How Goldsmiths destroyed British Art: But is it art?

Up front I will declare my position. In 1986-7 I was interviewed twice by the great and the then good at Goldsmiths.

The interviewers in first instance included Nick De Ville (Graphic Designer responsible for Roxy Music covers who had done a fine art degrees at Derby and Newcastle hence Roxy link and he still at Goldsmiths in charge of MA’s….god help us) and Mary (Post-partum Document) Kelly – her of the feacal stains etc….not promising and guess what it didn’t go well. However because I had a studio and looked serious they tried again a year later when I didn’t have a studio.

My abiding memory of that first interview was their combined excitement about a black canvas I was about to paint on as they riffed on its ‘potential’ ignoring virtually everything I had to say. They completely missed every reference to painting and Francis Bacon I was making..maybe they thought after another year I’d come to my postmodernist senses and toe their line.

A year later I’d scraped by in a crap job and lost two studios in rapid succession so had to do interview in my housing association house on the north circular (not as pleasant as leafy Sarf London) I forget the interviewers (different) but I do remember a prat of a female MA student whose latest work was a row of binbags …tremendous stuff….She was so rude she didn’t even enter the room where my paintings were…maybe they scared her….all that formalism..naked…..

Within seconds of the interview commencing I’d been rejected on basis that mentioning Peter Fuller was tantamount to joining the Nazi Party. You see I hadn’t realised that being a working class student from a council estate was good but thinking in a non-Goldsmiths way was bad. Make no mistake there was a clearly delineated ‘party line’ at Goldsmiths…despite appearances (i.e. white rich middle class tossers) these people from Craig-Martin down were ushering in a new era where one could have it all..marxist left-wing views and right-wing travel and pay packets. Its called the hipocracy my friends.

Looking back it was the defining moment in my entire artistic life. It was us and them and I pretty much been of same opinion ever since. My ’self-portraits’ (a tradition extending back several hundred years darlinks) were too closed off and personal and used too much paint and chalk..yes I dared to actually draw…. I referred to the OLD GARDE…Graham Sutherland,  Henry Moore and John Piper who were now in the Stalinist ‘new age’ considered patriarchal monsters and worst of all I mentioned Fuller….a reactionary traitor who had started on their side but had fled their camp. Hence the squealing antipathy.

What Goldsmiths led the way in every other Art College has aped as they stumbled on that stamp of authority…CASH…oodles of it following Craig-Martin and Hirst’s great scam (enabled by the true joker in the pack Jopling…no Jopling and Goldsmiths would have crumbled to insignificance by now). Instead it went stratospheric and is still living off that moment 25 years later..no matter that virtually none of its graduates has anything like the gravity or talent of a Moore or Sutherland..they had reaped the new money from the Thatcherist experiment….and as good socialists they weren’t going to give it back….oh no this was all part of the irony as was my background…I was just an unenlightened member of the working classes deluded by notions of craftsmanship and talent…so very passe darlinks….only the feeble still dealt in actual mark making and daubing this was the brave new world of ideas not craft.

Twenty-five years on and every other art college has either directly imitated or followed jealously in the Goldsmiths experiment wake. It will be interesting to see in an era of falling revenues and a hostile government (right or left) how much of it survives the next twenty-five years. My prediction is that we have seen the last of this ‘low dishonest two decades and a half’ (to paraphrase Auden) of peurile postmodernism and that we in for a bumpy ride across the whole arts…especially fine art.

There is a glut of badly trained,  intellectually impoverished ‘post conceptualists’ students littering our streets and all the indicators are we in for a downturn in numbers…imposed or through natural selection…..mummy and daddy won’t take kindly to funding a career that doesn’t ‘pay-off’ like in the 1990’s. The Art Star is on the point of burnout and nobody has a replacement hence the desperate angling for attention (see link below). I thought I was right in 1986 and I think exactly the same now…..we must turn back to craftsmanship..to Fuller and rebuild the system from below as Goldsmiths and other ‘Ozymandias’ institutions sink in the sands of recession and the new reality.

Advert for Goldsmiths courtesy of the BBC

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00s01xm/Goldsmiths_But_Is_It_Art_Episode_1/

Beyond the crisis in art – making and doing…

artschool

I have long been a fan of the Sharkforum and resident artist/critic Mark Staff Brandl’s take on the present state of art criticism.

