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I should have asked him: he’d have known

she says, years after I am dead

he’d so much stuff there, crammed inside his head

but all that’s left of memory is bone

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When I was young

I’d go into a field and draw

small boys would come to twitch and say ‘Are you a real

artist Mister?’ – if I knew I’d tell

I’d pull my bike

out of the hedge, re-pack my box,

& dawdle to the edge of town

past oak and dancing counterpoint of elm

the natural language of that place and time.

My student and my wander years behind

back in the city, on my bike again

I ride to Greengate House from Hanley Road

through Stratford’s acrid air, return

over the railway bump,

past the Precision Screw

Co Ltd and then

the Balls Pond Road to swing into Green Lanes

riding the traffic with a boatman’s skill

and wondering if ugliness can kill.

There’s pride in action; I am not aware

that trees are dying as I ride

the city gapes, a concrete trap

with me inside

while in some country lanes I once knew well

trees wither, get cut down, or fall

the country dwellers pick their sockets clean

there is no way to tell where they have been

– nobody sets a tombstone for a tree.

And was it you who forced me to discover

a tree-shaped absence in my mind?

to tell the truth, I really don’t recall

how the elms looked at all.

Why did it take me so long to remember

what I had so efficiently forgot?

It took me till I hit my head to know

the elms had gone.

I did not see them go

Hornsey Please Avoid copy

The basic story is this: students held a teach-in at Hornsey College of Art, and once everyone got talking about Art Education, rather than their subjects, they found the whole set-up profoundly unsatisfactory, so they refused to leave (and stayed in place for six weeks), reviewing the situation and issuing discussion documents. Staff who agreed with the students joined them; Guildford College came out too, after which there was action at most of the English Schools of Art & Design. The intellectual and creative worlds were sympathetic or enthusiastic; delegations were sent out; a book was written and published by Penguin Education; Pat Holland made a film.

Most of the people whose hands were allegedly on the levers of power said we should address the next lever above, or alongside; the Local Authority (whose Councillors had just been elected in an unexpected Conservative landslide) had no idea what to do; the Education Minister, Shirley Williams, said that the Government had just received a black eye for intervening in an educational dispute, so there was nothing she could do, tho’ she did give us a cup of tea and a biscuit. In this power vacuum the creative debate flourished. Even those, Sir William Coldstream and Sir John Summerson, who had set up the new system in Art & Design Education, the new Diploma in Art and Design, (supposed to be, but not actually, degree-level – ie if you went out & got a job as a teacher you weren’t paid the same rate as a graduate -) joined the debate in a friendly way. This was an intellectual revolution, not street-fighting: the only violent act was the sending-in of Alsation dogs and dog-handlers by the local Aldermen to keep students out, quickly neutralised by student dog-lovers (biscuits again). As in Paris, where students were usurping the role of the working class, (according to Revolution Pundits), the Hornsey mob were not making things, drawing, photographing, designing: they were usurping the role of the universities by using their brains rather than their manual skills.

Horn,pow..crush copy 2

Students and staff at Hornsey were doing what William Morris would have wished them to do: that is, they were examining their role in society, and examining the sort of society they might wish to have a role in. Their specific concerns, at a practical level, were summarized as follows by P-BD in The Hornsey Affair: The Educational Debate:

“.first of all, the conditions of entry into our sphere of higher education; secondly, the problem of beginning studies (and by implication, of art education in schools); thirdly, the question of specialisation(the old structure was largely ruled by rigid specialisation); fourth, the out-dated distinction between ‘diploma’ and ‘vocational’ courses in art education; and fifth, the concept of an ‘open-ended’ type of education, with more freedom and flexibility built into it than the old one we were rejecting.”

Honsey Overthrow copy

The Hornsey Affair, p.106

To repeat a most important point, the Hornsey Sit-In debates and documents are simultaneously about the nature of the State and our part in it, about some issues which were current at the time, and some existing structures which needed to be examined and reformed. We did not fight with the Police in the streets as they did in Paris, because here the State was not directly repressive: the local Police were happy to come in and use the canteen, which had been taken over and successfully run by the students.

Some idea of the feeling of the time can be experienced in the Hornsey Film:

 http://player.bfi.org.uk/film/watch-the-hornsey-film-1970

The Hornsey Affair, Penguin Education Special, 1969 was written by many of those who took part in the Sit-In, but has been out of print for some decades. More recently, using material which later became available, Hornsey 1968 by Lisa Tickner, Frances Lincoln, 2008 is a substantial account. And then of course there is the Student Unrest ’68 show at the Tate to look forward to.

