A Developing Process
Paper on Student Memories of Richard Hamilton as Teacher 1953-1966. Conference at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne May 2013. Gill Hedley is an independent curator, writer and consultant on contemporary visual arts.
The author with Richard Hamilton
at the São Paulo Biennial, 1989
I owe a great deal to so many people. Many artists have spoken or written at length about their time in Newcastle. Several are here today. I hope to be able to publish more extensively on this subject and interview some individuals in depth. Today, I am trying to give a voice to some who have not spoken on the subject so widely but must acknowledge in particular the expertise of Richard Yeomans, Stephen Buckley, Derek Carruthers and Brian Sefton who are all here today and the remarkable contribution made over many years by John A. Walker. A special thanks for the help and enthusiasm I have received from the artist Rose Frain for this and other projects.
In the Department c. 1960
Artist Hilary Williams. Courtesy Rose Frain
ERIC CAMERON 1953-1957
Artist, art historian, author; one man show at Hatton Gallery and autobiography English Roots
ERIC CAMERON went on to teach in Leeds with JOHN KINNAIRD who later became an antiquarian book dealer and believed RH to have “beyond human powers”. They both began to consider that the importance of Duchamp lay simply in his influence on Hamilton...
Richard Hamilton started teaching on the same day that Eric Cameron arrived as a student, aged 18. Eric is now a distinguished conceptual artist based in Canada. RH gave his first talk later that day on advertising strategies, showing an image of a queue of people waiting to climb stairs into a circular building which housed obscure machinery. They were obliged to pass through this before descending another staircase and the message was that that presentation was all that mattered.
EC went straight from RH’s talk to ask Lawrence Gowing if he could be transferred immediately to the RA Schools and was told RH had just come from there. EC began to realise that his own preferred Euston Road style was just as much about process as was Basic Design.
Students sat at drawing mules, all facing away from each other and instead looking at a shelf which ran round the entire room, covered in empty wine bottles. Gradually during the term plants and plaster casts were added.
EC then went on to teach in Leeds with John Kinnaird, who later became an antiquarian book dealer, and believed RH to have “beyond human powers” and they both began to consider that the importance of Marcel Duchamp lay simply in his influence on RH.
DEREK CARRUTHERS 1953-1957
Artist, Emeritus Professor www.derekcarruthers.co.uk
“At the end of my first year Victor Pasmore arrived as Master of Painting and selected a small number of students showing non figurative work in the end of year exhibition. We were allotted a studio next to his own which became known as Room 2.…many years later Adrian Henri told me that there was a plot to break up the work of Room 2 occupants – although it never came to anything.”
Room 2 courtesy TERRY MARNER
1956-1960; Artist, teacher, based British Columbia
Perhaps the photograph was taken about the time Hamilton organised the visit of Richard Huelsenbeck to the Department. He had an old gramophone in front of him as he began to lecture. He started off by playing the National Anthem. (Remember these were the days when the habit of playing the anthem at the end of films and theatre productions was just dying out.) So, Huelsenbeck played the anthem - some of the audience stood up immediately as they had been taught to do, others weren’t too sure what to do and their bottoms hovered at mid-point as they looked nervously around the room wondering what was the correct thing to do. A delightful moment. [Orchestrated however by Roy Ascott?]
TM became Deputy Curator at the Laing Art Gallery immediately after graduation, having helped organise Art, Machine, and Environment there whilst still a student.
ROY ASCOTT 1958-1959
Artist, Teacher, Theorist: courtesy Terry Marner
RON DUTTON 1956-1960
Sculptor, specialising in medals www.rondutton.co.uk
“Meanwhile down below the sculptors chipped and modelled away picking up vibrations from above.”
Room 2, the home of the experimentalists under the sway of Pasmore soon after he arrived became a potent element of debate about what were they doing. Hamilton had very little direct influence as far as sculpture studies but the atmosphere created by Pasmore permeated the whole school.
Invite to the King's College Arts Ball 1956
designed by Harry Massey, architecture student
PETER FORRESTER 1956-1960
“I liked the city, drank too much beer, played darts too much. Met my wife in Univision.”
Most of my friends came from outside my year. In particular my age group in the previous year, and the four originators of the Univision gallery [Ross Hickling, Bill Smith, Harry and Alan Lord] in the Bigg Market, where I became a sort of fifth man and curator. On one occasion some twenty paintings by Alan Davie came back to Newcastle on the jazz band's bus, were left in my room overnight, and delivered by hand-cart the following day. I exhibited there of course - a joint show with Judith Downie; with an Anglo-American Graphic Action show of works on paper; and The Mark + Etchings - the Univision four + myself. Another 'achievement' was to decorate a coffee-bar with 'Mayan' low relief plaster-work, with a professional plasterer - two rooms and some pillars over a week-end. This was the Marimba, for Michael Jeffery, later a club and music manager, notoriously of Jimi Hendrix.
