You are currently browsing the monthly archive for March 2010.

Longford at the Palace Cinema 5 Nov 1968. see Hornsey 1968

I spent some time talking with Lord Longford in 1968. (I deeply admire his portrayal by Jim Broadbent; without the advantages of physical resemblance, he did portray someone very like the person I met). This is how it came about.

In summer 1968 there was a big meeting of most of the students and staff of Hornsey College of Art, at which the majority decided to accept a deal with the authorities and to call off the Sit-In. I was in the minority who voted against this deal. Our pessimism was justified: the authorities, on entering the college again, tore down all the posters (many of which were by any reasonable definition, works of art, some of them from Paris). Shortly after term ended, they locked us out while they fortified the College, and they didn’t let staff and students back in until six weeks after the beginning of the Autumn term, and then only partially, as a revenge for the six week Sit-in. But that’s another story.

Then a Commission was set up to enquire into the causes of the Sit-In, (funded partly by the Henry Moore Foundation), and to recommend reform for the future. The second Chairman of this Commission was Lord Longford.

The first occasion on which I met him was when he invited Martin Walker, one of the most influential student activists, and myself, to visit him at the House of Lords. Longford’s room was like an Oxbridge student room. We drank whisky, though there was a problem about glasses (I think one of us used a toothbrush mug). In the middle of a friendly conversation he suddenly fixed his eye on me and said “ A very heavy responsibility will weigh on you if you lead these young people in the direction of violence!” Martin was shocked. He stepped back a pace or two. “Good God”, he said, “You surely don’t think I do things because he tells me to?”

It was some time after this, when the Commission was in full flow, that Longford invited me to lunch at the Russell Hotel. I felt I should dress up for the occasion, so I put on a clean pair of jeans, a clean shirt, a red neckerchief and a jeans jacket I had recently bought – I was practically in a suit. I met Lord L in the foyer of the hotel; he shepherded me to a table in the large dining room, and we were sitting talking when the Head Waiter approached, cleared his throat, and said “I’m sorry my Lord, but I can’t serve him.” He added “Other guests would object.” Lord L was taken aback, but replied “Well, I’m sure we can find some other establishment which will not object.” We walked back through the crowded dining room; half way across Lord L turned back and shouted “I believe you’re wrong, my man”: the Head Waiter, who was still watching us depart, shouted back “ I’m sorry, my Lord”; and so we re-entered the Foyer.

“Would you call this sartorial discrimination? said Lord L; “ Now I’m embarassed: I invite you to lunch and this happens. The question is, what to do?” I said “We could go to the pub round the corner.” He said “But I asked you to lunch – it would hardly be right to go to a pub. “ I said “ It’s quite acceptable to meet people for lunch in a pub – I do it often” Reluctantly accepting this he followed me, and we set off for the Friend at Hand. It was obvious when we got inside that he wasn’t familiar with pub procedure ( in this case that was drinks from the bar and Irish Stew from the counter, taking one’s turn in a queue) so I had to steer him through it; for a while he had the barman scrabbling about below to see if he had a half-bottle of wine, though at that time it was a good pub that sold wine by the glass at all.

Eventually we sat down and talked, more at one another than with. I was presenting myself as a calmly rational Oxonian, to counter any stereotype of the revolutionary rabble-rouser, and picking my way in more precise and latinate language than I would normally have used. Coming from the opposite direction he was telling me about his early days in Government, and how his radical opinions got him into trouble with the party bigwigs. Eventually we got onto the immediate situation, the state of Hornsey, the causes of the trouble, and so on.

It was all going quite well until he became aware of a large man reading a newspaper on the other side of our table. He leaned over, tapped the newspaper with a bony finger, and said “Excuse me, but we are discussing Hornsey intimacies here, and I must ask you to respect our privacy and not to repeat anything you may hear.” The man opposite looked stunned. “Gee,” he said, “I haven’t heard a word: I flew in from Toronto yesterday, and I’ve absolutely no idea what you might be talking about.” Lord L replied
“I’m glad that you haven’t heard anything: indeed, from our point of view it would be an advantage if you were deaf and dumb. But I must repeat the request that you respect our privacy.” The man shrugged and shook his head in disbelief; shortly afterwards he got up and left. Lord L said “Do you think he was planted on us by the CIA?” It didn’t sound like a joke. I’ve never been sure whether he thought that I was paranoid, or that he thought the Hornsey Sit-In of major security importance. It’s true however, that another paranoid, the Principal of Hornsey, put it about that the whole event was financed by Moscow gold. The reality was more hum-drum – namely that the Hornsey Canteen, now run by students, some of them very attractive, was now frequented by the local police, lorry-drivers and so on, and making a profit for the first time in its life.

