Wednesday, 2 May 2012

An art education - Remembering Leeds (5)

The first year was as perfect as it could be. In the second - now married - I thought I should try myself with tutors  who hadn't spoken to me, including Miles MacAlinden, one of the two who interviewed me for admission. I knew I was entering less sympathetic terrain but, for some reason (true to character ever since), I felt obliged to do so. In many ways it marked the decline of my painting, or perhaps simply exposed its limits. From the roughly 4'x4' square surfaces I moved to surfaces of portrait proportion which entailed some revision of the composition as well as of the spatial framework that had been so liberating. I still enjoyed the act of painting and the materials but the subject matter was slightly harder work and the result a touch heavier. Fortunately the poetry, with help from Martin Bell, and to some extent Jeff Nuttall, was improving. The words were slowly gaining over the images though I didn't fully grasp that at the time.

What were others doing? I hardly knew. Now that I was married, we moved to a terrace house in Leicester Place, a slum street, a short walk to college. We lived in one room with a double bed and a Belling. Two other student friends plus a guest lived there too, sharing a basement kitchen that soon became a war zone. The one who started by painting like William Scott was now entirely converted to conceptual art and urban land art. The others, like many students, seemed to be doing nothing very particular, except perhaps helping with cooperative efforts like The People Show (Jeff Nuttall and John Daling being on the staff) or the less remembered but often referenced John Bull Puncture Repair Kit (see example here) . Paul Rooney has recorded a film work referring to the period under the title Thin Air with accompanying text provided by Annette Gomperts  here. The great hangar-space studio was underpopulated. The new students entered and grabbed their places then moved elsewhere, to wherever the energy seemed to be. Mostly, it wasn't in the big studio. There was quite a lot of absenteeism. Staff came and went.

Elsewhere it was the time of Hockney on the one hand and Art and Language on the other. The Art of the Real (1968) hung in the background. Alan Davie was around, occasionally dropping in, but Leeds was not a conceptual place at heart - it was a 'happening' circus in which there was not quite violence enough according to Jeff Nuttall, whose Bomb Culture (1968) was obligatory reading,  and where, as Gompertz / Rooney tells us, Robin Page, a member of Fluxus, tried to scream a plant to death.

Two eras were clashing at Leeds: the Sixties were on crash course with the Seventies. 1969-72 was the end of the Sixties, an interim period. Next year a number of the new students would gather in the mornings and sing Jerusalem in a corner of the hangar.

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