Sunday, October 16, 2016

Three art teachers

JD' offers this tribute to those who educated him in art:

The gentleman in the video is Harvey Sklair (talking to his nephew) and you can see a few of his paintings on the walls. He was the art teacher at my school and I have never forgotten him even though it was 60 years ago. And here is his potted biography and it sounds about right, matching my recollection of him -

I had been meaning to do this for a while so today I put the name Harvey Sklair into Google and there he was! It is such an unusual name that I felt sure that the all seeing eye of the Google would find him. He was my art teacher in my first two years at grammar school. I've never forgotten him because he was completely different from all the other teachers. He had a large beard and wore a corduroy jacket or a leather jacket. But it wasn't just his appearance that set him apart from the other teachers.

He didn't 'teach' us, he encouraged us to find inspiration within ourselves although I couldn't articulate it in that way at the time. He coaxed the ideas out of us and guided us in the right direction. And that is what education is or should be about. According to the OED the word 'education' is derived from the Latin "e-ducere" meaning to "pull out" or "to lead forth"  -

Rather than fill our little heads with information, he would encourage us to do things. I can remember, among other things, making lino-cut prints by carving line drawings into lino, (all those very sharp cutting tools! - horror of horrors! Would that be allowed today?), making papier mache models and painting them, making a copy of Magritte's Empire of Light, which Magritte had painted only two years before I copied it!. And there were many other similar projects and new ideas. But then he left and in the third year art had to be dropped; that is to say, art was one of the 'fringe' subjects and deemed to be of lesser importance than more 'academic' subjects. We were allowed one 'fringe' subject only so it was a choice between art, music, woodwork and something else. I chose woodwork because I thought it might be more useful - I still have the bedside table I made. (More horror of horrors - we were allowed to use a lathe, carving round table legs. Again, would that sort of thing be allowed today?)

So Harvey Sklair left a very strong impression on me and, I suspect, on all who were taught by him. As I recall there were more than few at my school who produced some really inventive and skilled works of art. 

And then the real world intervened and I went off to earn a living and it was many years later that I returned to 'art school' in the form of part time drawing and painting classes run locally.

Firstly with a regular visit to the DLI Museum in Durham where the teacher was Linda Birch who was and still is a professional artist and illustrator. She produced, among other things, the designs for Oliver Postgate's "Bagpuss" and "The Clangers" You can read more about her here-

 Then I used to go to one of the attic rooms in the Laing Art Gallery where Cheryl Hamer was running a painting class. Again, a professional painter who has a painting in the Laing although I cannot find any reproductions of it. This is as close as I can get-

I have been very fortunate in having had three very good teachers of art and I have absorbed a great deal from each of them for which I am very grateful. Whether I live up to their standards or not is debatable but that is not the point. The end product, i.e. the painting, is not important, it is the process which matters. To become fully absorbed in the act of painting, forgetting all else, is an act of prayer a meditation. During those few moments of intense concentration the painter becomes the painting, the painting IS the painter, merged into one.

That way sound a bit airy-fairy or just plain silly but it is a reality. I have tried to explain it elsewhere a few years ago- "I was drawing a picture of a vase of daffodils. My subconscious took over completely to the point where the class tutor (Linda Birch) said she was going to demonstrate some technique and I wanted to get up and watch but I couldn’t move, so ‘locked-in’ was I in the process of looking at and drawing the subject before me. That was a very weird experience and it has me searching for some way of explaining it."

 Did I learn anything? Yes! Did it do me any good as a painter? I don't know -

Just a little chapter on my long journey (meander?) through life.

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