were hanging in the gallery.

A little early on the schedule, I watch with an amused eye a typical Trafalgar Square scene: tourists taking snapshots of themselves with the four lion statues guarding Nelson’s Column. As expected, Ed is on time.

The following conversation took place at Maison Bertaux, a famous tea house à la Française in the presence of two cups of tea, an apple crumble and a giant chocolate éclair.

Tell me about yourself
I started work as an Architect in 1968 and I became involved with trade union work when my Department was threatened with closure under Margaret Thatcher. I became a trade union official and began to make posters and banners. In the last three years I have been able to exhibit work in some beautiful venues, including the Palais de Tokyo in Paris.
As an Architect I worked in the public sector, for Liverpool, Greenwich and Lambeth. My work was mainly housing, including at the old Tudor Dockyard in Woolwich and a large site of new houses in Brixton. I also designed a Health Centre and a small shopping mall.

What inspires you?
It started of with very basic trade union causes: people having proper conditions to work in, or political causes where people had been hurt by the police or forcedly imprisoned or have relatives who died in police custody. Although those causes have an impact on very few people, I think they are important causes. Anyone of us can get caught up in one of these incidents or trade union disputes.

How long does it take for you to make one banner?
The ones I am making at the moment which are combinations of sewing, appliqué work and painting are about a hundred hours for each banner. That does not mean to say working seven hours a day. I often start at seven and finish at eleven.


Procession, Deansgate’s Manchester, 5th July 2009.
Organised by Jeremy Deller for the Manchester International Festival
The Big Issue magazine is sold by homeless and vulnerably housed people to make them earn a legitimate income

What is a typical day of work?
I get up as early as I possibly can. The morning for me is the best moment. If I have to paint something or think hard about something, it is always in the morning. In the afternoon I try to do less demanding things like straightforward sewing, making the pose or sewing banners together but I think most people find that in the afternoon the motivation fails a little bit.

What are your projects?
Well I have been lucky in working on behalf of Jeremy Deller and other exhibition work. But my ordinary work is still producing trade union banners which I now have quite a backlog about two years! I am now trying to catch up with this backlog and complete the ones I have promised. And I have a long way behind.
The organisation called the British Council which has spent 75 years buying British artworks. The objective of the British Council is to spread British music, arts, culture in the wide world. They have a collection of paintings which they are showing at the Minsheng Art Gallery in Shanghai; I think as a fore runner to the forthcoming Expo 2010 taking place in Shanghai.
The British Council bought the Folk Archive which Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane have put together and which included some of my banners. And because it now belongs to the British Council, they are taking it to Shanghai. They have also asked me to provide other banners, about twenty of them which I believe will hang in an high space in the Minsheng Art Gallery.

How important is art in your life?
It is very important. I was an architect. I think the English are remarkably ignorant about design and the arts. I mean if you look at countries like France or Sweden where art seems to be part of their lives. In England it is completely separated, art is often ridiculed and people do not really value it very much. I think designing things and putting ideas into a visual form are very important.

Could you review your work in a critical way?
Some things I do were very successfully. There have been things I have done which have not worked very well. I admire painters like Diego Velázquez and Toulouse-Lautrec as they could draw hands, faces and hairstyle easily. I would just love to have that skill: drawing figures in an easy direct way. I would give anything to be able to have that skill!

What is your dream?
I have to say, I am in a very fortunate position. I love doing very prestigious things and that entrance banner on the Palais de Tokyo was a dream. How many people get the chance to have something they have made hanging in a big public gallery in Paris? If I can have any more of that kind of thing, that is my dream.


From One Revolution To Another, Palais de Tokyo, 26 Sept 2008 – 18 Jan 2009
Ana Lopez works with sex workers to demand trade union recognition and safety. This banner was used in Soho, Central London

Did you fulfill your childhood dreams?
The only way I can answer that is, if my life stops now I would be quite satisfied. I have no great unrealistic dreams. I am not gonna compose the Fifth Symphony or paint some day like Rembrandt. I think people must recognize their limitation and be realistic. I am not smug or self satisfied though. The last two or three years I have been extremely pleased about what was happening to me.

What do you see for yourself in ten years?
If people are working hard and producing things, well they like some recognition for  working hard and the things they have made, that people can enjoy and look at. If some more of the recognition took place, I would be extremely happy.

What epitaph on your grave?
There should be no sentimentality about people dying. When they are gone, they are gone, you know. Very few people in the world have never die because they left something so important that you could not say ‘Oscar Wilde is dead’ or ‘Toulouse-Lautrec is dead’ because they live on through their work. I think there must come a point when the last banner I made gets parade in public – and it might be hundred of years after I died! – but when the last banner is used in the street or whatever, then I will take this as the epitaph. (laughs)

Currently on view at the Minsheng Art Gallery, Shanghai: The Future Demands Your Participation
28 January – 21 March 2010
British Council

Jeremy Deller & Alan Kane, Folk Archive: Contemporary Popular Art from the UK, Book Works, 2005, 3rd edition, 2008


Hazel Edwards, Follow the Banner: An Illustrated Catalogue of the Northumberland Miners’ Banners, Carcanet Press, 1997
John Gorman, Banner Bright: an Illustrated History of Trade Union Banners, Penguin Books Ltd, 1986

Pump House: People’s History Museum, Manchester
The People’s Story Museum, Edinburgh