1999: 3 Jay Christchurch Oxford

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After two very difficult years temping in banks and utility firms in Edinburgh Ana and I moved back to my parents in Didcot then to Oxford in 1997. I started temping then gained library work at Brookes then the Bodleian Library and worked there and finally at St Catherine’s College Library full time from 1997 to 2001. I never really enjoyed library work but it better than my dad’s shovel again which the alternative. Ana and I drifted apart and she left in November 2000. Part of the break down in relationship was I am sure to do with my complete depression at losing all contact with art. I turned to americana music for salvation and Flyin Shoes Webzine was born.

The only bright spot was very brief and happened in May 1999 as part of the then fairly new Oxford Art Week. I showed one drawing ( I did three for the show) in the glorious surroundings of Christchurch Quad.Still the poshest venue I have ever shown in and probably always will be!

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These drawings related to the ‘Icons of the Fields’ series. They were the only drawings until I got a studio in Nottingham in 2004 so a period of 10 years production!

I became involved through knowing Alun Ward a bright spark who was also very interested in the new-fangled web too.

I drew three images based around Pastor Moritz who travelled through the Thames Valley in 1782 from Germany. Only one image as above was shown.

1994: Edinburgh Etchings- McThistle Suite

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In August 1994 Ana Fortun Garrido from Zaragoza, Spain took me on a train to Edinburgh and we stayed there through 1994-6. Poor as church mice we barely survived but I did manage to get these etchings done at a Edinburgh College of Art night class. During the day I did temp work in banks…the most miserable thing I ever done. This kept me sane for a while…

This was the last drawing I was to do until 1999! I slowly drifted into poetry rather than art as it was impossible on our low incomes to rent a studio and the flat was too small for drawing in. Ana was nanny to the director of the French Institute and his wife who very rich and they treated her as family and me as shit….at one point I had to paint a wendy house for their spoilt brat of a son. I resented that as I had to do it to survive. For them it was peanuts and done so Ana stayed in Edinburgh. Eventually I insisted we both moved back to Oxford and Ana resented that she didn’t go to Paris with them. In retrospect I wish she had….would have been best for both of us but in hindsight that is easy to see..

So art dies a slow lingering death…accelerated when back in the town of dreaming spires and as Ana pointed out on day we got back..trees inside walls..never outside….the City of Scheming Liars I call it…..ironically she still there…I believe.

 

song1The odd set of songs was an experiment. the plates must have been drawn in Edinburgh and printed there but the type was added in oxford at some point later.

1994: London ‘L’Escargot’ Watercolours

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This series is still available each 24" x 18" watercolour and gouache on heavyweight Bockingford paper. It is a set of 12 works in a custom made wooden box.(see below)

1993 August I move to London and get various temporary library posts. In time off I prepare these watercolours for a possible show with my friend Javaid Alvi at ‘L’Escargot’ Restaurant on Dean Street. Something goes wrong. The show does not happen. The watercolours go into a folder until now. I move to Edinburgh in August 1994. I do not pick up a paintbrush again until August 2003……ten years later! Things happened……oh yes things happened….

 

1993: Paintings January to March

moon1In January 1993 things were pretty much as usual. I was still officially unemployed although I had been mending a stone bridge and fencing too.

I received a ‘commission’ from my friend Pete Astor who was at that time living in Walthamstow with Sukie Smith. This was £150 for materials to paint a large canvas for their living room. It was a great boost after a bad year and I soon spent the money on oil paints and painted out my dad’s unused garage as a studio which was quite good.

The paintings below came from that brief period before I moved to London to be with Ana Fortun who I met on 3rd March 1993 at a friend’s birthday party. I gave the large barn canvas above to Ana when we parted 7 years later but do not have an image of Pete’s canvas sadly.

The rest of the paintings were ‘saved’ by Laura Stenhouse who a year later picked them up to stop them getting damaged in the garage when I moved to Edinburgh. I know the Kew Gardens canvas went to Laura but not sure about the rest.

1992: Icons of the fields – gouaches and drawings

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1992 was a strange year when I was first published as a poet and I moved into a kind of surreal landscape figure work pre-figured in earlier sketchbooks. All my work was on paper as I did not have a studio. The ‘Last Picture Show’ show was cancelled by Freuds not me so didn’t happen…so these pictures were never shown again.

Finally the image below the largest of the set at 36″ x 48″

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1992: Natura Morte – Friends of the Earth Tree-planting

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Whilst living at my parents I joined Didcot and Wallingford Friends of the Earth.