DAVID ADDISON 1956-1962
Art Historian, Museum Curator, Vicar
“I initially found the city of Newcastle both frightening and exciting – including the Geordie dialect and realising that the ‘Scotch’ requested at the Union bar was not whisky but the name of the local ale! The stench of the skin-yard in the Haymarket was not so exciting.“
The first year was a revelation – not to say a shock. The Basic Form approach being pioneered by Pasmore and Hamilton opened my eyes to a new future (it still remains an inspiration) – with its concerns with analytical drawing, its exploration of the ‘random’, and its concern with colour, space, and form. I must admit that otherwise Hamilton never really meant much to me or had much effect on me – although I do remember his inviting the Dada poet, Richard Huelsenbeck, to lecture to us ...
It was Pasmore’s enthusiasm and determination, and his inability to complete sentences, which really enthused me. To me it was the ‘Pasmore Years’.
JOHN WALKER 1956-1961
Artist, Art Historian and Writer
Richard Hamilton, ‘Photo of the audience for his lecture taken with an Edwin Land Polaroid camera’, Newcastle, 1960. In the front row from left: Margaret Clark, John A. Walker and Eric Dobson. 5th from left is Roy Ascott and 2nd from right is Leonard Evetts. Courtesy John Walker
As a student, what puzzled me about the art education I received was the variety of activities taking place under one roof. The various practices differed in age; they differed in aesthetic principles and in the kind of art they generated. Any one practice considered separately made sense but together they spelled confusion and contradiction.
BRIAN SEFTON 1956-1960
Artist and Teacher
JOHN GILLAH BERRY 1957-1961
Art and Design Historian and Teacher
“The impact of the course and of the city were huge. For myself and many other young men it was such a contrast with the two years we'd just endured of National Service - a gruelling experience followed by liberation! There were the formings of good friendships.”
Lawrence Gowing was wonderfully eccentric - the first person in the world to wear a suit entirely of blue denim! He wandered
about the place singing, would join the drawing class in all its quiet and start to sing there and then
hush himself. I recall
Richard giving a talk about his experience of USA culture to us bemused students - part of the fun was Richard's use of, I think,
a wireless remote control for the slide projector.
In short the whole experience was inspirational ever after. I think many of us felt we'd been to the very top centre of art education of that time. Where was Goldsmiths in those halcyon days?!!
DAVID JEREMIAH 1958-1962
Art and Design Historian
Asked by Lawrence Gowing at interview, along with seven other interviewers, what he wanted to be; when he said “a teacher”, LG “went ballistic” so he warned John Kinnaird as they crossed in the doorway to to say he wanted to be an artist...
Found the Dept. a weird place and thinks he arrived at a cusp when they were just getting themselves sorted. There were no lectures of artists talking about their own work to his recall. He wrote British history painting BA dissertation; art history for the Department ended with Post Impressionism. In education year concentrated on Benjamin Haydon and national schools of design then took his Ph.D at Reading where the connection with Kenneth Rowntree was enough for him to be accepted. He was aware of the great strength of contacts/network from Newcastle.
DEREK MORRIS 1958-1963
Artist, past President of the Royal British Society of Sculptors
“We saw him working on his Guggenheim relief and also the painstaking assembly of his reproduction of the Large Glass. He also occasionally had drinks parties where he played the latest record imports from the States - Dionne Warwick, the Beach Boys and the Shirelles.”
“My years at Newcastle were the most stimulating and formative years of my life. In retrospect, I did not understand in the beginning what was going on in the Fine Art Dept, being not much more than a schoolboy when I arrived ... my experience of the basic course and its rather high flying intellectual content was a difficult one, and made little sense to me at the beginning.
One of the problems was that, particularly with Pasmore, there was little explanation of why we were to do what was asked of us. For example, when asked to buy a roll of lining paper and draw “related shapes” continually until we began to feel they were “working’, at the time I could see little point in doing the project ... Richard's projects were much clearer, and he did explain more clearly what they were for, and I tended to do those with more enthusiasm.”
Immediately on the right is Richard H, sitting on chairs are Derek Morris next to Rita Donagh with Mary Webb next to her. Next to Mary moving left is Matt Rugg who is next to Geoff Dudley. Immediately behind Rita and slightly left is David Sweetman. Almost at the top on the right, next to the girl who is turning away is Stephen Buckley, and the second person above Mary and leftish is Mark Lancaster. It has turned out to be quite a seminal picture - we probably didn't think so at the time.”
