10 years pricking the art voodoo doll 2005-2015

Category: memoir

The long slow death of visuality- responses to Matthew Collings

On Facebook ( that noted art history forum:-)
Matthew Collings posted the following:I have highlighted what seems to me the key lines. The second paragraph is his introduction to the set of photos which even I,as someone accused of convoluted and dense and unreadable sentences,found hard to fathom and only after several re-readings did I get a sense (I think) of what he on about. My interpretation is he is concerned that at a time when we surrounded by a tsunami of visuality (more artists,more imagery than ever) that there is no coherent  ethical and  aestheticâ agreement of what is good or  right . i.e. that we live in immoral times and that affects judgement too. This chimes with the  Rediscovering Aesthetics standpoint. I do not know to what degree he agrees/disagrees with their views. The idea of visual achievement V visual success may be contrasting actual artistic creation with visual success i.e. cheap fame low artistic worth..I am not sure. Below my response on facebook and a continuation of my objective argument which I apparently regularly fall short on woof woof:-)

Matthew Collings: On some very visual and recent art
If there is celebrating it’s celebrating the visual dimension,but the reason to post the album (and others) is not ”let’s party’ but to look at the possibility of visual substance,depth,richness in art,’ because in the general idea of what contemporary art is that operates at the moment this visual dimension is virtually either actually absent or else unseeable (and consequently undiscussuable or unappreciatable).

Some very visual current and recent art:

Reassurance of pre-modern and even modern art no longer available universal Rembrandtian Shakespearean etc greatness out now meantime fragmentary but very visual art does exist. Problem in heads is to get visual to connect with ethical. Many steps. First is to be visually observant. Then questioning. What is all this visuality for? How can we make it be for something else,something better? (That is not for wrong ideology,wrong life dictated by consumerism etc,as exemplified horribly by contexts in which this art is actually usually seen.) And is a visual system aiming at high visual achievement,or visual success and which therefore has the possibility of failure and therefore entails some kind of judging is it connectable to moral and ethical dimensions,political dimensions etc? (Nazis judging good notes in symphony,still chuck victims in ovens etc.) Or do we have to accept visually abject art that has moral excellent credentials? Plus accept visual abjection that has excruciating pseudo thoughtful credentials (idiotic pretence at engaging with history society etc while remaining in-crowd smugness only)?

My response:Part one ( from facebook)

Ironically my period of intense engagement with painting coincided with the publishing of artscribe which was my bible in mid eighties. I stopped any meaningful production of art in 1992 and am now trying to begin again. So in some ways I am heavily influenced by the artscribe ethos and coming back to the art world I acutely aware of the marginalisation of visuality and the lack of a coherant and representative forum/magazine for that visuality. Both Modern Painters and Frieze seem to be ad driven fashion mags and art monthly is simply art monthly…long on theory short on images. My feeling (I will expand later) is we are at a watershed moment and that all this visuality is not looking,making and time based to the same extant it once was in the artscribe era. Fragmentation is an aspect of globalisation and the rise of the internet which may also mean a fragmentation of values as you hint at. Could artscribe exist now at all in the same moral and  tightknit  way it did in the 198’s when it ring-fenced not only a seriousness about painting etc but also a relatively coherent worldview and small set of tuned in artists? We live in a  bigger artworld but not necessarily a more serious or a more productive one. Was artscribe a magazine dedicated to visuality.
My response: Part two

I have written about artscribe as part of a longer piece called Beyond the crisis in art ‘Making and Doing’which covers the artscribe years.


Whatever it was (for those too young or unaware of the magazine) artscribe was the most important magazine in the period 1976 -1985 after that it became Artscribe International and I felt lost its way and became a precursor of the fashionista art mags we have now. early artscribes were ad free tomes of high-seriousness where you could enjoy lengthy,erudite articles on painting especially from the likes of James Faure Walker,Matthew Collings and Adrian Searle. Collings himself is representative of the gradual change and led to the Internationalisation fo the magazine. My feeling has been that the success and failure of Collings’s internationalisation is a smaller model of the sea change in British Art at this point i.e. Sensation et al. Ironically Collings left the magazine in 1987 after which it went downhill fast and disappeared totally in 1993. My only surviving copy is ironically from Collings time as editor because I feature in it albeit in a very minor role as a model in a Gilbert and George painting called Gateway which featured in an article on them. That was about as close as I ever got to the International Art World. So any discussion of artscribe and visuality and its apparent ‘demise’ cuts heavily into my own artistic history or suicide depending on your viewpoint. Now this is where things get interesting in searching for the artscribe image I came across Matthew’s Rant from the saatchi magazine.