Hornsey Parasites copy

 

TO Litho Vine Ladder copyHere are some pictures by Edwin (Tony) Oldfield. To put them in a context I should say that I have been reading the recent Eric Ravilious biography*, which in turn sent me to Tirzah Garwood’s autobiography* I very much enjoyed this last – sometimes a bit naïve, but perceptive, warm and brave, always a real person speaking. Tirzah was married to Eric Ravilious, who had studied at the Royal College of Art under Paul Nash, along with Edward Bawden, Enid Marx and others.The RCA seems to have dwindled into a rather fusty fine art college so William Rothenstein was sent in 1920 to revitalise it, especially in traniing designers. But William Morris’ generous concept of a community of makers was abandoned for a hierarchy in which ‘design’ was distinctly inferior to fine art. It is worth here quoting Morris’ rousing advocacy of a continuum of art and design

Now as to the scope and nature of these Arts I have to say, that though when I come more into the details of my subject, I shall not meddle much with the great art of Architecture, and less still with the great arts commonly called Painting and Sculpture, yet I cannot in my own mind quite sever them from those lesser so-called Decorative Arts, which I have to speak about. It is only in latter times,and under the most intricate conditions of life that they have fallen apart from one another; and I hold that, when they are so parted, it is ill for the Arts altogether:the lesser ones become trivial, mechanical, unintelligent, incapable of resisting the changes pressed on them by fashion or dishonesty; while the greater, however they may be practiced for a while by men of great minds and wonder-working-hands, unhelped by the lesser, unhelped by each other, are sure to lose their dignity of popular arts, and become nothing but dull adjuncts to unmeaning pomp, or ingenious toys for a few rich and idle men.

William Morris: The Lesser Arts, 1877

Back at the RCA, in 1922. Enid Marx, who was a very gifted student, was ‘denied her painting diploma by teachers who disapproved of her “Fauvist inclinations”’ [ Friend p.57]. Her work was said to be ‘vulgar’ (Wikipedia). She left the RCA in 1925 and became a very successful fabric designer thereafter. Tirzah writes that after the RCA ‘Eric had an inferiority complex because he was a designer, and it took years to get rid of this feeling.’ [Ullmann p.167], and later, more bitterly ‘Eric aimed modestly at being a good second rate painter and engraver’. [Ullmann p.168].

In a later generation of RCA students, Tony Oldfield was failed at the end of his course (1932) by Rothenstein, for being ‘artistically insincere and too much influenced by the French,’ (which might easily have been said about Rothenstein himself in the ’90s). Fortunately his local authority (the West Riding of Yorkshire) paid for him to do another year, after which, having produced his quota of fake Rothensteins, he was given his Diploma. ‘They made me a liar!’ he said.

He emerged from the RCA in the deepest trough of the recession: his wife, Nora, said that she married him to cheer him up, and they used a curtain-ring at the wedding. Tony never really recovered his self confidence (or alternatively, did not have a very great ego anyway), though his critical eye was sharp, and sharpened as he aged.

 

 

 

Tony Oldfield was a fine, but little known, artist, an impressive draughtsman and a great teacher. He also designed and built furniture and made ceramic pieces. As far as I can see there is at present only one image of his work available on the Internet, which is a shame, so here are four more for anyone who might be interested.

*Ravilious and Co, the Pattern of Friendship, Andy Friend, Thames and Hudson, 2017

*Long Live Great Bardfield, the Autobiography of Tirzah Garwood. ed Anne Ullmann, Persephone Books, London, 2016

Meander Ploughing final copy

Meander Ploughing oil painting

Here’s a little story, a little story.

Towards the end of July I reveived an email from someone in America. It said her outfit (I’ll call her A) were interested in using pictures of mine as set decoration in a new Netflix series, tentatively titled ‘Ronald’. I thought this might be a joke, or a scam, but I asked for more info. Well, A replied, it’s a ten-episode series, with Emma Stone & Jonah Hill, directed by Cary Fukanaga (none of them known to me). My pictures would be used as set decoration in the ‘NATO offices in Iceland’. Checking on-line the series sounded plausible and the actors and director involved did exist. I had been to Reykjavik not so long ago, so it was also intriguing. They were interested in three paintings, A said: they would need hi-res digital scans; fee to be negotiated.

I thought that all this could sooner or later prove to be moon-dust. However, meantime I had two immediate problems. Firstly, I had no experience of negotiating a fee for repro rights, and would need some professional advice or representation. Secondly, I had not done a hi-res digital scan on any of my pictures. So I had to run around and find a scanner (not too difficult), and then find someone in the world of repro rights. I had a look at DACS (Design and Artist’s Copyright Society). and found that they do represent artists in this world. There was a difficult few days when A was pressing for immediate responses while I was busy filling in forms and getting myself represented by DACS. I was grateful to hand over to P at DACS.

