My name is Anna ‘banner’ Thomas and I was coined with this interesting middle name in 2013 when I was an Assistant Art Director on a British film called ‘Pride’. From this moment I was catapulted into a world of stories I had either never heard of before, or at least not the gritty details of such inspiring and powerful true moments in history. I moved on to films and television shows whereby it was my job to re-create a variety of incredible banners and placards, all voicing proud statements. I found myself suddenly becoming known in the industry as Anna ‘Banner’ as I went on to research and re-create the resourcefulness and messages from the Suffragettes, in the film with the same title. Then I read the script for ‘The Mercy’, and made banners wishing Donald Crowhurst luck in his voyage at sea. Most recently I have placed paintbrush to canvas to re-make Suez War protest banners in the second season of ‘The Crown’ and Live Aid banners for ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, about the life of Freddie Mercury. I too have developed original pieces for films such as ‘Bourne 5’ and ‘Bastille Day’, ‘Kings Charles III’ and a Subway sandwich commercial!
So how did I manage to get to this very point in my life, both professionally and personally? I have been writing and expressing myself with words for as long as I can remember. Around the age of sixteen I began jotting down my thoughts, my feelings and my emotions of what it meant to be me, Anna Thomas, a girl, becoming a proud gay woman in the world. My journey of self-expression, from 1997 to 2018, has travelled from ink to screen, from journal pages to 280 characters within the realms of all things social media. I started writing within a specific journal all those years ago, in an American school composition book and to date, at the age of 36, I am currently writing in my 42nd. To have been able to find my voice at such a young age meant that I was incredibly fortunate. I was able to continually express myself, finding out who I was, using words, drawings and through collage. Despite having never owned a “diary”, I did venture into exploring how I felt and how I reacted and responded to life and changes around me. Once I got to Richmond College, and The University of Hertfordshire I was creating text based pieces of art, from painting, and collaging to mono-printing and projecting on to screens. During those academic years I noticed my boundaries between personal and private writing, and making my words very public were slightly blurred into one. I found my self-expression a release and a sense of being proud of my journey and my experiences. I remember wanting to share almost everything, and from doing so opened a new way to communicate. I wanted to be heard. I wanted to be read. Ultimately I wanted to inspire, engage and connect with those around me, along with those at a distance.
In 2007 I self-published one collection of poetry entitled ‘Me, Myself and Him’. This title was loosely based on my Father leaving when I was a child, and to the man I believe exists within me. I spent hours and hours after work using the photocopier to create this first collection, and create a small stapled book. I sold this to everyone I came into contact with. This may have been the true moment that I felt as though writing was a form of therapy for me, and in viewing my work, also for others. New friendships and old deepened to another level, and I felt, as they did too, to those who related, that I was not alone and nor were my audience. I then turned my book into a small exhibition at what was then London’s first gay café, First Out in 2008. This was the start of my journals making their way directly into the public eye, as I scanned pages and pasted the contents on to canvases to be hung. My work slowly became larger in scale from this point. Over the years the continuation of endless streams of expression within my journals were keeping pace with my work in the film and television industry.
I worked on various television shows and films up until 2009, when ‘Nowhere Boy’ quickly became the project in which I was suddenly aware that I needed to pause. I was re-creating John Lennon’s teenage writings and drawings for the screen, and had also just produced the same for the likes of Dylan Thomas’ writing for ‘The Edge of Love’. I experienced difficulty balancing my work life with my home life in 2009 and decided that the best thing for me to do was to leave the film industry, so I could nurture my mental health. From this point I observed my writing even more and found patterns of behaviours, thoughts and expressions running through each and every page. I was reluctant but soon very engaged with attending counselling appointments and this changed my outlook on life and work as the years passed. And the years did indeed pass, as did the various jobs of mine, from being a Barista, a Gallery Assistant to working in retail. It was here, in 2013, that I was offered the role, to make banners, for a little film called ‘Pride’, and so I stepped back into the world of filmmaking. Given the multiple steps taken, with my poetry, prose, short stories and drawings, combined alongside tending to my mental health, I found myself in Ealing Studios, re-creating banners from the amazingly inspiring Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM). Words were being painted on 8 foot tall pieces of fabric, and over 29 foot wide sections of plastic. I had the opportunity to create my own original banners too. I had a workshop to myself for at least three months and I projected words on to hundreds of metres of fabrics, plastic sheets and cardboard. Everything seemed to just click together from then on.
I went on to ‘Suffragette’ and re-created a small collection of banners, and again was painting words on to metres of polycotton and calico. I remember having a moment where I paused and looked at the banner I was re-creating from so many years ago and I felt so proud and honoured, and felt so present. The journey of my own growth into a woman of today felt profoundly clear during this job. The determination, the optimism, the strength, the voices, and the fight that women experienced back then gave me goosebumps, just as this Processions project does today. I moved on to making banners, in Greek, for ‘Bourne 5’, and in French for ‘Bastille Day’, both set in the present day. Witnessing the difference in typeface and language flow on to these banners was intriguing and, at times, challenging. It is quite the test to purposely create an incorrect, rushed homemade banner, and there were lots on these two jobs. Many needed to look very individual from one another, and as if they hadn’t been clearly executed to precisely fit all the words on to the material. I also created a small number of hand-painted banners to wish Donald Crowhurst luck on his 1968 voyage around the world in his yacht. And in the past year I hand painted and re-created Suez War protest banners from 1956 for a scene in the second season of ‘The Crown’, and also re-created various fun and colourful banners for ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ that were used in 1985’s Live Aid concert.
The year is now 2018 and I have made banners and placards for eight feature films, so far, and I am still writing in my journals. I have been digitalising each and every page from the 42 composition books to date, and shall be putting together another collection of work, due for release at the end of 2019.
For this wonderful and important PROCESSIONS project, I shall be working on making a banner, whilst I am in New York over the next two months and walk with it in London or Cardiff on June 10th. This banner will essentially be a page taken from my most recent journal, expressing in a statement what it means, to me, to be a woman today, a proud gay woman of today still blurring the lines of private and public self-expression.