As a teenager at the beginning of the swinging sixties I enrolled as a student on a four year course at Canterbury College of Art at a time when the City Fathers were firmly in control of all things educational. The first two years were old school and traditional. We drew and painted in gouache, studied art history, liberal studies and took up a craft which in my case was wood carving. At the end of two years we sat the intermediary exam. After that we chose a special subject and sat the National Diploma in Design at the end of the fourth year. I chose painting as my specialist subject as well as pursuing my craft subject. This meant painting in oil, both life painting from the model and our own paintings which we called ‘Three Figure Comps’ as we had to produce a composition containing at least three figures for the NDD as well as life painting. At that time the NDD was coming to an end, being replaced by a new qualification: the Diploma of Art and Design. This brought Art closer in line to a Bachelor of Art degree, became a three year course instead of four and eventually, some years later, changed yet again into a straightforward BA.
Canterbury college had lots of different schools: Painting, Sculpture, Dress, Graphic and Industrial design etc. Each of these schools had to qualify to teach to the new Diploma and all had succeeded apart from the painting school, which was considered too old fashioned. It had already twice applied and failed and had one remaining chance left. When we started our course it was to be the last time the NDD would be sat. We were told that we were going to have to drop our craft subjects and were all being entered for painting at special level. Tommy Watt became the new Head of the painting school and in addition to all our old tutors a whole new group of modern day artists from London and elsewhere came to teach to the new Diploma (although we would still be sitting the old exam). We were expected to develop as painters during the 2 years to the point of each developing a distinctive style. The work we produced would be what decided whether or not the painting school would be awarded the new diploma in the last and final application.
It was an exciting 2 years. We no longer learned life painting from our old masters in the traditional Canterbury style. We still has regular life painting classes but used these sessions as jumping off points, producing paintings very loosely based on the model. 3 figure comps could be anything at all. The paintings did not have to be figurative and the 3 figures did not have to be people. We were encouraged to take ourselves very seriously, to experiment a lot and learn to speak fluent art bollocks. In the event everything went according to plan. We all passed the NDD and the painting school survived and went on to teach the new Diploma.
I did very little painting after I left art school and largely lost interest in the visual arts. It wasn’t until 2002 when I went with a friend to see the Lucien Freud retrospective at the Tate Gallery that this interest was rekindled. I regretted that I had never really engaged with the model in life painting classes and resolved to rectify this. I started attending classes at the Prince’s Drawing School in Shoreditch but soon realised I wasn’t the same person as I had been in my youth. For a start I couldn’t see as well. At Canterbury I used to work with pencil, drawing sight size. At the Prince’s school I couldn’t see well enough to draw sight size – the eye strain gave me a headache. I had to work in a much larger format using charcoal whereby the marks I made were large and easy to see. My drawings were closer to life size than sight size and so, rather than repeating what I had done 4 decades ago, it became a whole new experience.
I signed up for several life classes. The main difference was in the length of the poses. Some classes had short poses, some had poses that lasted all day, while others had poses that ran over 2 or 3 days. The long poses especially offered the chance to really develop the drawings. Over time I moved from line drawing to tone. After a couple of years I wanted to work in colour but the use of oil paints was not allowed because, some time before I started there, a student had complained about fumes from the solvents, following which a ban had been imposed on solvent and fixative use in the studios. I opted instead to use dry pastels. This enabled me to work at speed and I continued with these for the rest of my time at the Prince’s school. Later I used some of these drawings to work on a series of 12 paintings in oil using settings showing different views of London as a background to the nudes.