This is by way of a practice run to ‘scope’ the afore mentioned ‘art criticism now?’ agenda 🙂 I love that word ‘scope’ you’d think we were shooting bears..maybe we are…certainly foxes…

His latest project involves asking artists to write about their practice and its theoretical basis as a challenge to the current curatorial/academic mish mash that sometimes pertains in the IAW (international art world). He (I think correctly) cites the current fashion orientated dealer driven art world as suffering from a ‘glossies’ approach that has jettisoned the baby with the bathwater and quite correctly identifies a gap ‘in the market’ (how loaded that phrase has become in the past 30 years) where artist’s voices have become swamped in other louder discourses. Usually these discourses are tied hand and foot to financial and kudos driven ‘standing’ in that same ‘IAW’ and have long since lost any real veracity or in some cases coherance as theoretical writings let alone curatorial statements or overviews.

We here in Nottingham have some recent first-hand instances of this I.A.W. Gobbledygook thanks to our sudden emergence into the IAW thanks to Nottingham Contemporary. As our provincial minds sink in the flood of propaganda we are about to be verbally lashed by maybe it a good point for some circumspect analysis of this phenomena.

My own artistic history is pretty much framed in two decades. Firstly 1980-1990 then 2000-2010.

Phase 1: I graduated from Hornsey college of Art London (Middlesex University as is now) in 1981 and my art history tutor there was John A. Walker who has written extensively about the specifically political dimension to celebrity art as well as popular cultural connections ( Art in the Age of Mass Media 2001). At this time there was little separation between ‘art’ and ‘theory’. Indeed it was common practice to read and absorb not only general theory but specific artist’s statements. Magazines like Artscribe and Art Monthly put artist statements centre stage and along with a varied ‘contextual’ studies area which ranged from contemporary poetry to applied design we were encouraged not only to think for ourselves but also to be as wide in our reading as possible. In those days notions of ‘networking’ and ‘careerist’ ‘making it’ were viewed from a heavily left-wing viewpoint ( Hornsey had been a scene of ‘Riots’ alongside actions in France in 1968 ) so much so that I do not think the words were ever used.

hornsey2

We were serious (maybe too serious) students with serious ambitions to create serious artworks. There was little hope of making money except in maybe the long term and we set ourselves for many years of cold, lonely debate and artmaking activity in usually sub standard freezing cold ‘studios’. We did have a sense of community and a shared sense of what the ‘art world’ was and what was ‘significant’. What was written about in Artscribe framed the debate and our sense of the ‘art world’. There were few curatorial driven exhibitions to see and a hang of Bacon or Auerbach at Marlborough would be the highpoint of a summer. Serious artists shown seriously with little theoretical framing except in large Thames and Hudson or Phaidon tomes or reviews in the ‘serious’ press. Waldemar Janusczack, James Faure Walker, Sarah Kent, Brian Sewell, Mathew Collings…the names of those critics I remember 20 years later such was there standing….Artcribe had a ‘local’ i.e. usually London focus.

The art world then may have been smaller (pre boom and bust and the internet) but one felt one could get a handle of the major developments and the significant figures as they emerged. I remember seeing early shows by Doig and Julian Opie. Indeed I even ended up as a figure in a Gilbert and George photo piece. This was pre Goldsmiths, Hirst and the collapse (in my opinion) of those values and the boom in a larger, more fashionable, successful and in my opinion shallower art world. That art world was fed, watered and bloomed under the hands of an advertising executive and there was indeed a cut off point. The change in attitudes can be dated to the Royal Academy Sensation show…soon Stuart Morgan tried to sail artscribe into ‘International Art World’ waters and promptly sank….he just didn’t understand the Prada Bag set…

There and ever after even the hard leftists in the artworld found themselves chasing a beguiling gravy train and penned many acres of explication to justify having sold out out to a capitalist driven art world on a scale hitherto unimagined. Craig-Martin at Goldsmiths and principles of newly business orientated Academies across the country raced to catch up and cash in. This also coincided with a boom in markets across Europe and the USA and suddenly Brit was HIP. Nobody could bare to criticise a position we so fully deserved…now we were art top dogs we could look down on others and crow….and of course objective criticism.hard criticism..was thrown out the window.

I remember attending a show in the mid 1980’s where the curatorial statement ran to over a thousand words and was written in such impermeable ‘academese’ that nobody could actually read it. I dismissed it but foolishly did not realise the power of the word was on the march…..

Soon fellow artists were ‘locating their practice’ and referencing Derrida and Foucault. Indeed one friend went from rather dull printmaker to being an expert on postmodernism in a matter of weeks. The honesty and integrity of magazines like Artscribe and Art Monthly were suddenly outshone by their glossy step-children …Frieze, Flash etc etc and countless others that spawned and drowned in their own scenes. This also coincided with the first attempts to push M.A.’s and Phd’s for artists…..up until that point M.A.’s were few and far between and centred on the ‘top’ institutions The Slade, Chelsea and Royal College. More importantly these were heavily studio-based courses…long on practice short on theory….evn in the late 1980’s one could still just paint at the Royal College like David Hockney……just….