In it he discusses Peter Fuller. Ironically I was interviewed for Goldsmiths course in 1987 and 1988. The first time of interview I had recently completed a black empty canvas for painting and sat bewildered as Mary Kelly and Nick De Ville pontificated about it for what seemed hours (I too shy to point out it just a ground!) before telling me I  interesting and they would come back next year. Sadly my studio was demolished and penniless the next interview was in my legalised squat in Arnos Grove and a disaster.
Basically I uttered the name Peter Fuller and it was if I had shat all over the assembled interviewers (and a postgrad student who hung bing bags on hooks who ignored me and spent whole time staring at out coathooks). Now reading the Collings piece I understand how evil I had been. Collings explains

When Modern Painters began in 1988 it was the brainchild of an art writer called Peter Fuller,a man loved by fogeys and philistines,and middle class people who kidded themselves they were into art,while the art world as such couldn’t bear him. I couldn’t bear him either,at least not what he wrote. It always seemed so off the mark.

My Response:Part three

In contrast I had actually read and re-read Fuller intensely ( especially Beyond the Crisis in Art)and loved him and Modern Painters under his editorship. He seemed then and seems now to have been way ahead of the YBA pack. Ironically Matthew seems to have revised his opinion somewhat.

The bits I like are,mainly,his raving on (positively) about Ruskin,who in those days I didn’t know anything about and didn’t care to learn anything about. Now of course I think Ruskin’s great and in fact I believe only an idiot wouldn’t think the same. As a personality,Peter (who I got to know fairly well) was great too.

So I was victim of an almost Stalinist rejection of a certain way of looking at art. The Goldsmiths tutors gave me short shrift refusing to even look at my Bacon and Sutherland influenced self-portraiture. I was a rank conservative..an amateur who did not understand the mission that Goldsmiths and YBA about to launch ( obviously the offer of a place at the Royal College for painting by Peter de Francia in 1981 was a figment of my imagination sadly I was scuppered by Thatcher’s plan to give working class children a place at public school..guess what she took the money from the R.C. ensuring a foreign student took my place and this working class boy ended up on the dole). Forgive me if the International Art World leaves me a little sarcastic..wouldn’t you feel the same? Goldsmiths or Thatcher it all the same to me.

I ran out of critical road and ended up back in my parent’s council house in Didcot and immediately spent a year drawing the hills around my hometown in charcoal on location and effectively became as conservative as possible in reaction to the Goldsmiths debacle. My art career effectively over I went to ground just as Hirst and Emin won the art lottery. I continued to read Fuller and Ruskin and to ignore the London art scene for the next 20 years and pretty much still do. My artistic career petered to a halt with some etchings at Edinburgh College of Art in 1994 and that was that until Moogee in 2005. So that was then but what about now and what about this contested visuality everybody banging on about continues below. In it I hope to link the processes at play in 1988.Goldsmiths, internationalisation, YBA’s to my own career crash and the birth of Satchi Land which more than anything both created and destroyed the visuality bubble.


My Response: Part Four


Responding to internet representations of art.

Interesting point here is you probably encountered both works (Stella and Morris  ) in reality whereas I think I only ever seen one actual Stella and no Morris so have no idea of scale or construction of Morris so how could I really compare which brings us back to key point re. visuality..whose visuality .We are engulfed in a pervasive media which displays versions of reality..how many dscourses based on actual seeing any more..perhaps we need an institute of looking?

If we could assemble all the paintings you have here and make people actually look the responses may be very different. What we have here is a virtual gallery that lacks the essential  thingness  of objecthood . If one not responding to that essential object but only a virtual mis-representation then we are always on dodgy ground. What I find infuriating about contemporary theorists of the virtual is they discount the essential veracity of constructed artworks to them and their students (and NTU has its fair share) they are continually avoiding the real by dancing spectacularly in clouds of theory and networks never touching the ground and certainly never needing to look at all..Ruskin would be appalled.