At this point the location changed again, because the negotiation, given that it originated in the USA, was to be taken over by DACS’ sister organisation in the States, and the baton passed from P to F at ARS (Artist’s Rights Society). P told me F advised that they would look to collect a licensing fee of 1500 to 2000 dollars for the use, so a total of three and a half to four and a half thousand pounds total. That sounded serious stuff: after all, the total sale list-price for my paintings was about five and a half thousand pounds, whereas this would give me fees and leave me with the goods: only their ghosts gone. The only nuisance was that I would have to re register myself as a self-employed artist, having just agreed with HMRC that I could scarcely be regarded as commercially viable.

Bringing in the Hay lite

62 Bringing in the Hay. Oil on canvas 11.13

So far as negotiation was concerned, I said, I was more interested in my pictures being used than in the level of profit. As it happens I had a picture in a prestigious American gallery, and it would be nice to tell them that my work was moving around in Netflixville. What would all that add up to ?

So here comes the denoument (and we haven’t yet even had a nou): I got an email on 25 August from P to say that, after all, they had decided not to use my pictures as part of their set design. This was an editorial decision, he said. There you are, moondust again after one little month.

Somehow this all happened out of a clear blue sky: at least it means that the net is searched for material. I remain intrigued. Why might pictures of mine of the Norfolk landscape turn up on a NATO office wall in Iceland? Meantime, Ladies and Gents All, here are the said paintings before your very eyes: no new attempt has been made to extract their souls. Onwards and sideways.

Byre & Bird, Early Morning  small

Byre and Bird, Early Morning oil painting

 

P1000700

The Studio

Clearing out is the beginning of Open  Studios. Necessary, and useful because you have mentally to audit all that stuff, materials, tools, odds and bits, you have accumulated, So I move things around in circles and hop from one part of the floor to the next clear area, repainting with a lighter grey floor paint.  Result: cleaner, clearer, with more light. (The floor is chipboard, on top of polystyrene insulation, on top of the original plank floor of this off-the-peg shed). At the same time I put round a skirting, against the vertical lining boards. I do this mainly to inhibit mouse activity, but I must say the result looks very neat.

Mice are a permanent problem. They get into drawers and chew up my drawings; a mouse has even chewed away the fibres on the back of a canvas in one place, leaving small holes showing in the front paint surface which I will have to repair.  Why would they do that?  Aha, a visitor says: in the basement of the RA Schools they stored linseed, which turned out to be a food store for rats and mice. The little bastards have also chewed the spines off some of my books, for the starch glue. They chew off the best bits of drawings to make a nest in the drawer. Could be worse: I reused an ancient stretcher, and a wood-worm ate its way through the wood making marginal holes in my canvas. Thank God woodworm aren’t as nippy as mice.

Anyway, once the walls are toshed out white again the whole studio converted to an amazingly clear, clean place ( it’s never like that when I am actually working)  So it is actually a fraud on the public – like the Iraq war or Brexit. Never mind.  It’s the illusion which counts.  It reminds me of the time we used to pop round to have coffee in Terry Frost’s studio – pictures everywhere at all stages, hanging, leaning against the wall, ready for ‘the old one-two’; paint, brushes, stand oil, confusion, stove, warm Nescafe and chat in a creative clutter. Years later I saw his paintings hanging on the sterilised walls of Tate St Ives, & thought how changed they were as chaste icons. Should the product be exhibited quite clear of the warmth of its generation? Or contrariwise, why do we want to know how Hokusai produced his works: isn’t it enough to have the prints and drawings?

 

P1000709

Living Room

Visitors are generally very friendly. I feel an absurd need to chat them up.  Not to try for sales, but because my chatter seems to be required as part of the entertainment. As if I am the product, not the work. I know that most of them won’t buy anything – many can’t – and they know that I know, and so ad infinitum.  Some people don’t like what they see: too ‘trad’ or too ‘modern’. I am always one of Tom Lehrer’s children, as I go sliding down the razor-blade of life.  One woman complains that these aren’t textiles – she has been misled by a road-sign. Actually, Madam, they are textiles – but I know what you mean.

It’s an odd business, coming up with an answer to nobody’s question, and then putting it up for sale. Of course, the opposite has its drawbacks – I mean producing something commissioned, to someone else’s criteria, with all the frustrations of not quite fulfilling he brief, regrets the client etc. Though at least then you can hate the client, and not exclusively yourself,  sole composer and performer of inadequate tunes for an empty street.