Lord L continued to worry, when we left the Pub, about the propriety of giving lunch in such a place. One the pavement we bumped into P., who was hurrying to meet him for a meeting of the Hornsey Commission. I said “Tell Lord L that it’s ok to take someone to lunch in a pub.” Absolutely,” said P, “Do it all the time.” He still looked dubious.

To help him keep in contact with young people Lord L had taken a young assistant. P. & I met this girl, and laid out for her, at some length, our understanding of the Hornsey situation. “Why are you telling me all this?” she asked. “Well. because you are Lord L’s assistant, and when this issue comes up you can brief him, so that he understands our position.” “But what makes you think he’ll take any notice of what I say?” she said.

What surprised us was the way in which, by his own processes, he finally arrived at a clear view of what had gone on. It wasn’t just an invincible sense of right and wrong: in the long run the Holy Fool was very shrewd.



cartoon by the late, great, David Austin

For some time now I have been interested in the earnings of visual artists. Figures appear in the press, but I’ve no idea where they come from. (This piece is partly cannibalised from what I’ve recently been writing to friends, so I hope they will forgive me)

Visual artists are bottom of the pile. in terms of the spread of their earnings. Authors can get an advance, and do get royalties and Public Lending Right from libraries; actors get TV & film repeat fees; musicians get money from publishing and PRS (Performing Right Society). PRS, according to recent figures, retrieved £623m in 2009 for its 65.000 members. That works out, if evenly distributed, at £9,500 a head. My son tells me that only a privileged few get up as far as £5,000pa. So it appears that the bulk of the money goes to those least in need. (I don’t know what the constitution of the PRS is, or whether it is in any sense redistributory).

Anyhow, visual artists have only one shot – you put your piece of work up, and it sells, or it doesn’t. No advance, and no subsequent royalties. There is a move to install something called Artist’s Resale Right, (Droit de Suite), but it is at a pitiful level, and so hedged about that only top artists will benefit, if it ever gets off the ground.

I heard Andrew Brighton (who did work for Gulbenkian: I don’t know if it was published, and I can’t seem to trace it) speak about research he had done, many years ago now. He decided that the only way to define who was an artist was to invite people who so described themselves (and he found that people who had been art school trained did so describe themselves, even if they had produced little or no art at any time since leaving college). I remember his broad conclusion was that there was a stratum of well-known artists at the top of the pile, who earned substantial amounts. Below them there was a stratum of let’s say distinguished artists who were not particularly well-known (second division), who had some prestige but not very much income. Lower down still was a stratum of artists who had no national reputation, but who scurried around small galleries and shops, selling pictures/prints. postcards & cards. (Third division) These did significantly better that the second division above them.

Below them (this is my addition) those who produce serious work but who do not make a profit, let alone an income, (fourth division). The whole situation is complicated by the fact that the Art Schools historically provided employment for those in the second division by way of full- or part-time employment (for instance Hubert Dalwood the sculptor was head of sculpture at Hornsey for a period; Terry Frost, Victor Pasmore and many others taught). In my view the Art Schools (properly Schools of Art and Design) were distorted by providing, in effect, a subsidy, not intended by the State, but nonetheless there, for both artists and designers. Because of what has happened since, namely the reduction of part-time teaching in the Schools, this indirect subsidy may have withered away (I’m not close enough to know for sure). People lower down (div 3) energetically run private courses for amateurs as a way of making an income – again, without proof, I think this area of activity has expanded.

