HORNSEY, 1968

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Hornsey Art School occupation, 1968. (Daily Telegraph, 30 May 1968)

After stewarding at “Hand of the Maker”, I went to Tate Britain for half an hour and discovered the display about the posters and college occupations of 1968 – mainly Hornsey Art School, the LSE and the Camden Poster Workshop. Following the events of ’68, art went in a different direction from the poster workshop, whose philosophy was community inclusion in artistic production, and towards an exclusive, intellectually challenging conceptual art, though both were anti-bourgeois in inspiration.

I remember the rhetoric of ’68, inspired by Paris and the ultra revolutionary intellectuals of the time, Marcuse, Sartre, Gerassi, Fanon, Debord – and, if you fancied, Mao Zedong – and how overblown it was in relation to our grievances: lack of consultation, poor accommodation, inadequate grants, petty university rules, and, in the case of Hornsey, the mismanagement of the transition from the NDD system to the DipAD.

The exhibition includes an article from the Daily Telegraph (below) which dissected the Hornsey students’ complaints and included the authorities’ admission that they had made serious mistakes. Part of the college’s inadequacy came from the fact that it was run by a local authority.

In the aftermath of the Hornsey occupation it was commonly supposed that the art school was absorbed into Middlesex Polytechnic as a sort of punishment for the students and the lecturers who supported them – that’s certainly the idea I picked up. In reality, the amalgamation had been planned by the Labour government long before the occupation and was opposed by the Conservative administration in Haringey.

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BENJAMIN HAYDON

Punch or May Day 1829 by Benjamin Robert Haydon 1786-1846

After delivering my work to Chelsea College of Art yesterday, for the Society of Designer Craftsmen’s summer exhibition Hand of the Maker, I went across the road to Tate Britain to take a quick look at the 19th century galleries. Victorian painting, with the exception of the Pre-Raphaelites, is unfashionable, but there were several serious visitors there.

I was attracted to Benjamin Haydon’s Punch or May Day (above), which is well labelled. It was a derogation from his preferred historical subjects, in which he didn’t achieve the success he thought he deserved, but to the modern eye it’s lively and interesting, and Tate point out the clever contrasts it contains, notably the hearse almost colliding with the wedding coach, the church on the horizon and the pagan May Day celebration at the bottom, and the black servant on the coach and the blacked-up sweep in the foreground.

Haydon (1786-1846) is the most famous failure in art history. His admirable confidence in his own ability was not shared by everyone. Dickens, who as an art critic could be as acerbic as Brian Sewell, said of him, “No amount of sympathy with him and sorrow for him in his manly pursuit of a wrong idea for so many years — until, by dint of his perseverance and courage it almost began to seem a right one — ought to prevent one from saying that he most unquestionably was a very bad painter, and that his pictures could not be expected to sell or to succeed.” He had constant money troubles, spent time in a debtor’s prison and was reduced to painting pictures of Napoleon at five guineas apiece. He was argumentative, tactless and rude to his clients. He conducted a long war against the Royal Academy, who refused his application for ARA, and is portrayed in Mike Leigh’s wonderful film Mr Turner ranting at a Royal Academy hanging. The main cause of his bitterness, unless it was something in his personality, was his failure as a history painter. He finally shot himself in the head, failed to kill himself and then cut his throat.

Haydon was a man of strong ideas, not entirely foolish. He was smitten by the Elgin Marbles and became a staunch advocate of Greek art as he conceived it and of drawing from life. He advocated public funding for art education for all classes, to be based on life drawing, which did not become standard until it was instituted at the Slade at the end of the century. He was a tireless petitioner of powerful individuals, including prime minister Melbourne, who was interested and whom he told that French superiority in manufactures derived from state support of art education. He advocated free public museums of art and public patronage for paintings in public buildings. As Stuart MacDonald says, “It would be foolish to pretend that all these means were realized because of Haydon, but they were realized, and Haydon was their chief protagonist and suffered ridicule for his opinions.”

SOCIETY OF DESIGNER CRAFTSMEN (2)

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I’m delivering ceramics like this (above) this morning to “Hand of the Maker”, the Society of Designer Craftsmen‘s annual members’ exhibition, to be held this year for the first time at Chelsea College of Arts in John Islip Street, opposite Tate Britain. It opens on Friday, 13 July, and continues until 21 July.

I’m taking the opportunity to post a message from the SDC’s website about the refurbishment of our gallery and workspace in Rivington Street, a project that I’ve been involved with as a Trustee of the Society. I’ll continue to post news about the plan as it advances.

Fundraising for a Sustainable Future
“In our 130th year, the Society of Designer Craftsmen is excited to be working with Elliot Payne Architects to ensure the Society continues to be the success it is today. To help secure our future, we are currently fundraising to refurbish our headquarters in London’s vibrant Shoreditch to provide a members gallery for public exhibitions and creative spaces where members can meet clients and take part in workshops. If you wish to support us in this venture please contact chair@societyofdesignercraftsmen.org.uk.”

 

 

RACHEL WHITEREAD AT TATE BRITAIN

My preparation for Handmade in Britain is in on track, so I went to see the Rachel Whiteread retrospective at Tate Britain (above).

Whiteread has shown remarkable consistency over the thirty years since her Slade graduation, casting objects and the space around them to give us surprising views of the familiar world. Her high profile works, like House (1993) – the concrete cast of the inside of a house in east London – are familiar, but this exhibition introduced us to less familiar works, made in a series of major preoccupations during the course of her career. Her recent work comprises resin casts of doors and papier maché casts of fences and sheds walls. I particularly liked the assemblages of small objects on shelves made between 2005 and 2010 in materials of different colour, like Lineup (below), reminiscent proximately of Edmund de Waal and ultimately of Giorgio Morandi.

Whiteread began casting in papier maché and plaster and advanced to concrete, but she has cast in just about every possible material and has shown tremendous concentration and impressive craft. For the larger pieces she has drawn on specialist assistance, notably in House, which is described in a contemporary film of the construction process.

House was produced at the suggestion of James Lingwood of Artangel, which works with artists and  funders to produce large creations outside galleries. “We knew the sculpture would generate interest from the beginning,” Lingwood said, but  “House was a lightning conductor”. It divided opinion among both critics and the local population. Andrew Graham-Dixon called it “one of the most extraordinary and imaginative public sculptures created by an English artist this century”, Brian Sewell described it as “meritless gigantism”.

The film of house featured the fabricators who are essential to much contemporary art. Glen Adamson has said that the contribution of fabricators is not just overlooked but hidden because it is so important that it may reduce the reputation of the artist. Their role is different from that of bronze casters in traditional sculpture because traditional sculptors made their own models, and the relation of fabricators to artists is more like the relation of builder to architect. If you look carefully at the film of House, you will see that the construction was by Tarmac.