Conversation re; Artscribe with Matthew Collings: from facebook June 2011
Has visuality  disappeared as much as you say across the board. I thought it just a Nottingham thing ..it almost eradicated from the fine art course because of all those elements I been ranting about for years .I didn’t even attend the PV of my own School as seen one blackboard with a Wittgenstein quote on and a screaming performance artist you probably seen them all;-) Really enjoyed selection could this not make a great  Art Commentary stand alone website ..or interactive TV show.
Ironically my period of intense engagement with painting coincided with the publishing of artscribe which was my bible in mid eighties. I stopped any meaningful production of art in 1992 and am now trying to begin again. So in some ways I am heavily influenced by the artscribe ethos and coming back to the art world I acutely aware of the marginalisation of visuality and the lack of a coherant and representative forum/magazine for that visuality. Both Modern Painters and Frieze seem to be ad driven fashion mags and art monthly is simply art monthly…long on theory short on images. My feeling (I will expand later) is we are at a watershed moment and that all this visuality is not looking,making and time based to the same extant it once was in the artscribe era. Fragmentation is an aspect of globalisation and the rise of the internet may also mean a fragmentation of values as you hint at. Could artscribe exist now at all in the same  moral and  tightknit way it did in the 1980’s when it ringfenced not only a seriousness about painting etc but also a relatively coherant worldview and small set of tuned in artists? We live in a  bigger artworld but not necessarily a more serious or a more productive one. Was artscribe a magazine dedicated to visuality?
Well ironically Artscribe was very much a visual celebrating mag under the editorship of its founder James Faure Walker,but when I took over,in early 80s,it became much more oriented to bringing news to UK of international trendy developments,and ultimately to airing info about those developments back to places where they originally came from —I wouldn’t say ethos of mag in my time was at all like ethos of these FB threads,which is because my true interests,while they were always there,were a bit buried in those days beneath my drive to make the mag buzzing and powerful.

That is really interesting Matthew ..so you are more naturally attuned to JFW content than your own in hindsight? Do you think there a current magazine that caters for  visuality and here I using term loosely to denote contemporary visual art where the emphasis on  objecthood . I struggling to put it more clearly maybe in sense defined by Abigail Diamond here.

The role of the art object in contemporary art   http://sitem.herts.ac.uk/artdes_research/papers/wpades/vol3/adfull.html

i.e. are we talking about art that reveals itself primarily as an object..in which case  OBJECT would be perfect title for such a magazine !

This conversation was extended into a full article for MATTER magazine available HERE:

’Squaring the Circle’ – from student to practitioner to facilitator:

Critical reflections on the delivery of fine art teaching as learner and practitioner.

Re-post – written 2004

2004 marks the 27th year from my enrolment on an Art and Design Foundation Course at Oxford Polytechnic (now Brookes University) and this essay will critically examine both my experience as a learner in various institutions in that period and a reflection on how the PGCCE delivery module and my current position as a teacher on a Foundation Art course at New College Nottingham are informed by these learner experiences. I have divided this timescale into three distinct periods for the sake of clarity. The first period from 1977 to 1981 details my learner experience at Oxford and subsequently on a Fine Art B.A. course at Hornsey College of Art (Middlesex Polytechnic now University). The second period 1994 -1996 details my activity as a practicing artist in Edinburgh Scotland whilst attending the Edinburgh University School for Continuing Education course in Scottish Cultural Studies. Thirdly is my present teaching experience before and during the PGCCE course. In all cases I am interested in the pedagogical theories and philosophies that have informed the delivery of teaching and will reflect on how this has wider social and cultural implications.

 A quarter of a century is a long time in teaching terms and I hope to show that there has been a sizable shift in the way teaching is conducted and a wider shift both in societal and governmental attitudes to the delivery of teaching. I may not square the circle any more successfully than Leonardo Da Vinci but hope to show that my own circular journey back to Foundation Art also mirrors a wider circular journey in pursuit of ‘good practice’ in teaching. Has the warning of Glynn Williams ( Royal College Professor of Sculpture) about the future of art education come true :-

Instead of the old national curriculum of thirty years ago we could soon have a national system of quality appraisal appearing to work smoothly, recipe but once more incapable of attending to the individual expectations of the student’s creative work in relationship to the current reality of their subject.(Hetherington, drugstore 1994,p.27)

or have we entered a golden age of ‘creativity’ in education as promised by the DFEE report ‘All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture & Education’ (1999) which raised ‘creativity’ in teaching methods to almost mantra status. Has that ‘creativity’ flowed through to present day students and teachers? This essay examines the ‘outcomes’.

