“Starting to paint” An introduction

Written by Paul, September 04, 2020

I don’t remember starting to paint; it seems like I have always painted. I was born to the sound of Rachmaninov played by my mother on the piano and the smell of linseed oil and turpentine used by my father for his nighttime painting. If my mother got a passage of music wrong she would crash both hands onto the keys with a scream by this way she introduced me to passion. She set great store by “oomph” anything less was meaningless.

My parents met at art school, the Slade when it moved to Oxford during the war. My mother came from a coal mining family from near Barnsley Yorkshire, my father from a brewing family in Tadcaster Yorkshire. Mother, an only child, was especially talented, gaining entry not only to the Slade school 0f fine arts but also the Royal College of music. She chose the Slade and when asked why, her comment was she considered that the men from art school were better looking! The hero for art students in those days was Augustus John, whose gypsy appearance and meerschaum pipe smoking habit, appealed to the romantic who were desperately trying to get away from wartime depravations. The professor at the Slade was Schwaber an immensely skilled draughtsman whose high standards had to be met by his students. He, like Augustus John, were superb portraitists, a subject at which my mother excelled.This would turn out to be both a boon and a bane in as much that she was able to gain work as an illustrator, but which would shackle her to a desk that would necessitate all night working. This would have serious consequences for both her health and her sanity.

Neither of my parents had any background in the arts, so for them to carve a career in it was a unique challenge.They had to cope with  the privations of postwar Britain plus the fact that my father was a conscientious objector, which meant many doors were closed to him. He was however both talented and practical which enabled him to obtain a foothold in the scenic painting industry with Britain’s fledgling film business. This was relatively short lived so he turned to teaching which proved to be his metier. He taught at a grammar school in Raynes Park where I subsequently ended up being a pupil. He was therefore my teacher and with my mother they taught me much of what I know for which I owe them a great deal. In 1957, at the age of 13, I was involved in a serious accident which had a major effect on my future,and put me in hospital for some time. I used this time and the convalescence afterwards to seriously get to grips with drawing and painting, mainly in oils. This concentration of effort resulted in two major events in my life.

In 1960 at the age of 15 I won an art competition in the Eagle magazine. The first Prize was a trip to Russia. It turned out that it was the first time any tourists were to be admitted. The experience was to have a profound effect on the way I saw things and how I wanted to paint. I was always fascinated by dilapidation, the working-class and the drama of industry. Seeing Russian life shorn of all propaganda was an eye opener. The next event which caused a disproportionate amount of publicity was that I had a painting accepted by the Royal Academy at the age of 15. The media frenzy taught me that the art world was a strange and scary place and that Fame was not necessarily desirable. Thus my art career started.