We went on demonstrations (B and Q mahogany etc) with Earth First and raised funds for tree-planting. I created this small ilustrated poetry booklet and sold 25 at £2 each which equivalent to 25 new trees. I also took part in the actual tree-planting that happened based on the proceeds. If I ever take the train back to Didcot I can actually point to the clump of new trees in a field neat Cholsey, Oxon which this book created;-)

I also showed a series of the down-land drawings behind Sir Julian Rose at the meeting below. My thanks to Beryl Davidson of F.O.E. at the time (and fellow Didcot poet Jonathan Davidson’s mum by the way:-) for helping produce the booklet.

 

 

 

1992 – TEMS or the Battle of Bampton

tems4When things start going wrong the results can be hilarious. This exhibition started off as a well-meaning attempt to show six artists from Didcot in the Old Town Hall in the centre of the picturesque West Oxfordshire town of Bampton (famous for its folk festival and morris dancing) in August 1992. It came through my involvement and voluntary support of the Didcot Arts Festival. The press release below shows I already planning the F.O.E. show. I was doing my best to keep going post-Rocket….but deep down I knew I flogging a dead horse….it couldn’t get worse..then it did 🙂

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Bampton Town Hall the show was in the room above.

Everything was fine until the day of the hang. Ken had done some nice graphics for PV Card and poster etc. Nothing could go wrong…..until I arrived to find that every space had been used and one female artist in particular stated that my problem was I was late and she had hung her work now and wasn’t moving it …..cheers..thank you so much.

I hasten to add I didn’t know this woman that well. Bernadette and Ullis I knew well and liked them and their work.  I only had enough space for two of the figures in landscape I had been working on and I was well pissed off. In fact I exploded at the lovely man who helped organise it and the Didcot Arts Festival called John Hedge and regret that to this day.

I went home and my dad said sod them and suggested we retaliate…so he and I loaded my biggest canvas (still on its stretcher) an 8′ x 5′ canvas of a head (see below) on to the back of his truck and we installed it at the last minute at the far end of the show across the large windows in photo above…it blocked out the light.

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It was worth it to see people’s faces when show private view started…..the woman who annoyed me never spoke to me again and said I trying to ‘over-shadow’ them..hilarious.

I love my dad having the sense of humour to support me and do that. After all I was broke, living at home and hardly helping much but that one action kept me going:-) He never complained and laughed the whole way home….

Things got better when a local art reviewer reviewed the show for the Oxford Mail……I cannot remember the exact quote but it along the lines of ..Mr Belcher seems a little expressionist in his handling of paint…..I got a mention when Mrs Muck didn’t 🙂 Touche turtle.

p.s. I named the show ‘Tems’ is a earlier form of the word Thames or Thamesis..and the graphic reflected the shape of the river..so now you know;-)

Below the press release materials.

1992: Banbury Show – February

banburyAs I mentioned in the Rocket Press post my brief liaison ended after the show and indeed by February 1992 I was already showing with another group of artists at the Friends Meeting house in Banbury. Quite how this came about I not sure. Probably as a result of my Further Education teaching connections as Martin White taught at Abingdon C.F.E.

I remember the show was in a very high space and I managed to display the whole sequence of ‘The Big Drop’ ironically considering my experience in London and then with the Rocket Press.

Of course I did not have the Rocket Press kudos nor middle-class connections so sold nothing but enjoyed the show. This sadly was to be repeated for the next year.

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These three cartoon drawings were first shown here:

 

 

1991 Rocket Press – Blewbury

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At Easter 1991 I met Jonathan and David Stephenson of the Rocket press, Blewbury after walking the hills drawing.

Through the summer of 1991 and up to Xmas I worked with the Rocket Press visiting Jonathan and David Stephenson regularly at their Stable building in Blewbury and preparing for this group show which as you can see was even advertised in The Independent. This was Jonathan’s first foray into art-shows as opposed to purely small press work which he had already built a considerable reputation before the age of 30 for. He was chosen to reprint the original Tenniel wood blocks from Alice for instance.

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To start with the Rocket Boys as I called them were very encouraging and in fact I traveled to Tuscany with them in Autumn 1991 which didn’t work out exactly to my advantage.

Here what shown:

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The Hill gouache was bought by my poet friend Maura Dooley and I gave her a drawing as well later. I do not think any prints sold but there was interest in one of the hill charcoals if I ‘dropped’ my price by half (for an ‘important collector’ allegedly)…..I refused as I would then have had half of £110 or £55 for a drawing that I considered worth a lot more…..and I still have that drawing….