Pupil – Student
My abiding memory of school art teaching was of a strictly timetabled and pedagogic manner. Teachers were strictly referred to as ‘Sir’ in my Grammar turned Comprehensive school. The art teaching was generally under-resourced and relied on a great deal of setting of ‘titles’ or projects which were then worked to. There was little group work although pupils did sit around tables and homework was set in a similar way. Art within the school environment was regarded as a ‘lesser’ subject as the overall ethos was that of a watered down public school. Coming from a working-class background it was thought slightly odd to even pursue art as a career and it was only the intervention of more enlightened teachers at 16 plus which overcame familial concern and allowed my continuing to a foundation course. The scenario was probably common at this time and reflected wider concerns for upward social mobility and a lack of understanding of exactly what ‘art’ was for. The teachers were generally good but there was little reflection on teaching methods and a high turnover of staff who ‘rebelled’ against the old-fashioned grammar school regime. Having gained entry to Oxford Polytechnic I was immediately thrown into a more adventurous teaching environment where variety, experimentation and artistic theory were delivered in a fairly structured way. The curriculum was based on a Bauhaus model from Weimar Germany and stressed avant-garde solutions alongside staples such as observational drawing. However none of the teaching radically departed from the current pedagogical fashions. All coursework was to be assessed by course tutors and there was no substantial group delivery or one-to-one tutorial set-up.. On the plus side a lot of the part-time tutors were radical art practitioners in their own right.
One-to-one teaching also prevailed in the B.A. tutoring at Hornsey College of Art (1978-1981). Again the model was influenced by Bauhaus although a more ‘hands-off’ attitude prevailed and self-directed and experiential methods were used extensively. Alongside this art history was delivered in a lecture style. Individual tutorials were the major point of contact between teacher and student. Once again this was a common teaching style in art schools at this period. This maps closely to Williams’ analysis of the progress of art teaching as outlined in 1994. The old Diploma courses had metamorphosed into polytechnic degree courses and slowly the haphazard regime of part time tutors was replaced by a more structured and accountable system of teaching. What was lost was the student/practitioner contact that was one of the more important benefits of this period of teaching. During the late 1960’s, 1970’s UK art schools were amongst the best in the world both in terms of resourcing and the quality of practitioner engagement. By 1978 this was starting to change as the cold winds of Thatcherism blew through the academic world. I fell foul of this political change personally as a grant to attend the Royal College M.A. in 1981 was siphoned off to provide scholarships for ‘working-class’ achievers to attend public schools….ironically. At the same time the early buds of ‘post-modernism’ were shooting up in the art colleges and older traditional (and expensive) methods such as printmaking and life-drawing were losing their place in the art school curriculum to ‘new’ media and fashions. Ironically it was at the point of greatest right-wing ideological intervention in the creative arts that the more extreme left wing radical teaching strategies gained their foothold in the art colleges. In a pre-internet age computer art, video, installation and performance were all making inroads especially as this seemed to mirror ‘important’ transatlantic developments in the arts and ‘provincial’ UK could not be left behind in the race for international avant-garde status.

Practitioner – Learner
Skipping ten years and 1993 saw me in a very different situation from the ‘ivory tower’ of art college. Whilst not claiming to be self-sufficient as an artist I could claim to be a ‘practitioner’ although practitioner/teacher appointments were not forthcoming. I had briefly taught creative writing and illustration at evening class level but whilst in Edinburgh for two years my educational experiences were firmly in the learner field. Without excessive detail these two years on a Continuing Education course in Scottish Cultural Studies introduced me to some very conservative teaching styles and some very radical wider cultural theorising. The delivery of lessons with exception of some folk music was exclusively pedagogic and strictly conservative with a great deal of lecturing and detailed handouts being provided. However the information contained therein was radically orientated to a notion of Scottish independence and introduced me to the generalist philosophy of Patrick Geddes and in turn his influence on Lewis Mumford and the development of the arts in Scotland. This may seem irrelevant to art teaching delivery but at the same time (published 1989) Peter Abbs brought Herbert Read, Lewis Mumford and D.W. Winnacott’s theories to bear on his ‘A is for Aesthetic’ book where he gave an impassioned plea for a reversal of ‘technicist’ trends in art teaching. This was bolstered by the late art critic Peter Fuller who gave a highly rational argument for a change in the way art and art schools in the U.K. were heading. This also coincided with the Glynn Williams article on ‘the practitioner’ which I referenced earlier. The argument contended that ‘specialism’ rather than ‘generalism’ was the over-riding principle in art teaching and that students were being denied the spiritual and traditional areas of teaching in pursuit of a new glossy trans-avant-garde fashionability. There was also a ‘localist’ agenda wrapped up in this argument as the contemporary (metropolitan) art scene extinguished the ‘provincial’ and this was felt keenly in Scotland around the generalist table.

Within a few years the ‘fashionistas’ had won as through intense lobbying, metropolitan art school conformity and the arrival of large dollops of Thatcherite loot ( e.g. The Satchi Collection) the UK art world was reinvigorated or destroyed depending on your point of view. Most importantly however you view the ‘Brit Art’ phenomena fine artists had become the new pop stars and the repercussions of that are still being felt in educational terms. Recently the electrical engineering department at Trent University Nottingham was slimmed down due to lack of applicants and its computers switched to the over-subscribed web/ digital arts and design course….a reflection of the current popularity of arts courses. This trend can be directly attributed to the much higher profile that artists such as Tracy Emin and Damien Hirst enjoy in the popular media. The shark was everywhere in more than one sense.