Was it worth it? Yes. I cleaned out the studio.  The talk was good; the visitors were warm. I sold a print and three pictures to good friends. Does that count? I reminded my good friends that I am still here doing whatever ‘it’ is And two cards. – enough to buy the next batch of materials; my pictures cheered me up/my pictures depressed me. Shall I do it again?  I don’t think so.  Shut, Sesame!

This poem was written to celebrate the first named Storm Lady, about a year ago, so perhaps it is still appropriate now.

 

Storm Ladies

 

 

Storm Lady Immogen hammers our doors and our windows

it’s the fault of Aeolus for letting her out of his bag

and our fault as well, for tattooing a name on her

innocent shoulder.

 

Is she tempted to blow as when all Suffolk’s windmills

indignantly groaned into flame, with their arms madly whirling,

ripped oaks out like sprout stems, demolishing church-towers and drowning

some eight thousand sailors?

 

‘A once-in-five-hundred-year tempest,’ could blow up again, any minute.

because Gaia’s provoked, or a force generated at random ?

Either way we can’t see, cannot draw, this fierce air that we picture as sinister

isobars, sliding and clenching.

 

“But I love wind” you say, and we know what you mean is

the scent on spring breezes and bracing brown gusts in the autumn

that whirl leaves round our heads and throw rooks like old rags round the sky

But beware what you love, for

 

the Wind-God has ungentle daughters, his feline avengers:

watch out for a day which is still, with the grass hardly moving,

when we peer through the pane, and we ask ourselves

‘What is that roaring?’

 

 

 

 

02 2016

 

 

 

mousedhackney

This is a drawing I did when in self-imposed exile in Hackney.  I was rather pleased with the drawing of two men working on the flat-roof on the other side of the wall, top right. But a mouse got into my plan-chest and chewed up the paper – and the men – for a nest. So much for vanity.

 

The men working on the roof were linked in my mind with the man on the building in the wonderful Jongkind etching. ‘Demolitions dans la Rue des Francs Bourgeois, St Marcel,’ where every line is alive. Jongkind seems to me to reach a peak of energy and expressiveness in his etchings which he never quite finds elsewhere. There is, also in my mind, a link to the two men working or the roof in my poem ‘Two walks with K‘.

jongkind-etch-lite-copy

Well. However that may be, the mouse won. Nothing lasts in this universe, as the Anglo Saxon poets knew. Or as Dryden later put it, with an etcher’s vigour:

All human things are subject to delay

And when fate beckons, monarchs must obey

 

Happy New Year (not to mice)

David

 

On Saturday 24 September I visited a very fine exhibition of Christopher Wood’s paintings in the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester. Many familiar pictures, and some unfamiliar ones. I was particularly drawn to an early painting of flowers in a vase, presented as a black silhouette against a medium dark background. Disconcertingly, in the middle of the black shape of the foliage thrusting out of the vase, there is a cluster of carefully observed florets. The result is a bit like Magritte, but much more sensuous. Naturally (as is always the case) there wasn’t a post-card of the picture you particularly want to remember; I’m sorry I can’t show it to you. Maybe, in these digital days, you could buy an image for a small sum, generating fees for the gallery and the copyright holders.

 

Talking of small sums, it costs £10 to get into the Pallant House Gallery, which will inevitably cut out many people, and casual visiting.

 

On view in the Gallery bookshop there was a blazing cluster of Peter Iden reproductions flanking one of an Ivon Hitchens landscape. (Peter would have been pleased with the company). You can only see this work in reproduction in the bookshop: there is none in the Gallery. Here are some samples. About a mile away is the small room in a small flat where Peter did all his late abstracted Downland landscapes. It’s a neat illustration of the biblical adage, that a prophet has no honour in his own country

img_3235-copy img_3258-copy

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Here it is again – my friendly fieldmark. Most years the field next door (Claypit Hill rising to Dicky Hill- the two fields were merged in the years after the War, part of a general amalgamation of fields, and tearing out of hedgerows here), is ploughed up, harrowed, raked and sown, and then a final fieldmark is embossed on it like a watermark by a heavy tractor. It will sit here now for the next three seasons, accentuated by the growth as it comes, modified by the nature of the crop. It’s a natural  symbol – a bit like a Greek alpha or a rune, but very much itself. Next years fieldmark will probably look similar – but not the same – and will stare up at the changing moon, currently an orange sickle in the West at dusk, who presides over this sort of variability. It will certainly creep into some future picture of mine, as it has so many times in the past.

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