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Incidental Odds & Bits

What do you do with the by-products? A frend of mine wrote a thesis based on her interviews with sculptors who emerged in the ‘fifties, when she originally started an interrupted career. Because she was now back as a mature student, I read her thesis in the role of supervisor, though sadly I don’t have a copy. In it she tells of a sculptor who made large heavy works and lived in the country. But then there were problems, the family split up, and he moved to the city. What to do with the works? He hired a JCB and buried them in a large hole in the ground. Whether they were ever retrieved I don’t know: I don’t think the thesis told us.

All of us makars (a Scots word, mainly used of poets, which I’ve purloined to mean anyone who makes things which are not utilitarian, for their own sake: less pretentious than the word ‘creatives’), produce incidental matter, sometimes in profusion. What on earth to do with it?

One solution is to destroy it, or to arrange for it to be destroyed on one’s death, as Vergil did with The Aeneid, or Kafka did with The Trial etc., though the literary executors, Rufus and Tucca in the first case, (forbidden to burn the manuscripts by the Emperor Augustus), Max Brod in the second, failed to carry out their authors’ wishes.

Some makars produce while ignoring the possibility that no-one may see their work. In Stalinist Russia, alongside samisdat, which meant publication by many individuals using the simplest means of reproduction, there was also production for the bottom drawer. There is a memorable moment in a TV documentary when the British composer Kaikhosru Sorabji waves his arms at copious cupboards and says something like “All stuffed with music. All.- Will never be played. Never.”

In my case I have loads of byproduct. Partly because I find it difficult to throw anything away, especially if it took quite a lot of effort to produce. Even if it is crap. Partly also because, as my peers attended proper Art School and did their time in the Life Room, I felt obliged to do a lot of Life Drawing afterwards to catch up. However that may be, I have drawings, of whatever sort, probably in thousands taking up the cupboards and plan-chests Sorabji-style. Sure, most life-drawings are five-finger exercises, but some have value. As for scribbles about ideas – most of us would prefer to preserve Leonardo’s notebooks if it was a choice between them and his mostly insipid paintings. Who knows what is worth which?

Which brings us to the question of value, which I have to say, is not the issue. Some of the sketches/trials are far better than the works they were preparing for. We all know the case of Constable. It’s not in the the makar’s gift definitively to sift the good from the bad. It would be nice to know the difference at the time, but mostly we don’t. We try to wise up to what we can bring off and what we can’t, but we don’t do that either.

No, the problem remains: what are we going to do with all this stuff in the mean-time? And how much effort are we going to leave to someone else to sort out? I have thought of giving everyone a drawing (perhaps rubber-stamped “This Is a Christmas Card” on the verso), instead of the usual offering –but the Post Office have made that a costly solution. Or maybe ”Five free drawings with every painting bought?” “Three egg-cups with every ceramic vase?” “A free bagatelle for every symphony commissioned?”

My friend of the thesis tried a possible solution to a related problem: “ I tore up all of X’s horrible letters” she wrote to me, “and made them into a papier-mache statue. I thought I’d got rid of him, but instead I’ve made him immortal.”

The wasps take slivers from the shed

to make a paper home to raise their grubs.

Our forebears managed much the same for us:

My study’s paper; floor to ceiling books 

and files: this black one here for instance

holds the illicit letters you wrote me

(I hope you hoarded mine away as well),

Brown envelopes like fallen leaves – inside,

your calm Italic clarity describes

day to day news, but always ends with love

So urgent, and so strong.

Now we’re together, always, we don’t say

the things you say in letters:

more a diminuendo than a pause

from holding breath to hear the postman call,

or catch the post in time. And after all

The paper age is over: all that’s done. The Finns 

don’t even teach their kids to write;

the paperless perform

their offices in transit on their phones.

The paper age is over: bring back trees!


What’s left to us are these

last letters of our loves, our generations

that maybe‘d make some sort of sense hereafter

at least to wasps, or bees.


The Wisdom Tree oil on canvas 49 x 40 cm

Raincloud on Claypit Hill . oil on Canvas 60 x 100
Green-Field Sky-Lines . oil on canvas . 91 x 91

Rose-Plants on Dicky Hill, Winter

Like spiders that you had not seen

The kids come out from in-between

Splashing the road with khaki green –

And how their pallid faces gleam

like blossoms on a Chinese stream

The drill hall hunches on the hill. 

the little soldiers gather still: 

The school, where they all learned to play

is only fifty yards away

And still they come, and still they come –

we do not  fight our wars at home, 

Gloucestershire versus Worcestershire,

armies cascading down the hills

to valleys full of boney loam.

