Saturday, 14 April 2012

An Art education: remembering Leeds (2): Foundation Course

That's a 1939 life modelling class above. There are a number of photos of some of the 1969 Harrow School of Art class here. We had just gone but I recognise some faces. Phil Hicks is the tutor here.

The foundation course at Harrow did what it said it would do: it laid a foundation. But for what, and how?

The art school was in the main street but the foundation school was in an old primary school down another. I can see the staff quite clearly now: the principal, Ivor Fox; the drawing teacher, Sam Marshall; the sculptor and fibreglass specialist, Phil Hicks; the sculptor, Dave Petersen; the painters,Ken Howard, Roy Rodgers and Wendy Smith - but after that the names fade a little though the faces remain. The screen-print studio was a woman with glasses who spoke as though we were primary school children and who got us to make cut-out screen masks; the lithography studio was known as the Bot Cave on account of the dour tutor, Botting; the etching studio was led by the fiery Hilary; art history was taught by Demery and Paul Overy.

In the first term we did everything, in the second, having made our application to the diploma courses towards which a Foundation certificate was the first necessary step, we concentrated on either fine art or some form of design. Some of us become textile designers, some worked in fashion, others went on to jewellery. Some stayed on a second year.

I imagine other foundation courses were similar in terms of broad preparation.

I suspect we were rather well taught for the most part. Personally, I was half-way proficient in some of the disciplines and rather less so in others. I was making sculpture with canvas soaked in resin, I had carved some wood. My painting took on a post-cubist look following my experience of Cézanne. It wasn't much good, any of it, not what I really wanted to do, but I enjoyed it all the same. I was still horribly ignorant. It was, I knew, an interlude before life proper could begin and I had, after all, learned something. It was an honest run through of skills that had been appropriate to working visual artists for years: the beginnings of craft.

None of it, however, prepared me for the next stage at Leeds. Nothing was immediately useful. It was like being prepared for something that no longer existed. The division between art and craft was the point.

GS at about 18, just before art school.

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