Practitioner – Facilitator?
..universities and institutions of higher learning are called upon to create skills and no longer ideals – so many doctors, so many teachers in a given discipline, so many administrators etc.
(Lyotard, Jean-Francois from The Postmodern Condition quoted in Bentley,D.M.R, 2000)
So where is art teaching after nearly thirty years and how have these changes and teacher training influenced my teaching practice? In an era of drive-thru web delivered degrees and mass media overkill what are the definitions of good practice and can one teach art at all? My present teaching practice incorporates one morning a week at New College Nottingham Foundation Art Course so in some respects I have come full circle. For an analysis of this present teaching I have drawn heavily on David Jones and his work for Nottingham University Department of Continuing Education. Jones a fine artist by training ( Leeds Art College) has theorised and published on the question of fine art teaching and creativity in some depth. In particular I am drawn to his

analysis of Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs as expressed in his pamphlet entitled ‘Creativity’ (Jones,D.1984).
Here he describes Maslow’s three stages of creativity…

.primary creativity is….concerned with the generation of symbolic images, with myth,with legend,ritual and phantasy.
It is concerned with content rather than form, with metaphor rather than structure.

..secondary creativity …concerned more with structure….designing rather than dreaming.

a synthesis of these two forms of functioning’…is the third form..
‘integrated creativity’
This not only applies to art teaching but when correlated with John Cowan’s version of Kolb’s learning cycle (Hetherington,1994,p.29 – see below) can be seen to map closely with the experiential way art students actually learn. If the past experience, exploring and consolidating fields are aligned with the above categories we are some way to understanding the processes that affect individual learning.

In Cowan the model assumes that tutor/student contact occurs at points on the loop where the tutor is asking questions, provoking, hearing responses before the next ‘surge’ of learning. It is compared to a plane looping the loop. This accords with my own feelings of the relationships I have established with fine art students. It is a dual process of mutual learning that depends on mutual respect and an attempt to guide rather than ‘lecture’ the student into a new phase of learning. New College assessment requires students to peer review each other’s work and this definitely brings out a mature response. On the down side there is a ‘flattening out’ of critical responses too. In some ways peer reviewing also allows ‘firm’ judgements to be avoided
in an area where ‘absolute’ values are dangerous and opinion can be confused with taste. However if we are no longer judging technique or ability only ‘creative process’ are we in fact judging artistic ‘content’ at all. The most notable aspect of the New College curriculum is the open-ended nature of both assessment and curriculum planning. Students are ‘introduced’ to materials and ‘self-initiated’ project work. Inclusivity and mutual respect are prioritised and atmosphere friendly but nowhere did I feel that rigorous criticality was to be encouraged. This is not just a problem on the small scale. Modern teaching and artistic movements overlap to a degree where a recent exhibition at the Serpentine ( ironically titled ‘State of Play’) stated boldly..
art can no longer be defined through a single dominant movement or school of thought
(Serpentine catalogue of exhibition sponsored by Hugo Boss, 2004)

Faced with this kind of statement it is small wonder the art tutor feels unable to make bold statements in a teaching context. It is my firm belief that this ‘process’ is what Abbs and Fuller warned about that in a world of all opinions being equal nobody can actually apply standards. It is my intention to teach fairly but with a strong emphasis that art history and notions of taste do involve choices. This is at odds with some of current teaching practice in this area but as Jones himself states…
If we are to help adults to become involved in creative activity we cannot ignore the difficulties, the anxieties and the internal struggles which form an essential part of the process.
(Jones, 1984, p.18)

In the move from ‘teacher’ to ‘facilitator’ I believe we may have thrown out the baby with the bath water. In the process of assessing fine artists we really have three options according to Jones. 1) Finished work 2) Watching students work and 3)Talking to students. In this sequence the second and third options are vital if we are really to engage with their ‘creativity’. I fully endorse Jones’s take on Knowles of referring to a climate of ‘mutual enquiry’. It is in individual tuition that the strength of UK art teaching once lay especially if that teacher was a practitioner. The process of moving to ‘sessional lecturers’ , project and ‘self-directed’ working strategies and the ‘homogenisation’ of criticism have lead to a fine art sector that obeys all the whims and criteria of management but few of the truly creative demands of students. Efficient throughput of these ‘units’ in a growing market causes smiles in the accounts department but are we delivering the best and ‘creative’ education we can. As I look back over nearly thirty years I see many good aspects of art teaching that have been lost and although both teachers and students are more information ‘rich’ they seem creatively poorer. Time is one category that can no longer be easily provided…one to one tutorials cost money. Yet in those moments of reciprocal learning and reflection in the 60’s and 70’s were planted the seeds of some of the best artists of the past thirty years. Those connections have been severed and will not be easily replaced however prudent the college finances. Finally a practitioner on art paraphrased by painter/teacher David Ainley at a conference on Lifelong Learning and the Arts in 2001…
….if a teacher is any good he or she learns as much as the students…the ‘answers’ if there any, are formed by all the participants in the conversation within the context of their own lives (Kosuth,J. Ten Points for an Art Academy, 1999)


Abbs, P (1989) A is for Aesthetic: Essays on Creative and Aesthetic Education. Lewes, Falmer.