The wicked men of Worcestershire

pursue their wickedness, and thrive: 

we don’t mind leaving them alive.

We don’t do War here any more; 

we send our children far and wide 

and visit all that shock and awe 

on lesser breeds without the Law.

And still they come, and still they come   

to take a shilling from the Queen-

They don’t read Hardy or Li Po:

they need to feel before they know

We live on history and fear, 

but they live in the now and here.  

They don’t use tabors when they drill

or scarlet when they dress to kill

but war’s a fashion driven thing:

so dappled coveralls provide

a uniform to wear with pride. 

A  skewbald rag will do as well 

to blow about  that foreign field    

where some poor squaddy leaves behind

a life, a limb, or just his mind.

The corner seat is always there

reserved for mutilés de guerre

The ones who bled, who we ignore.

As Byron  wrote to Wellington: 

who cares, then, when the war is done?

And will they come, and will they come

’till the extinction of mankind?

Will the last human toddler found

pick up a stick from off the ground

to point and say “Bang Bang, you’re dead? 

is it encripted in each mind?

is it engendered in our blood

by genes that cannot be denied?

And if they come, and if they come

The shining ones of space and time, 

will they accept us or decline?

Will our indomitable mind 

condemn us to be left behind

while sunlight falters and grows red

and every living creature’s dead

and all the oceans have run dry

and no-one’s left to see or cry

and all the stars have fled?

Some of the paintings in my current show at the Fisher Theatre Gallery Upstairs.  There is also a video interview under my name at YouTube – do have a look  The show is on until the 16th April

92. The Beck Riverine through Low Meadow 07 18 40x60 copy

The Beck Riverine through Low Meadow . oil on canvas

90 Lovers knot Fieldmark copy

Lovers Knot Fieldmark . oil on canvas

91 V Marks on a Mauve Field lite copy

Fieldmarks on Mauve Field oil on canvas

95. Autumn Wedge copy

Autumn Wedge oil on canvas

96 Perfrming Tree, Redenhall 12 78 copy

Little Performing Tree at Redenhall . oil on canvas

97 Frosty Field Corner

Frosty Field Corner . oil on canvas

Shadows on Rapefield88 copy 2

House Shadow on Rapefield . oil on canvas

Embrowned Rapefield 87

Embrowned Rapefield . oil on canvas

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

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

It looks as though we may be neglecting one lever at the moment: even discounting UKIP we have a substantial number of MEPs, who remain in place until we leave.The UK apparently has 73 MEPs – even discounting the UKIP group this is a sizeable wedge   Maybe there are alliances we could make, and maybe we need to explore filibustering/ blocking tactics in case we need that in our negotiation armoury .

Macron wants to reform the EC. As members of the EC until we actually leave, (which may be many years) we would be missing a trick if we did not seriously try to make the EC more like the organisation UK citizens would like it to be, given that it is in any case on the turn;  There are potential allies. And what have we got to lose ? The trouble with the British and the EU is that we never really joined it in the first place.We ignored European politics. Consequently I have never seen a blue-print for our ideal EC.

The arguments for leaving in a hurry look increasingly shaky. The most salient was: “We pay enormous amounts to the EC, and our ability to trade with other countries is restricted. When we get out of the EC and its restrictions we shall be [much] better off.” Both these linked propositions seem to be fading fast. Who believes that now? Actually we are spending vast sums on the bureaucracy of leaving the EC and neglecting other things in consequence.

A second main argument expressed itself as “ We shall regain sovereignty when we leave/ we will get back control over our laws.” No doubt there was a time when a nation-state could make its laws, ignoring all other states, and impose them absolutely in its own territory. We no longer live in that time. Part of our law is dependent on supra-national bodies or conventions (eg the UN Charter or the Geneva Convention, or the1999 Gothebrg Protocol). For instance, we are members of NATO, and under the Nato treaty, if a member state is attacked, we are obliged by treaty to declare war to defend it, Many British people would be shocked to find that this covers not only most Western and central European countries, but also the USA, Canada, Iceland and Turkey. If North Korea attacks the US, we are automatically at war with North Korea, and if Iran or Russia attack Turkey, then we are at war with Iran or Russia. It isn’t a choice: the decision is already made. The implications are rarely discussed. At the same time Britain is covered with US air bases,  vaguely disguised as RAF, but not in fact under our control. Funny that none of the Brexiteers talked about retrieving our military sovereignty from the USA: Wedgie Benn always did. 