I still have some of the copies of artscribe I would spend hours poring over..then for a few brief years before his untimely death Peter Fuller’s ‘Modern Painters’ seemed to show a way forward with erudite well written articles by the likes of Jed Perl rubbing shoulders with informed ‘outsiders’ like David Bowie and poet Jamie McKendrick. I ws verbally lashed by a graphic designer who then head of Goldsmiths M.A. for even suggesting Fuller was worth reading as too rightist..the same Goldsmiths that spun a silk purse out of a sow’s ear a year later with Damien Hirst……ah the irony of it all. Nothing corrupts good intentions and political principles like a hefty wad of cash especially in the Halls of Academe….

What Fuller recognised (he was a good critic grounded in an appreciation of the English Tradition especially the writings of Ruskin, Moore, Sutherland and Hockney..read ‘Beyond the Crisis in Art‘ currently out of print) was the essential connection between an artists’s writing and their art. Especially if one moved closer to the arts and crafts area of Gill, David Jones and all the way back via William Morris to William Blake.

That tradition has never been broken it merely been supplanted by the hysterical winnying of a thousand ‘on the make’ mediocrities in both studio and academia. Tie-ins and stitch-ups replaced a grounded and reasoned debate. A in-depth knowledge was not needed to spurt out a trendy 1000 word review of Hirst that never delved into his fragile and lately revealed lack of knowledge of anything remotely to do with art. Like the Peter Sellers film ‘Being There’ all that mattered was to be in attendance at the ‘Cinderella’s Ball’ to catch some benefits from the King’s largesse. Many very good painters and theorists (equally) retreated to the shadows …some never to return…..John Hubbard, David Blackburn, Simon Lewty, Gillian Ayres even artists with reputations as formidable as Athony Caro’s, John Hoyland’s or Tom Phillips’ were not safe. they were all pushed form the banquet table by the greedy and Sunday Supplement friendly advertising savvy new brood….they have never left nor raised their snouts since…..Chapmans, Hirst, Emin..you know the rest….

Now there seems to be a new mood afoot where not only Aesthetics but the artists themselves may once more be allowed their rightful place at the high table of art and there a very good chance their writing a lot better than the charlatans who supplanted them.

Read David Smith, Robert Motherwell, CY Twombly, Philip Guston, Picasso, Matisse…….it a long and noble tradition of both thinking and doing..

Hirst on Art………don’t make me laugh

Nottingham Contemporary: The good, the bad and the ugly..

piggies

I have recently had to pull a discussion post from the Nottingham Contemporary Free discussion group on facebook. Here I explain why and deliver a more considered version of basically the same material which less likely to offend the great and the good of this noble art city.

The post was a hasty response to seeing the effect the opening of ‘The Golden Egg’ is already having on culture in this city.

Geoffrey Diego Litherland’s show at the Castle was his reward for winning last year’s Nottingham Open competition. A well deserving winner and a good set of paintings in a show spoilt only by the ludicrous arrangement of hanging on a staircase. Meanwhile pride of place as usual went to a travelling Arts Council show. No better nor worse than many but surprising that second show on this theme in as many months…..are our curators trying to tap into an underlying theme about Nottingham..i.e. are we all trapped..or criminals?

My real disappointment was with the Castle Permanent Collection. It has always been a lacklustre space full of frankly third rate paintings and some gems. But previous visits never saw it looking quite so tawdry. When I pointed out that some of the signage appeared to be little more than blu-tacked to wall I got response..well all the money gone to the Egg. True or not it did make me wonder if Jack hadn’t given the cow away for a hill of beans…

Bad signage aside if one scans the ‘hidden’ collection (including a fine William Nicholson of downland I seen but once) one realises that very little of it gets aired. Something more than occasional Brit Art shows should be done with this space. Which leads me on to my main point. The Nottingham Contemporary..for good or ill and whatever it costs is here now….it has raised a certain part of the profile of the local art scene i.e. the pretentious outward looking side a notch from the days of Angel Row but what does that actually mean? We have lost at least three contemporary gallery spaces..Angel Row, Yard Gallery Wollaton and Bonington Gallery and gained two..New Art Exchange and The Egg. The Castle under Deborah Dean continues the kind of work Angel Row did…tied to ACE and very rarely escaping the confines of a certain tired politically correct viewpoint…..noble causes…dull art. Angel Row occasionally surprised but more often was as dull too and only at the end did it burst into some kind of life with the Parade shows..too little too late.