I managed to get through the show above without incident but fell out badly after it as the ‘calculations’ about the cost of the Italian trip repayment included me painting the press gallery stable to cover my costs ( which was too close to the Muddy Waters experience with Leonard Chess to be funny). I of course had no money having been on the dole and maybe foolishly had dumped the Reading Art Teacher Training place preferring to try my hand at being an artist instead…..my parents were appalled of course.

As far as I know Jonathan destroyed the prints I did there and probably most of the drawings he ‘held’ for me and I never saw him for a good few years.

I continued to be good friends with his brother David  and I believe he has one of my prints (see below) on his wall to this day.

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‘Bone Tree’ Lino-cut printed at the Rocket Press 1991 36″ x 36″

Jonathan moved to London and quickly dumped the ‘rural arts’ angle on meeting (then marrying) a contemporary arts critic called Lottie and has ever since specialised in Contemporary American Painting, Photography and Contemporary European Crafts and Furniture at the Rocket Gallery London.

I had a brief reunion in early 2000’s and indeed helped out at a Martin Parr show but have not seen much of either Rocket brother since.

I learnt some important lessons about galleries and the art economy. Ones I will never forget.

p.s. At the actual Friday evening private view for the show a very nice middle class lady from the village first asked if I was a taxi-driver come to collect somebody because I looked ‘poor’ and when I said I one of the artists and that I came from Didcot she sniffed and announced the immortal words….

‘Oh Didcot, that’s where all the thieves live isn’t it’?

I think she meant ‘working-class’ but one and the same to her it looks like….

1991: August : Ray Howard-Jones – Skomer Landscapes

 

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I am indebted to David Stephenson for introducing me to Ray Howard-Jones a great spirit. Here photos taken when we visited Ray at her house in Hammersmith in August 1991. We then accompanied down to her tin shack at Skomer where I drew the landscapes.

David went on to make the documentary Ray of Light and there was a recent retrospective and catalogue edited by Tony Curtis too.

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Image of Ray on rocks at Skomer by Raymond Moore

here a bookmark she gave me

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1991: Sketchbook drawings

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In December 1991 I travelled to London with the Rocket Boys and we visited a good paper supplier and sketchbook maker (John Purcell in Stockwell). I got a big pack of Bockingford which I still have half of and this Somerset Paper A4 sketchbook.

In retrospect what fascinating is that already on the 3rd December 1991 I going in a new direction which would not have fitted in with the ‘ruralism’ of the Downland series which were shown at the Rocket Press on the 15th /16th December.

I described the new work like this in a press release the next year:

‘Icons of the Fields’
Following a year of walking and recording the Berkshire Downs the sense of landscape has influenced my new works. Hills and fields appear as backdrops to startling abstract/surreal figures which owe much to the sculptural tradition of Moore and the poetic lyricism of Chagall. It also shows the influence of French and Italian ‘New Painting’ of the 1980s.

1991: Down-land Charcoal Drawings

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On the 25th March 1991 I stood on the road between Blewbury and Upton in Oxfordshire with a wooden board and some charcoal and drew the image above.

On the 27th March I was drawing on Blewburton Hill and visited the Borlase Gallery in Blewbury a downland village about four miles from my hometown. The lady there directed me to the Rocket Press run by Jonathan Stephenson and a new chapter had definitely started. These drawings were marked D1- D8 and I only have about half left. Some lost through the press some given away.

I sometimes used my mother’s white bicycle to transport the board and materials. The image above was the first large drawing and was the beginning of a sequence of over 50 images. Some I have sold or given away. Some have disappeared. What have left I am uploading here.

They came out of an image I drew for Peter Astor’s Weather Prophets band recording of ‘Always the Light’ 12″ single in 1986 on Parliament Hill, London. Here that image.

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Here the full sequence of down-land drawings.
Each drawing A1 scale approx 24 x 34″ charcoal and chalk on Bockingford paper.

 

I also created three colour images. Here the one I have left.

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1991: Laura Stenhouse ‘Second Wind’ Illustrations

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In 1991 my friend Laura Stenhouse who had been on Foundation at Oxford Polytechnic with me was doing a M.A. in Illustration at Central St Martins College in London. She very kindly decided to illustrate a set of my poems and songs as a boxed set of stone lithographs and etchings called ‘Second Wind’.

The illustrations are lovely and I helped her print from the already rare stones at Oxford Printmakers then on Cowley Road, Oxford.

As far as I know only one complete set of ‘perfect’ prints were completed. I do not have any of the prints just these rather blurry images which Laura gave me after the show.

The story is sadly affected by the loss of Laura about a decade ago when a history of mental illness led to her taking her own life. She leaves a loving husband in Bob and a beautiful daughter Josie and her fine artworks as her legacy.

