The excitement for me as an artist lies not in exploring the unknown but in how I can effectively organise a visual arrangement that reflects the atmosphere and intensity of an environment, evoking a precise moment of the day under specific light and conditions. I hope you enjoy the work

Feature of the week  24/03/2019

Art in School

As the show at the Nunnery Gallery ends I feel I have been very privileged to receive such appreciative comments from a wide range of people. Perhaps most moving of all has been the reaction of pupils from local schools studying their immediate environment with fresh eyes.

 

I was saddened growing up as I watched familiar environments disappear and morph into something with less character. For instance, my dad and my grandad shared an allotment near our terraced streets where they would keep chickens and grew tomatoes and chrysanthemums. This all came to an abrupt end when the allotments and the ‘Lanes’, as the interconnecting paths between them were called, were demolished to make way for a secondary school. I mourned their loss and the sense of possibility for adventure they had created in earlier years.

 

Above is a drawing of the school that replaced the allotments, executed when I was fourteen. It was not quite ‘spreadsheet architecture’ but fairly anonymous when compared to the sheds, winding paths, flowers, wild strawberries and blackberries all lying in wait to be discovered, according to the season.

 

At school I was extremely fortunate in my art teacher, Mr. Hanford who had been taught at the Royal Academy and who made me aware of drawing and painting. He also gave me an insight into the history of western art and I still abide by some of what he instilled in me. The educational environment was a girls’ grammar school where I felt I had to conceal my background from the other girls who, in the main came from professional homes. Conversely, in my home streets I was always the girl who attended the ‘other school’ and wore the fancy uniform. I think this may have played a role in making me stand at a reserved distance, looking on and observing.

 

I rated classrooms according to the prints hanging on their walls. At the age of 11, during interminable maths lessons I used to spend hours gazing at and dreaming about ‘The Hunters in Snow’ by Brueghel. I disliked Courbet’s painting of the ‘Wounded Stag’, and found Monet’s ‘Poppy Field’ a bit too sugary. I adored the orange colour in Matisse’s ‘Goldfish Bowl’.

 

At home we didn’t have abundant access to art or books, although my parents were generous in supplying me with the books I wanted, so I was influenced initially by whatever I came across. Methodism was very strong in the community, the virtues of work and placing the concerns of others before oneself were considered paramount, and although my family were not religious, we were imbued with a culture of self discipline. I remember, that by the age of eight, I was taking responsibility in the household for reading and writing to help my parents who only had a very preliminary education and were at best semi-literate.

Looking at the artwork created by these young people in response to visiting the Nunnery Gallery I am taken by their energy, exuberance and their innocence. It is fundamental that education allows children’s enthusiasms to develop and, equally important, to continue their means of self-expression, to explore their place in the world, and for them to do this without being worn down by overbearing rules, styles, syllabuses or codes, utilised in order to attain what might be perceived as ‘the correct way’. These so called rules may conform to skill sets or the need to support ‘industry standards’ but, like tick-box exercises, they miss a vital point denying children the need to engage when telling a story, to play, to sing, to convey what they feel about the world in relation their own experience, in other words… to share.

But I do wonder what the future holds for them as they enter secondary education where teachers and their pupils are under intense pressure to cram in so much information, and where the arts are sometimes deemed less than necessary for pupils’ development as responsible, aware member of society. It is a sobering thought, given how digitally dependent we have become on quick fixes, lacking the concentration to focus for more than a few minutes on any subject; unlike these young children who still retain that need to translate what they see and feel using tactile means.

This morning I was contacted by an A level Art student, requesting an interview with me for her final project. She sent me a very competent, sensitive interpretation of my painting ‘The Laundrette’. Thinking that she had seen the Nunnery show with her local school and knowing she was applying for a degree course in Architecture, I was about to tell her to take a stroll down Salmon Lane or Ben Jonson Road, to observe the area as seen today in comparison to my own painting. Then I looked at her address… she lives in Islamabad!