Love it or hate it Angel Row did occasionally show a mix of local and ‘international’ (i.e. what somebody saw in a magazine made it international…generally this meant American as most Art Press is USA dominated). There were never contemporary Spanish or French shows….I may be wrong as frankly I hardly bothered going in the place and when I did just got annoyed…

But it did (particularly in earlier days) show local ‘semi-professional’ artists. What worries me about The Egg is that it is a Tate Lite for the region and nothing more……in this sense it very similar to the Museum of Modern Art Oxford which apart from a ‘local artist’ space in their cafe (still operating after 20 plus years) never showed local artists unless they had made it to the glossies….

This may be one of the reasons that Oxford has virtually no thriving local arts scene..like Nottingham had up to now….it virtually ended ambitions before they flowered….I knew however hard I tried I would never ‘make it’ there….

So if The Egg shows international ( USA and Bradford born Hockney so far but he famous so that OK) and New Art Exchange is so heavily ring-fenced by its own mission statement (although I hear the curator there is trying to reflect the changing nature of the environment..) then with the loss of so many spaces for exhibition where are local artists to show? If you then say but look at the plethora of cutting edge spaces that sprung up recently I’d retort with yes and how long without funding will they last? A few have been primed with money by the Arts Council to create the impression of a vibrant local art scene to spin around The Egg but truth is ACE finding will not keep them alive forever…..just long enough to get through next year’s Brit Art spectacular is my guess then what…?

Meanwhile the mid-career (i.e. older not dead yet but been going 25 plus year artists) who actually created the ‘Nottingham Art Scene’ have been turfed out of their studios or faced rent rises and most scrabbling in the gutter or the studio equivalent. Apart from the bitterness this provokes this also bodes ill for the future as younger artists see the good and bad side of dedicating a life to their noble career…

Discounting local anarcho-capitalist venture The Art Organisation and volunteer driven/ace space The Surface there is little in the way of a middle ground left..in fact nothing left…for a serious artist who not on the Faberge Egg list (i.e. international by the magazines definition or on the Tate’s radar etc etc ) to aim at.

My ill thought out and pulled rant did raise one serious proposal that would help but which will not get funding. A serious space for local serious artists on a more permanent basis like replacing the tired dusty Castle collection with a proper survey of local artistic output (not the Open…that’s too much like a jumble sale) would help…..then we would have less bitterness and less frustration.

At present to be a mid-career artist in this city is to feel like a unwanted guest at a shiny teenager’s party we not invited to…and when we do arrive we constantly reminded that ‘making it’ is more important that actually making it…the art work…..it the disease of contemporary art institutions and education…..until that addressed we will continue to clutch at Golden Eggs that when cracked leak sand not gold…eggs…just eggs..

 

Hill of money – mountains of cash

It has come to my attention that the Arts Council of England. A glorious body of noble souls are at this time perusing some submissions for a large wad of cash – 12 X £500,0000 – for specific art projects related to the glorious Olympiad of 2012.

Now I thought that every hair-brained, stupid artistic nonsense in the world had been explored..but no..where there’s money there’s crap to reverse the old adage…

An individual has proposed a fake hill somewhere in a Midland City centre…….yes you read rightly..a hill……there being no real, natural or god help us any reshaped urban landscape already available….hills are hard to come by these days…..

On said hill would occur many an artistic event, you name it the application scrapes it up..interventions, installations, finger painting , rap concerts..it is as wonderful a fiesta of all that truly original and beautiful in the U.K. arts scene as any arts officer has ever seen….maybe even a dolphin in an aquarium if the money doesn’t run out?

In yours and my name the infallible Arts Council will build a tawdry heap which no doubt will collapse after construction and how much carbon will be used in constructing this edifice to stupidity???

Enough is enough! That such a stupid piece of self promoting garbage has actually got through the submission process shows the gullibility and fatuous nature of our supposed Council of the Arts…..

I suggest a pressure group to stop this kind of garbage in its tracks before it pays the protagonists mortgages and leaves everybody else bemused and angered….

Altermodernism is the new world order…discuss..

french

This just about summed up how clapped out and inane the contemporary art scene is….not content with just posing inane speculative theory grounded in nothing or as Bourriaud states..

Like modernism and postmodernism, though, it’s not easy to sum up in a sentence. When I ask for the one-line Wikipedia version of the theory,  Bourriaud is cautious, saying it is a ­complex idea that can’t be simplified (FYI, Wikipedia defines altermodern as “an ­attempt at branding art made in today’s global ­context” and says it’s part of a commercialism backlash).

