Just before I left Greycoats I started to go to the Saturday morning classes provided by Camberwell School of Art and Crafts. I began in the life drawing class and in the final 6 months, I did a sculpture class. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of the portrait head I made but for years my parents proudly had it on display in their house. It really was not that good but at least my parents’ like it 😊
The above drawing is the one that made me decide I was good enough to try to get onto the foundation course at Camberwell, if I could somehow persuade my parents. By that point, I was already in a secure office job as a statistical clerk with Watneys. I was also doing my ‘A’ levels at night school after work. A new Principal had been appointed to the college, Ian Tregarthen Jenkins. He was doing a tour of the Saturday morning classes and he actually spoke to me. He asked me how I had decided to deal with the heater in front of the the model. I forget what I told him but he congratulated me on the way I dealt with it and hope I would apply to the foundation course in the future. Oh wow, to be singled out by the new Principal was amazing to me. My confidence soared!
Looking at it now, it wasn’t that great a drawing but it will always be special for just that reason.
The Saturday morning classes were great for me. I had never really considered a career in art before I started attending these. I was the eldest in the family and neither of my parents went to college, so they didn’t really know that much about college or university, other than it cost a lot of money, (not as much as now). Actually it was wasn’t that onerous, as the cost was nothing and I got a small grant to live on with the addition of £5 a week from my parents. Plus once I got to art college, I was entitle to a certain sum for materials. I would never have gone to art college if those things weren’t available.😒
I also started to sketch at home and my sister, Debra was a willing model for me.
I should have stopped going to the classes when I was made to leave school and start work but fortunately, for reasons I don’t remember, I was able to continue. When it came to the time to apply for the foundation course, my tutors at Camberwell came to my parents and persuaded them that I had a good chance of being accepted and going on for a degree. My parents quite rightly were worried that I would be forever unemployed if I went to Art college. My parents weren’t far off the mark to be honest as I never made a career out of my art but I am forever grateful that they listened to my tutors.
As promised I am posting some images from my earliest days which happens to be from when I was at secondary school in London.
I first started to become interested in art when I was at St Michael’s Church of England school. I joined the school in 1970 when we moved back to London from Ashford Kent. As I hadn’t passed the 11 plus exam, I had the choice of the brand new school, Pimlico Comprehensive or a much smaller school. Comprehensives weren’t getting any good publicity at the time so Mum chose the C of E school. Big mistake as it was one of the schools which were later referred to as a ‘sink school’, massively underachieving.
I had come from a really good secondary school in Kent (also brand new) where science and art were treated equally. Unfortunately, the lower ratings of school became which was the way St Michael’s was going, the less money was expended on it, so science went by the way. By the time I left in 1973, we had one science teacher for the whole school and his special subject was physics. To do physics, you need a good basic math background. Unfortunately, we ended up with a teacher who didn’t want to teach maths but torment kids, especially boys. So while he would humiliate them, we would chat, play and copy the answers from the back of the workbook. To be honest I would have preferred a career in science and even visited the lab at a hospital as I was interested in becoming a Medical Laboratory Assistant. It was not to be. I got a grade 5 in Physics and a 3 in Maths (if I remember correctly). There was no fail in CSEs (certificate in secondary education). Pointless piece of paper!
Instead I fell into art. Even then, as the school only offered CSE, the consolation prize in school exams, the standard wasn’t that high. Due to some timetable conflict, I ended up doing a class with lower year. So I was in a corner, quietly getting on with my work while the class was creating havoc with the art teacher who was an ex military person and had no idea how to control riotous teenagers. I remember him one time, getting so angry he threw something out of the school window. His basic standard was to yell at them as if they were soldiers.
At least, he just let me just get on with my work. My big project was about abortion and the sanctity of life. I created a Plasticine model of the lower part of a woman with the area where the baby was situated, craved out and then I created a fetus.
I was very confused at the time as I had just learnt my mother had another child before me and had him adopted. She made it clear she blamed me for that event. I would later learn the truth of the situation and it was somewhat different from the story I had been given. She had also revealed when she was pregnant with my sister, who is 13 months younger than me, she tried to abort her several times That was going to lead to years of anguish on my part and my sister. Now in reflection, I can see how much my mother suffered. 3 pregnancies in 3 yrs, she was must have been going out of her mind. My Dad was in the navy and his family was not very supportive at the time, although they later became very close. This was well before the pill and her own Mother was going through her own issues with a husband who was suffering from PTSD although it wasn’t known as that then and terminal TB, so was of no help to her. If Mum had been born a decade later, I am not sure she would have gone on to have 2 more kids as she was much more career minded than I ever was. I suspect for most of her 20’s she was suffering from some form of post natal depression. Of course, yet again, that wasn’t known about for many years after that.
Abortion, although legal by 1973, was still a controversial option especially with the publication of photos of the fetus in the womb in the late 60’s. I am not sure what the art teacher thought of my ‘sculpture’ but he never stopped me. I am not sure what I was trying to convey now as I am not against abortion, far from it but maybe at that time I was. I definitely a confused 15 yr old. For my efforts I got a grade 2. So not a prodigy!😂🤣
I don’t have any pictures of my grand project but I do have these from that year.
Sewing was my nightmare subject at school plus music. Both for different reasons. Music lessons were just a period where everyone ignored the teacher, walked in and out at will and basically we did anything but music. The teacher in sewing however was no walkover and most of us were scared of her. Not sure why I never learnt to sew given it one of my passions now but I still cannot understand patterns or those diagrams we get in the instruction booklets. Just had to take my sewing machine to the repairs because I misread a diagram in the instruction booklet.😯 Much better with videos. I was also scared of the sewing machine. Most machines scare me, especially power tools, even now. Fortunately, I have got over my fear of the sewing machine.
However, I did learn to embroider in her class. I had seen a magazine with the design and that was my project in my last year of sewing which was 1972 as I didn’t do the CSE in that. As the rest of the class got on with making various useful items like a blouse or a skirt, I concentrated on my embroidery. I must have been proud of it as I still have have it in the bottom of my stash.
Never thought 47 yrs later, one of my passions would be embroidery.
In August 1973, I started at Greycoats Hospital, the local grammar school in the hope I would get my O levels and maybe A levels. It was obvious from day one, my previous education had been woefully inadequate. As as consequent, no math or science classes as I was so far behind in even the basics. English was a struggle as grammar was not taught at St Michaels , my spelling was appalling (still is) and I suspect I was the first person in the school to fail my oral exam! However the English teacher, Miss Lloyd had great faith in me and encouraged my ramblings, a couple of which I still have in one of my many boxes.
I was put in the secretarial class, so at least I learnt to type properly however as I had no idea how phonetics worked, Pittman’s shorthand was a non starter for me. I was also put in the sewing class. I was useless at it! Art was my one bright spot. 😊😍
The art department had an arrangement with Camberwell school of art where promising students could attend classes on Saturday morning. That was the beginning of my life in art. In the next blog I will post work from the Saturday morning classes and my some of my work from my Foundation year at Camberwell.
In the meantime, some of the work from Greycoats.
I was a huge David Bowie fan at the time and this was the based on a poster I had. My sister was a T Rex fan. I thought they were rubbish at the time. Now I like both.