She always supported my art and writing and I dedicate this blog post to her.

Thank You Laura.

The poems from the box called ‘Second Wind’ and ‘Watching Tom Mix’ can be read here: http://www.shaunbelcher.com/writing/?page_id=129

1991: Sketchbook March – June

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I am scanning and putting this rather messy preparatory sketchbook online from March 1991 as it crosses over between the previous figurative work and a new cartoon-like and more surreal direction. The image above is an important breakthrough to that later style.

I had applied and been accepted on to an Art Teacher Training course at Reading University which was meant to commence in September 1991. I was also helping my friend Laura Stenhouse prepare for her Illustration M.A. show at Central St. Martins in June 1991. She illustrated a suite of my poems and songs (see separate entry above).

So this was a period where I could ‘focus’ on art again instead of fencing or temporary admin. work as per usual. As the page in sketchbook shows I was looking at Simon Lewty, Edward Burra and Hockney.

The sketchbook also contains the first version of the poem ‘Clinker’ titled here ‘The Age of Steam’. Read the final published version here at Poet and Geek website

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The rest of 1991 consisted of the large outdoors charcoal drawings that led me to the Rocket press (see above) but that was not the only direction.

1990: Downland Sketchbook : Didcot,Oxfordshire

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Title: Harvested field in long shadow 29.7.90

Every picture tells a story and this small sketchbook from July 1990 tells more than most. In December 1989 I finally crashed (literally) out of London. I had been freelancing as an illustrator( mostly listening to Charley Patton vinyl) and although had Dalston show had lost studio.

Then I lost my community housing as new family moved in and my friend Kevin Evans went back to Leeds. Left on my own I bought a guitar and wrote songs and waited for the inevitable. In November 1989 my long term on/off partner decided to get pregnant and marry someone else (to my ultimate great relief) and my best friends all got married.

I had nothing but a short term but lucrative appointment in an animation company to look back on. London was over…..I bought a Harmony guitar and marshall amp with the last bit of my freelance money.

It happened to be the end of the decade and I was 31. I finally left London on December 3rd a Sunday in my dad’s building truck all the paintings stacked up on the back and my vinyl in cases. Like the Beverley Hill Billies I was going back to the country 🙂 Almost…

In December I applied for a job at the Poetry Library on the South Bank and got it. Good pay for those days but working the shit shift from Friday Evening to Sunday evening. I did it for six months then cracked when not offered a better contract. Met a lot of lovely well employed poetry people like Stephen Smith, Mary Enright and Maura Dooley but it was just an interlude…

July 1990 resigned – on the dole again for first time since early 1980s….trying to be positive walked out into the fields every day and started this little sketchbook. The next phase was just starting…

I picked up an evening class teaching creative writing at Oxford College of Further Education. My first class included Giles Goodland and Bridget Kursheed. I was untrained and struggled with the course and when the Iraq crisis in January 1991 affected course numbers for both illustration and creative writing and the dole people helpfully took away all my benefits I was forced to quit. I remained unemployed (even my father who had given me casual labour struggled to make ends meet through 1991-2 as the recession bit) until 1993 when I moved back to London under a Spanish woman’s spell.

I had also started sending out poems inspired by Maura Dooley’s encouragement.

This little sketchbook contains both landscapes and first drafts of poems. It also contains a first reference to A.E.Coppard so this when I first thought there might be a connection 25 years ago!

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Finally a A4 sketch of the same landscape from July 1989 before the storm came…

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1989: ‘The Big Drop’- November-December?

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Maybe fuelled by the absurdity of the ‘Illustration’ experience in London the first thing I did back in my parent’s house in Didcot, Oxfordshire was rattle off these large and quite bonkers images of the futility of art in the local landscape……which to be fair pretty bloody accurate. Cameron is a local MP.

Crash, burn and laugh……I have no idea what I was doing…30 years old..living with my parents and drawing this stuff. My parents must have had the patience of saints.

Anyway whatever they are…..I kept them and eventually two were included in a drawing exhibition at my institution…moved to the corridor mind because they weren’t considered good enough to be in main room with the real art which I shall not describe….

1989: Cartoons and Illustration: Enterprise Allowance and Charley Patton

 

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In 1988 after leaving my part-time post at the Hornsey Library to ‘paint’ I signed on to Maggie’s ‘Enterprise Allowance’ scheme which was basically a ruse by the Tories to get people like me off the dole as ‘self-employed’. I created some ‘sale-able’ (at least I thought so) illustrations and toured around Cosmopolitan, Radio Times and various major publishers having lots of jolly chats and coffee and getting no work whatsoever but everybody was terribly nice.

