NHS paramedic Darren Hounsell is getting to know one of Swansea’s most unusual art works again – 33 years after he helped create it.
The 45-year-old father-of-two was among dozens of teenagers who sculpted a near-life size model of football superstar Diego Maradona in the mid-1980s.
Now, with the work about to go back on display at Swansea’s Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, the pair have got back together.
And Darren, from Gorseinon, hopes that fellow ex-classmates from the city’s former Penlan Comprehensive School will join him at the city centre gallery’s free-entry launch of its Swansea Stories exhibition this Thursday (note: Sept 26) from 6-9pm.
He said: “I hope they come along – it should be a lovely occasion to look back and help celebrate 50 years of Swansea as a city.
“It’s important that exhibits like this eye-catching Maradona can still be seen. The sculpture shows how young people from all sorts of backgrounds can be motivated to achieve special things.”
Darren plans to attend the exhibition launch with wife Sarah and their sons Alex, aged 17, and Jac, 12.
Darren himself was a 12-year-old growing up in Penlan in 1986 when pupils and teachers decided to depict the footballer at the height of his sporting powers.
The former dental and surgical technologist said: “He was a huge star at the time. He was all over the media that year as it was the Mexico World Cup – and he won the trophy with Argentina.
“I remember us all being told to stop working on whatever artwork we were doing and to concentrate on helping make this sculpture with chicken wire, paper and paste.
“I was among the youngest and, with Maradona standing on a table, I couldn’t reach his face and focused on helping to make his grass and boots.
“We were pleased that the real thing had muscular, chunky legs – that meant it was pretty straightforward to make the sculpture stand up.
“We had a good time building it – we all had our bits to do and we all contributed something.”
Darren recalls Maradona being displayed at school during an event for future pupils. He caught up with it two or three years later when a teacher took a group of boys to the Glynn Vivian where it had been displayed then placed in storage.
He said: “We didn’t think we’d see it again – we thought it’d be gone – so it’s great that it’s back out for the public to enjoy.”
In Swansea Stories, Maradona will be exhibited alongside works by world renowned artists such as Gwen John, Lucien Pissarro, Claude Monet and Barbara Hepworth.
Pupils who helped create him are welcome to attend the opening party, a drinks reception due to be opened by the Lord Mayor of Swansea Cllr Peter Black.
Exhibition officer Katy Freer said: “The city’s Swansea 50 celebrations have given us the perfect opportunity to put together the biggest collection display ever seen here.
“The gallery and the collection belongs to the people of Swansea and we want everyone to share their stories and memories when they visit the exhibition, or online, using the hashtag #SwanseaStories.
“We hope people are going to be surprised and excited by the show and we welcome everyone to the opening party on Thursday.”
So has Darren, a volunteer officer with the Swansea Bay Institute of Advanced Motorists, follow the roller-coaster career of Diego Maradona?
“Not really,” he admits. “I’ve always been more of a rugby fan and I’m a season ticket holder with the Ospreys.”
Robert Francis-Davies, the council’s cabinet member for investment, regeneration and tourism, said: “I’m pleased we’ve been able to reacquaint Darren with his sporting work of art.
“This is a fun, unique and sociable way to help celebrate Swansea’s first 50 years as a city.
“I urge all those who remember helping to create this eye catching work to get in touch with the gallery.”
Swansea Stories will showcase more than 300 artworks dating back to the gallery’s pre-Great War founding collection. It will include works from the 18th century to contemporary acquisitions.
Swansea Stories, at the Glynn Vivian, is due to run from September 26 to March 15. Entry is free.