Cowan,J (1994) ‘How can students of art and design best be helped to learn and develop?’ in Hetherington, P Artists in the 1990’s: Their Education and Values: Issues in Art and Education Volume 1: Papers submitted at conference held at the Tate Gallery in 1991 and 1992, organized by the Wimbledon School of Art in collaboration with the Tate Gallery. Wimbledon, London.

Farthing, S (2000) An Intelligent Person’s Guide To Modern Art. London, Duckworth.

Ainley, D (2001) ‘Structure, Space and Clutching Water in the Art Education of Adults.’in Jones, D.J. and Normie, G ed. 2001-A Spatial Odyssey: Papers from the 6th International Conference on Lifelong Learning and the Arts. Nottingham, Continuing Education Press, School of Continuing Education, University of Nottingham.

Jones, D.J (1984) Creativity : Adults: Psychological and Educational Perspectives 8. Nottingham, University of Nottingham Department of Adult Education.

Jones, D.J and Chadwick, A.F ed. (1981) Adult Education and The Arts: Nottingham Working Papers in the Education of Adults 2. Nottingham, University of Nottingham Department of Adult Education.

Williams, G (1994) ‘The practitioner, once a ubiquitous presence in art and design education, is now a rarity: A history of the blooming and decline of the species.’ in Hetherington, P Artists in the 1990’s: Their Education and Values: Issues in Art and Education Volume 1: Papers submitted at conference held at the Tate Gallery in 1991 and 1992, organized by the Wimbledon School of Art in collaboration with the Tate Gallery. Wimbledon, London.

Department for Education and Employment.(1999) All our futures: Creativity, Culture and Education. Sudbury, DfEE Publications.

Internet Sources
Bentley, D.M.R
“Art for Arts’ Sake; or, Humanities for Humanity’s Sake. A Discussion Paper.”
Canadian Poetry
University of Western Ontario, Canada
Available at: http://www.uwo.ca/english/canadianpoetry/artsnew.htm
[Accessed 17.02.2004]

Jones, D.J
“Different Theatres, Different Audiences: The Arts and the Education of Adults.”
British Education Conference Programmes
Paper presented at SCUTREA, 29th Annual Conference, 5-7 July 1999, University of Warwick.
University of Nottingham. United Kingdom.
Available at : http://www.leeds.ac.uk/educol/documents/000001002.doc
[Accessed 17.02.2004]

How I stopped painting 2

In response to Leonard’s comment on part 1…


My 1980’s paintings abandoned in a garage…


Dear Mr. Bullock

I probably over-egged the crticism of Goldsmiths per se. ( suits wider arguments) as it coincided with a very difficult time in my personal life. I was living in a legalised squat on North Circular London and had lost my studio ( first interview with Goldsmiths was there) so when second interview had to take place in front room of a deserted squat I using as studio it already counted against me. I had no money for rent let alone materials and had split up from a messy relationship…..most people read my paintings of that time as depressive (Horrible Heads Paintings Flash slideshow)…all in all not my best time.I resented then and now the witch-hunt against Fuller from people who nowhere near his ability. When somebody who famous for sexist record covers (Roxy Music) starts lecturing me about fascism I bristle.

It took me twenty years to even get in a financial position where I could actually rent a studio again ( here in Nottingham) and when I did teaching preparation destroyed time to paint. As I think de Kooning said the trouble with poverty is it takes up all your time. It is only because of my current partner’s love and support that I even close to resuming seriously.Now finally I have a glimpse of some space and time and a postgrad course through Derby University to look forward to. Since I attended college an M.A. has become the equivalent of a B.A. in people’s attitudes despite some wearers of that title being less able than they think.Also I have started to find a group of excellent younger painters here who despite the system are keeping the flag flying. I have been virulent in damnation of certain aspects of the art world in those 20 years both from personal angle and because I genuinely appalled at how de-skilled the art schools have become. Even these colleges are now realising that something has gone wrong. But life rooms, recipe technical support and print rooms have all been jettisoned for digital cheapness and replacing them is costly.

Before I go off on another rant about education which better placed elsewhere I will return to my development (or lack there of).

