Saturday, 21 November 2015

1968


Arriving at the string of huts which housed the Foundation Course of Guildford Art School, the first thing I had to get used to was calling the teachers by their first name. I had just left school. The second was sitting very close to naked women and being instructed to look at them very closely - stare at them relentlessly - rather than being told to turn my head.

Certain smells bring those days back vividly to me - wet plaster, hot resin, oil paint, etc.

Our first painting class with two lecturers teaching us technique: One leaves the room briefly and the other says, "The first thing to deal with is brushes. Don't waste money on expensive brushes - the cheap ones are just as good."

The second lecturer returns to the room and says, "Right, Brushes. Don't economise by buying cheap brushes. Always get the best ones available."

We all laugh, and it it is decided that - as with most things - we will make our own minds up after accumulating a little experience.

There always seemed to be the latest Beatles album playing somewhere in every studio. A couple of the male lecturers were real perverts. One day, a young and pretty model arrived and was made to stand directly over a mirror with her legs outstretched. It is next to impossible to get a young student to concentrate on drawing under these circumstances, but they didn't care about that. They were on a colossal salary for their day.

Another day, a new model turned up and was put into a pose which involved going on her hands and knees with her bare arse facing us, while the lecturer gawped in obvious distraction, trying to spot what she had for breakfast, no doubt.

The door suddenly burst open and her husband stormed in, shouting. He dragged her to her feet, got her to put her clothes back on, then dragged her out. We never saw her again. Right the way through my school education, I have been blessed with bad teachers.

Our guest lecturers were a lot of fun, and included people like Yoko Ono, David Hockney and Bruce Lacey - all barking mad except for Hockney, of course.

As the Spring turned into Summer, posters began to appear on walls and trees, inviting students to attend union meetings in the cafe, and after about two of these meetings, I finally went down to attend one myself. I had, after all, paid my mandatory dues.

The S.U. had discovered that the cafe and the building which housed it was funded solely from student union dues, but had also heard that the Principal and Vice Principal (Tom Arnold and Leonard Stopani) were due to arrive in a minute to disband the meeting and evict the students from their own premises. Even they didn't know who funded the place.

So they turned up and Tom Arnold began shouting at everyone to get out, until he was told that he would not be welcome there himself without written permission from the Student Union. He went very red in the face, then turned on his heel and left, followed by the scuttling Stopani.

The next day, a college notice was posted around the place stating that any teacher seen talking to a student outside of the studios would be sacked for misconduct. 'Misconduct' usually meant something like rape, so being sacked for this would mean you would never teach again.

Several very brave teachers - who had not even cared about our meetings up until that notice - actually made a point of openly fraternising with us in full view of Stopani, who duly took down their names in his notebook.

A couple of days later, these teachers received their formal letters of dismissal, and despite protestations from people like John Lennon, they would never teach again.

That was when it all kicked-off. Our sit-in began as a simple plea to reinstate the sacked lecturers, and was supported by all manner of people including barristers and pop-stars. It was only the media who portrayed us as a bunch of free-loading layabouts, and the people who believed them began to send us death-threats from that point on.

It became dangerous to leave the building on your own after dark, and we had to shutter the windows because someone took pot-shots at us with an air-rifle every night until we did.

Even in the daylight, we went out in groups of twos and threes. The stress would eventually take its toll.

14 comments:

  1. I went to drawing classes all day every Saturday for three years before I became a student at the Art School. One year was life drawing. At the first class we had a male model who stood right in front of me. I did a charcoal tonal drawing. Our tutor took life drawing very seriously and we were not allowed to speak during the class so the atmosphere was very highly charged in silence. At the break the model did not disappear behind the screen or don a dressing gown, he remained in the centre of the room and did forward and backward rolls.

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    1. Oh, so you got to make speed drawings of moving arse-holes as well?

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  2. I seem to remember someone saying that if you manage to get one useful tip from any one lecturer, you've done very well.

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    1. That was if you could find a lecturer at all.

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  3. In secondary school I won a scholarship for Herron School of Art and Design, for weekend courses.

    Cro is right, at least that's the way it seemed at Herron. I knew I needed to improve my techniques and explore different media; they wanted to toss us in the room without a lecturer and have us show them what we felt.
    Is it bad I sketched a flaming arsehole?

    Put me off creating, except with food or words.

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    1. Yes - the 'critiques' were usually held after the lecturers had got back from a long lunch in the pub, hence the vitriol and tears.

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  4. In 1968 I was 10 and at primary school. The term 'student' was new to me and picked up from the TV news stories about rioting students in Paris (and perhaps Guildford). I remember we had a young temporary teacher and my friend said she was a student. I was horrified.

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  5. Very vivid recollections, Tom, I loved that!
    The same situations in Germany: when I worked as a model between terms, I once joined in Hannover a demonstration against the NPD (they were ultra right wing) - and everything was peaceful. We left in peace, and then the police yelled after us: "You idiots, go quicker!!" We all turned round like one on that provocation - and if I have told that before it's because I'll never forget the height of that horrible horses they sat on - chasing us (a co-modell went into jail for one night - meaning she had to fear for her scholarship).

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    1. I think that police all over the world have never been known for their love of culture. My brother was a policeman in 1968, and he said to me that 'his lot' would soon come and evict 'my lot' from the college.

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  6. One of our life models was a very tall middle aged woman. One day she was looking a little strange and our (Small) lecturer (Bob Girling I think) approached and asked her if she felt okay. Like a felled tree she fell directly on top of him in a faint. Almost invisible, he took some extracting from under her.

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