Much more of our law depends indirectly on treaties and conventions agreed with other states. At the moment 44% of our trade is with the EU, which means that this part of our industrial export will have to conform to EC regulations if we wish to trade with EC countries. However, whereas at the moment we can influence the shape of EC reg as members by internal political pressure, leaving the EU strips us of ability to influence the making of the law we shall be constrained by.

There is a Left suggestion that EC Law as it stands makes it difficult to extend the role of the individual state (for instance, to nationalise industries or facilities), but this is disputed. What is indisputable is that EC law, like any law, can be changed. However that may be, it looks unlikely that there will be an increase in our freedom, personal or national, as a result of leaving the EU: more likely there will be a decrease.

The third main reason for seeking to leave the EC could be expressed as follows: “We will have full control over immigration and our borders/this is a small nation/we shall control who gets in, and stop our culture being swamped.”

It would be perfectly possible, in theory, to control our population by doing two things: firstly, requiring everyone to own, and carry, an identity card, and secondly, controlling our borders rigorously. The first of these actions would take some years to complete, but once done it would be possible to identify ‘illegals’, and the likelihood of being caught and the impossibility of obtaining social benefits would greatly reduce their number. Naturally this move would spawn a black industry of counterfeiting, and would have to be sophisticated enough to make that industry costly and difficult, which means that the identity cards would themselves have to be sophisticated and therefore expensive. Getting in and out of the country would take more time, and there would need to be an increase in the number of immigration officers. By the same token there would have to be a very great increase of border control officers, aircraft, ships and surveillance systems etc.

There are good reasons to suppose that this sort of increase of control would be resisted or rejected by both Public and MPs. We have already had a debate on identity cards. People don’t much like carrying identification, or being asked for it, and believe correctly that Government (aka Big Brother) will try to intrude further into private life by squeezing more surveillance info out of an identity card, which will inevitably be used for all sorts of reasons other than what it was invented for. If the cards were sophisticated enough to deter low-level counterfeiting they would be be expensive to make and to activate. Who would pay for them?

The issue of cost also looms large in relation to the control of our borders. One serious figure gives the coastal borders of the British Isles as 7,000 miles. We appear to have (according to the Independent) all of three Border Force cutter vessels to patrol it (Italy has 600 vessels and Holland 16). Again (according to the Guardian) “Nearly half of the unmanned seaports on the east coast of Britain were left without a visit from border enforcement officers for more than a year” There are about 8,000 personel in the border force, which looks equally light – leaving out clerical staff it might run to one officer per mile of coastline! As we know from Poldark, (where we rather admire it), the British are as good at people-smuggling as anyone else when we put our minds to it. After all, there is effectively no-one to stop us.

Most of our defence against mass migration, currently surging from the South, is the existence of Europe between us and the Mediterranean. If that cushion, resisting and absorbing the in-flow, fails, then we don’t appear to have much defence to fall back on. In other words, British immigration policy absolutely depends on EU countries

It ought to seem silly to say that a large block like the EU, if it had wise policies, could have some effect on the real causes of mass migration which threaten us all in Europe:  in the long run the remedy will require a sort of Marshall Plan for devastated or impoverished areas. operating over a long period. Move in the investment, and turn refugee camps into NewTowns. The UK on its own can’t and wont achieve this. The May Strategy – make the UK so unpleasant that no-one will want to come here – may be the only practical one left to us.

As to the swamping of our culture, what you might call The Return of Empire – West Indian and Asian immigration – has already had an enormously greater effect on British culture than any European input, though the major Empire surge is past. The Polish inflow has had little effect on our culture, rather than making it a bit easier to buy sauerkraut. There are apparently 270,000 French citizens living in London: point me to London boroughs which are being swamped by French culture?

While the current incompetent government dithers us away from the EU,imaybe MEPs could try to become more forceful and vocal. Anything for focussed political activity.  [Yes, I’m back]

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