Having lost studio and house in London I returned to Oxford and my parents house in 1989 and stayed there until 1992. In that time I took to the hills..literally and completed a large sequence ( every fine day that summer) by strapping a drawing board to the back of a white bycycle and heading off to draw the chalk hills. This sequence I still have and is my most sustained and complete sequence of drawings. see some of them here…


Call me reactionary then I become an Impressionist:-) Actually I was heavily influenced by Canadian Group of Seven…..many of whom were Brits fleeing WWW1 and Sheffield Ruskin trained…all connects! Also Paul Nash who drew same hills…
I showed them at Rocket Press (now Gallery London) and after blazing row with gallery owner who taught me a valuable lesson in how caring and sharing such people are…..(I ended up painting his walls to repay debts to him!) I ran off with a lovely Spanish lady to Edinburgh where the only art I managed outwith crap temp jobs in banks were some etchings. Then that too ended …I awoke from a daze 7 years later with some music, order some poetry but no art and once again back in my parents and yet again no house, viagra no partner…c’est la vie………it has taken last 7 years to put that right again! Hopefully…

Just visited your artist-guide pages and fascinated by the Edinburgh connection…I massive fan of William Johnstone.

for readers of blog see Leonard’s work at

The Real Art World: 1980 – London’s Burning


Hornsey Art College burns…a great start..

I am going to describe the 1980’s artworld as it really was for the majority of art-students. Not the cosy new money YBA’s and their cohorts or the city-slickers with loft-spaces and pockets to fill. No this is one lowly art student’s coming of age in the brutal underbelly of North London in the years when Lady Thatcher was in charge and you could get round London all day for £2.50!

I will start with the photo above. Hornsey College of Art burning well in summer 1980 just after the previous year’s final show. Alexandra Palace had sat safely on the hill above North London through over a century but in June 1980 a considerate workman was deemed to have inadvertantly set fire to a roof. Most at the time didn’t believe it and it sad to say that both the council and developers gained much from the resulting fire. An art college burns very well by the way what with all the paint and combustibles contained therein. My favourite story from the conflagration was the one about etching tutor Dick ‘Sleepy’ Fozzard who having worked a plate to the final stages was sleeping throughout most of the fire and only an alert staff member prised him away from the presses before they melted. I watched the whole thing from my parent’s council house in Oxfordshire after my mother kindly pointed out that my college appeared to be on fire on the T.V. Hot enough to make the BBC news! I sat in an armchair with my pork chop and two veg and watched two years paintings burst into some spectacular flames and then it was gone…next day I pointed out where my space had been in The Sun’s coverage …now empty sky….

I sometimes try to recall not only my artwork but that of those around me…ironically Bell & Langlands (later Saatchi chosen ones) had just left and had probably removed their ‘burnt-books installation’ before the real fire got a hold…life imitating art? I can’t say I was that impressed with Bell & Langlands then it seemed mediocre conceptualism and I can’t say my opinion shifted much since. I did see them sucking up to someone form the Tate years later and evidently they played their networking hand well..but art??..hmm not in my book. Ironically looking at the archive photos it just as well that most of us actually more intent on learning our craft and developing theories..if the same occurred now half the students would be ‘documenting’ the ruins and the other half either rolling in the ashes for a site-specific performance or claiming they had burnt the whole thing down as a protest against neo-stalinism in the Hackney gulags…

As it was we suffered in silence watched the building collapse and got on with drinking ourselves stupid and occasionally making splendid art at the original college which still contained the Foundation Course about two miles down the hill. We were all shipped back in there come September 1980 and told to get on with it..three years work to be done in one..oh yes we were a hardy lot….no digital archives then just new paint. canvas and stone..oh and cameras…

My first memories of the new building were that it had changed little from the grainy footage of the Hornsey ‘Riots’ which was religiously shown to all new students ( along with a healthy helping of art history tutor Peter Webb’s porn collection rebranded as art history). Now although some real Situationists did make it over to sleep on the floor and smoke dope with the Hornsey crew in 1968 it was hardly Paris ’68. Indeed the footage confirmed our suspicions that most were spliffed out hippies having a damn good time and sandals and kaftans aside there was no real riot just a bunch of students carrying coffins and  getting bitten occasionally by friendly police dogs. Kent State it wasn’t in fact it wasn’t even Guildford. The College had been purpose built at turn of century and had some fantastic north-facing studios, illness perfect for painters and if truth be told was better equipped than the now crumbling Palace with the exception of the much-missed Panorama Bar which had been the handiest bar to an art college ever devised. Situated directly below the college one short stairwell down and half the college had written off another afternoon in fierce debate or shallow drinking depending on your viewpoint. The view was lovely….I remember listening to the Iranian Embassy siege on a tinny radio and watching the smoke rise across the London skyline to the south. Dearest Margaret was untroubled by our Leninist revisionism and Barthes semiotic signifiers she was too busy deploying the S.A.S. and getting ready for the real enemy within ‘Oop North’.