Bourriaud, who co-founded Paris gallery Palais de Tokyo and has ­written influential­ tomes on art theory, describes today’s superstars like Hirst as making “very static artworks” which are on their way out.

from The London Paper

Well there you have it – it too sophisticated to be explained…..I was going to give it benefit of doubt but when I see an article proclaiming a ‘new world order’ illustrated by a picture of a man wearing a badger on his head ( Marcus Coates – I kid you not:-) here it is…well what point satirising..it done for me…)

hrseshit

The basis of alter modernism is ‘it moves around a bit’ ..because of age of mass travel stupid artists can move around the globe being well..stupid and that’s ok?

The fact that it attempts to replace ‘postmodernism’ ( i.e. real theories based in real world) with a theory based on ‘travel’ just at point where the collapse of capitalism will mean fewer artists travelling ..indeed most will find it hard getting work of any kind is ludicrous in the extreme. Like many so-called ‘movements’ before the design of the catalogue is good (..proper design agency Paris involved) and we have the conceit of welding disparate concerns into a box of the curator’s ideas…(typical posture – there been goodness how many attempts in last two decades to get WOW factor moving again post..’Sensation’ Saatchi’s ragbag advertising coup which enfeebled subsequent generations of British artists). So now we all ‘altermodern’. Bullshit.

Bourriaud is a typical game-player and self-publicist and shame on the Tate for falling for his inept trendy theories and shocking lack of substance but as we live in an age of form over content and curator over artist I am no longer surprised. There will be decent work in the show even Bourriaud will get it right occasionally but as for a new movement….just ask Friends of the Earth or any serious grounded envoronmental artist if the new world order one of travel…exactly…

Maybe curators can travel first class in the new world order…for the rest of us its buses and tubes as usual and drivel from on high whether it be banker or man with badger on head……

Love to hear Brian Sewell on this…for now Ben Lewis does a lovely job on it

http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/arts/show-23592557-details/Altermodern:+Tate+Triennial+2009/showReview.do?reviewId=23636018

CODA
From Moogee on Guardian blog in response to Charlotte Higgins on Wallinger’s Geegee..

http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/charlottehigginsblog

 

satellite

As Marcus Coates is presently being touted as a symbol of Nicholas Bourriaud’s ‘Altermodern New World Order’ for wearing a badger on his head maybe we could build a statue of Nicholas with his head up a horse’s rear instead?

Thereby we would not only be creating a visual affirmation of our own cutting-edgeness but also showing a clear sign to our continental knowledge economy rivals of how brilliant we are….of course it would not be built of local cement that no longer exists….a bit like the Oxford Mini..a casualty of global market I’m afraid but the frisson of the impermanent would tie in beautifully with the altermodern golbal perspective…in fact lets retrain all the unemployed car workers to be curators ..

On second thought lets just forget the whole thing and spend the money wisely instead ….a very modernist idea whose time may finally have come….

CODA 2 and 3

Wallinger is a ray of sunshine in a bleak artworld..I like Charlotte will look forward to the show..
see my comment on M.W. from 2008 here..

http://belcheresque.wordpress.com/2008/01/21/art-politics-ed-vaizey/

A more compliant bunch than that would be hard to find. Indeed Wallinger stands out as one of few artists who had more in common with the left wing artists of 1970’s e.g. Conrad Atkinson than their cash-laden capitalist benefactors. To see how the colour supplement crowd actually got into bed with mass-marketing (most notably with Charles S.) and how that coincided with a lot of spare ‘profit’ from banking in late 1980’s is a book unwritten…they went hand in hand of course….

BUT…

how the hell did he end up being involved in something as rightwing as spurious regeneration

If his politics are to be believed ( and I do believe he sincere) did he do it for a joke and it all gone terribly wrong….???

sad…

I just read Jilly Cooper on said horse…it so stunningly idiotic a piece of writing it defies satire..just read it for oneself….
http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2009/feb/12/ebbsfleet-landmark-art-jilly-cooper
British culture is in safe hands….or should that be whip hand?

I wonder if she would have said same if it had been a giant statue of a car worker with his nether regions exposed towards Europe?….

the enthusiasm may not be so great then eh Jilly

toodle pip darlings….

Art & Politics: Ed Vaizey

Originally the Vaizey article available at the Art Newspaper: NOW offline and only available from archive.

http://www.theartnewspaper.com/article.asp?id=7041….

Artists are apolitical, doctor leaning to the left but embracing right-wing standards

There’s an entertaining “Alex” [The Telegraph’s hard-nosed City banker] cartoon where the eponymous hero is asking why his bank buys contemporary art. After all, he ponders, it’s impossible to…

The Real Art World: 1980 – London’s Burning

apfire.jpg

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)