Standing in the Cosmopolitan offices with all the women in power dressing shoulders in 1989 I realised that things had gone badly wrong….that I was wearing paint-spattered dungarees didn’t help. I think the woman who interviewed me thought I may have learning difficulties…I couldn’t speak that was for sure I felt like a minnow in a tank of sharks.

I gave up soon afterwards and started reading John Fahey’s book on Charley Patton instead which to be frank has been far more use to me:-)

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p.s. An old friend from Zwemmers days got me an interview at Jonathan Cape in their swish boardroom which coincided with a birthday party for Ralph Steadman…all terribly nice they went off for lunch in Soho and I got no work but again all very nice 🙂

1989: Pyramid Arts Show Dalston

A huge space and I showed my largest canvases from Heads show. However the wheels were about to fall off the bus. Lost my job and then my studio in Highgate and then the lovely people I shared a housing association house with on the North Circular left. I ended up broke, alone and was headed home….game over for a while. I had done my best and in process been rejected by Goldsmiths College twice. First time I was interviewed pre-Heads by Rita Donagh and Nick De Ville who managed to talk about a blank black canvas for an hour…says it all really.

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1988: Heads 2: The Drawings – Square Gallery Highgate November

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The dark side…

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Portrait by John English 1988. In my studio in Highgate, London sitting in the afternoon sun as I did when drawing the self-portraits below. A poor man’s Francis Bacon complete with leather jacket 🙂

Each drawing is charcoal and chalk on paper 24″ x 36″.

Goldsmiths hated them…I in turn never been too fussed about Goldsmiths nor their malign influence on British art world and education.

I talked about Peter Fuller, David Bomberg who was a massive influence at this point and Francis Bacon and Ivon Hitchens and Graham Sutherland.

They interviewed me with a graduating student who specialised in hanging bin bags in rows…..it was conceptual not shit apparently…even then in 1988:-) She said nothing which probably says it all too.

They went for a charlatan in Hirst..I suppose I had too much integrity for them.

They are my best drawings I will not get this level of intensity again….without tipping over into madness. This is the first time I shown them outside my studio.

A baker’s dozen ironically. Teresa Robertson’s mother asked me at the private view if I was depressed. I said no I was drawing out Bacon’s interpretation of Picasso’s Biomorphics through self-portraiture…..but I wouldn’t have said I ecstatically happy:-) See next post. The drawing was already on the wall…

These images uploaded at highest resolution possible so may take a while to load.

1987: Hornsey Library Show

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The Political Tree 1987 5′ x 5′ charcoal on paper.
A large drawing not shown in the show.

Still the largest works and largest show I ever had. Filled the entire large exhibition space at Hornsey Library where I worked as a part-time library assistant.

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This is the PV ‘card’ and some small cartoon badges I sold at the show in support of Greenpeace 😉

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I was also invited to exhibit alongside RCA graduates and others at a group show later that year.

 

1985-1986: Landscapes and surrealism Harvey Road N8

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Studio in house in Crouch End ( a legalised squat). I vacated my room to use as studio and lived under the stairs as with the alcoholics next door and the wild rabbit another housemate (Liz) had let loose under the floorboards and which was eating through electrics made it the quietest place to be…until she rollerskated round her room with clubbing friends all night…happy days?

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The larger photos show me in the back garden at Harvey Road summer 1985 I had just had a Javaid Alvi influenced period as can be seen in paintings 😉 Still one of the best painters I have ever met. http://www.javaidalvi.co.uk/

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1985: Second Royal College application

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I had been offered a place on The Royal College M.A. in painting like my hero Hockney in 1982 but Margaret Thatcher suspended grants for home students by half and I lost the place as my parents could not afford the £3K fees even then. So I didn’t go but I did try again in 1985 to no avail as I no longer had momentum and art college support (one of my Hornsey tutors and RC referee Trish Stainton a printmaker worked at the Royal College and helped me submit the first time).

These images were key to that application and have never been seen by anybody as far as I know. I was very disappointed. I think I was also disappointed by Chelsea and The Slade but I do not remember it hurting as much. I just shoved them away in a folder and never looked at them since until now virtually.

I felt then they were amongst my best and opened up a whole new range of possibilities. I was looking hard at contemporary post figuration and new abstraction in 1985 and had also fallen under the spell of Cy Twombly which evident in the handling of materials here.

So water under a very old bridge now but you know I still think these fairly large works on paper ( 36″ x 48″) some of my most spontaneous and lively work..there you go….

If I had got in I would only have become internationally famous and rich. I would have missed out on a decade of temporary work in banks, libraries and fencing…..one cannot have everything 🙂