Because visual artists are so dependent on publicity they do not usually get fees for the publication of reproductions of their work (apart from contractual things like greetings cards). I mean they are so grateful to be noticed that they take it for granted that they aren’t entitled to ask for a fee – whereas most writers would automatically expect to be paid for an article. This seems to be the area where we could effect change. We need a body which recovers fees for the use of images, so that at least some money finds its way back to actual living artists. Let’s call it PIM for Published Image Right. It would only work if it became understood that any use of an image would entail a small fee, so that it became a universal expectation. (If such a body already exists, tell me about it & I’ll join). I’m not so bothered about heirs & assigns: ‘the estate of’ and so on: it’s the living creators who need the income. There is also the issue of respect: because we don’t ask for anything we aren’t taken seriously. At the moment no-one expects to pay fees to ordinary professional visual artists, only to famous ones (who don’t need the money anyway).

I’m as much at fault as the rest of you: here are three examples. A picture of mine was used as the January image in Jarrolds’ Norfolk Landscapes calendar for 2006. I was pleased to see the picture reproduced, and I wasn’t offered a fee. More recently I wrote an article for Tate Etc Magazine. I was happy to do it, but I wasn’t offered a fee. Currently, like many others, I sent an ‘Artist in the Studio’ picture to the Sainsbury Centre for the exhibition presently showing. When I complained about how our material was presented and the lack of credits, I was told that “the display of photographs is not a promotional tool for for artists in this region…” As we don’t get a fee, I wonder why they think we send material in?

I don’t wish to raid the Mafia for terminology, (Judge Falcone is one of my heroes), but it is, as I said, a matter of respect.

Hornsey Sit-in poster

In her book Hornsey 1968: The Art School Revolution Lisa Ticker notes that Henry Moore donated £500 towards the costs of the Hornsey Commission, set up to review the causes of the Hornsey sit-in, and to propose resolutions for conflicts which had occurred.  This was in itself a generous act, but Moore had already donated £500 to the Sit-in itself while the college was occupied, and long before the Commission, according to someone involved with Sit-in finance at the time. Moore clearly supported questioning opposition to the establishment – not surprising from a man who turned down a knighthood and regarded the Royal Academy as somehow belonging to the enemy.

As so often is the case, The Hornsey Commission, intended to mediate and reconcile, was perceived by the College authorities and Haringey Council as broadly hostile, so its proposals were rejected, and its radical members then eliminated where possible: the student member Martin Walker was dismissed from the College, and the long-serving part-time staff member Eirian Short’s contract was not renewed.  The original Hornsey book (The Hornsey Affair, Penguin 1969) quotes the Saint-Just epigram: “Those who make a revolution by halves are only digging their own graves,” which certainly seems to apply in this case.

This is me defiantly of the floor of the St Ives Studio, in 1962. A friend of mine hired a studio in St Ives, and I shared it with him. It was one of those big studios with long windows overlooking Porthmeor beach, below what was a rather handsome gas cylinder then, and is now the St Ives Tate. Terry Frost, who was sociable & a great help, was on one side; Patrick Heron (whom I never saw) was also nearby. Other people had worked in the studio in the recent past – Peter Lanyon and Francis Bacon among them. Up near the door there was a piece of hardboard with the beginnings of an abandoned Bacon, on the reverse, the knobbly side – it was very bad, but obviously, with that kind of dionysiac painting you throw a lot away.

One day Tony O’Malley came round for a chat or a coffee or both – friends tended to drop into the studios. After a while he told us that he was stuck, because he had nothing to paint on. We were all poor in those days. So my friend said “Well, you can have that bit of hardboard over there in the corner” “It’s a bit big for me’’said Tony, “I’m working about half that size at the moment.” We looked at one another: Tony was frail in his large overcoat, & we were apprehensive for his dicky heart. He was around fifty then, and to be truthful we didn’t expect him to last all that long. “Here,” said my friend. “I’ll cut it in half for you,” and he got a saw and sawed it across. Tony was visibly chuffed and went off with the pieces of hardboard under his arm.

The frail Tony returned triumphantly to Ireland in 1990, being elected a Saoi of Aosdana in 1999 (an exclusive award for the Arts, with members such as Samuel Beckett, Seamus Heaney and Brian Friel), and survived until 2003. Assuming they have also survived, somewhere in the world here are two Tony O’Malleys with half a Francis Bacon behind them

Blog Stats

  • 16,694 hits

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 16 other followers

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 16 other followers

Top Posts & Pages