As we struggled to unload the batches of new easels and paint stocks from the lorries ( the technicians as ever too busy to help as they rebuilt yet another american car engine) little could we guess that the 1980’s were going to be as troubled a decade as any of us would ever see. I managed to set myself down in a bunker below ground with my welsh compadre and stone sculpting house-mate Ken Absalom who defined hippy chic in a way many of us had never known. Five years after punk he still wore a kaftan embalmed in pitchouli and owned more tie-dye and crocheted shirts than any man should. A miner’s son from Blaeanavon on a cold welsh mountaintop he’d ended up in India discovering large amounts of hashish and women in about equal measure. A return to his village was precluded by a fierce isolationism that was to affect us both sooner rather than later. For now I tried to rationalise the fact that I’d chosen to occupy a space about ten feet square next to a mad welshman who was power-drilling his way in true miner style through a ton of portland stone. Each time he started up a piece of stone would hit me in the ear or back and the dust….It was only when my ‘personal tutor’ (they could afford to be called that in those days) almost lost an eye and choked her way out of the plastic tent I was trying to protect myself in that I realised that a painter could do better in the purpose built studios upstairs.

Easy to say in retrospect but as I spent most mornings developing tinnitus by ‘drumming’ ( loose description) on old dustbins in a freeform jazz orchestra/ punk supergroup that later became the ‘Fuck Pigs’ most aspects of reality had probably already passed me by. None of this was drug induced the major drug was the ale sold at the new ‘Art School Pub’ The Railway conveniently situated downhill from the College in pre-yuppified Crouch End. Hard to believe that what has become the land of lattes and expensive three whelled buggies was then a pretty rundown suburb with a few pubs……and not a wine bar in sight….most of us then would have guessed a Pinot Grigio was an Italian dancer…maybe we were right…

My Proustian moment #1

In a vain attempt to prove my solid postmodernist hypertextual qualities I will occasionally sidetrack by digressing on a particular piece of artwork and see what hidden depths it may reveal or shallow inexcusable art pretensions it unravels before me after all these years. Starting in September 1980 is as good a point as any as everything pre June 1980 had just disappeared in smoke with the exception of a Foundation and school folder which remained tucked in my parent’s loft. Whereas my memory of the sculptors ‘Neffertiti at the waterhole’ remains strong….he was still hacking away at it six months later..my own work has slipped from my mind. I do however have the sketchbook from September 1980 here and it reveals a strange concoction. I had started drawing house plants whilst still at my parents. To save money most students (especially those unemcumbered by rich parents and trust funds) would go home for the summer to save paying rent which in my case set at a fiendishly expensive £9 a week thanks to the wonderfully eccentric yet generous Jewish Hashidic family the mad sculptor and I roomed with in Stamford Hill…The Gordons..of them more later….

The sketchbook reveals the influence of solid painters like John Walker, Alan Green and John Hoyland. Everything was very ‘mark-making’ in those far off days. We are talking pre Zeitgeist, pre R.A. New Painting Show. Recently there has been a spate of re-assessment shows in USA and Australia looking again at the supposedly ‘dead’ area of painting during those minimalist and conceptual 1970’s. ‘To the victor’s the spoils’! The art history has been rewritten from the more recent perspective as once again we are reminded that painting is ‘dead’. This memoir is in part a redress to this manipulation of history.

I remember distinctly taking Samuel Palmer and Graham Sutherland books from the newly restocked College Library and the drawings show their influence. I was encouraged in my focusing on ‘British’ art by my tutor a wonderful printmaker called Tricia Stainton who unbeknowns to me also taught part-time at the Royal College. I was the world’s worst ‘networker’ and so focussed on my own concerns things like that just went straight by me….others were less naive.

The sketchbook contains a print by Fragonard which came from a cheap artbook my Auntie Sue had bought me one Christmas from our local W.H.Smith….It wasn’t until my early twenties that I could afford more than a few large art books. The sketchbook stays in its dark foliage, slightly gothic mood throughout until the following March when Picassoesque forms take control. Maybe a subconscious reaction to the fire ..who knows..I know many of us struggled in those early months after the fire and the staff (in most cases) were very helpful. Needless to say the technicians helped the most attractive girls and the owners of american cars the most…

As my mood (and circumstances lightened) the drawings took on more Matisse and Picasso touches and a trip to see the Picasso bequest in Paris certainly helped..although my strongest memory of my fellow student’s reaction to first plate of snails must wait another day…Jackson Pollock comes to mind but not in a good way…..

Here is one of my very few prints that survived from the printroom then and Tricia’s influence. Samuel Palmer and Sutherland put through a blender certainly…

(picture to come)