Richard Hamilton with Guggenheim relief
courtesy Mary Webb
End of Year photo 1962-65
courtesy Derek Morris
MARY WEBB 1958-1963
Artist, recent one person show at Hatton Gallery
“It was very much a mining area, and slag heaps were a common sight. But the architecture of the town was
magnificent, and it made a great impression as you walked down to the river, where we would draw at the Sunday morning market
on the quayside.
When VP left to concentrate on own work and be represented by Marlborough Fine Art, RH created for the party a fake Pasmore painting and John (Jack) Shepherd, dressed as an army colonel used it as a battle plan. A group of four bearded singers swayed to their own rendition of The Green Leaves of Money Are Calling Me Home, based on the current hit the Green Leaves of summer.
She recalls also the Western Party for which she scoured Westgate Rd cinemas for old cowboy film posters and replaced heads with those of staff. For the Aubrey Beardsley party Derek Morris made an armature for a customised disco ball.
The Rainbow Room Project
Richard invited Dick Smith to carry it out with a group of students in 1963
Top row: Dick Smith second from left, Mark Lancaster on his left; bottom left David Sweetman, Mary Webb extreme right. Photo Richard Hamilton. Courtesy Mary Webb
NEIL TALBOT 1962-1966
“Sitting with Ian Hamilton Finlay in his boat on his lake at Little Sparta, he said to me, ‘So Neil, you were taught by Richard Hamilton, how awful for you.’ As I can’t swim, I chose not to argue with him!”
STEPHEN BUCKLEY 1962-1967
Artist, Professor at University of Reading
“After the first year I recall no formal teaching. Eris Dobson shuffled about and Kenneth Rowntree handed out Disque Bleu from time to time (“Have a smelly”). There was a visiting artist programme with rewarding visits from Richard Smith and Eduardo Paolozzi. In my second year, Joe Tilson spent the Michaelmas term and engendered a lot of activity (he also liked to go with some of us to the Majestic Ballroom on Wednesday lunchtimes) and the following year Terry Frost whose enthusiasm for colour was infectious. In my fourth year Robert Medley was a lively visitor and brought a whiff of sophistication to an otherwise macho department.
... of lasting importance to me was the Picabia exhibition. I was involved in the hanging and thrilled to touch a ‘Real’ piece of Modern Art.“
RICHARD YEOMANS 1962-1967
JOHN FOX 1963-1967
“The course had a good reputation nationally and after the Ruskin School of Drawing in Oxford (where as an Oxford University PPE undergraduate I was able to study part time for £3 a term) it appeared to be modern and adventurous.”
“I preferred Breughel, Kaprow, DADA, Fellini, Artaud and Carnival to Duchamp and Pop Art. I came to be increasingly interested in socially engaged art with communities and although you could argue that bringing a urinal into a gallery had a whiff of the community about it was a mere whiff. Although Victor Pasmore had designed Peterlee and the Professor of Sculpture Murray MacCheyne fashioned glass fibre sea horses for the top of Newcastle City Hall most of the staff, in my opinion, did not seek or wish to connect with the vernacular traditions of Newcastle or its people.
I hope this is useful. I do realise that in the current context of Newcastle with its cuts to the arts my paper could reinforce prejudice. If you are using Richard Hamilton's deserved reputation to change funding attitudes in Newcastle then do bin my bit.”
MALI MORRIS, RA 1963-1968
“I fell in love with the city when I went up for the interview, which I seem to remember went on for 2 or 3 days.”
I was asked to be External Examiner on the MA Course there last year. I had planned not to do any more of that sort of thing, but could not resist this - finishing where I started, so to speak. Strange being back in the building, some of it looking just as I remember it. The city is wonderful, I love it still.
LLOYD GIBSON 1963-1968
“Generally, however, I think that years 2 to 4 taught one to be self-reliant, enquiring, and analytical – which, I guess, are prerequisites for art. On the downside, I left the course with the impression that many of the ‘weaker’ students had lacked adequate guidance and had received a ‘cultural mugging’ from which they had difficulty recovering.”
Elisabeth Frink: A visiting lecturer in Year 1. She had little to say, but students greatly admired her genuine Seal Skin boots.
Ron Hunt: The Fine Art Librarian, ‘renegade’, ‘activist’, admirer of Yves Klein, the Situationists, and all things Russian Revolutionary. He appeared to run a one-man ‘alternative art school’ from his house in Jesmond, and at frequent soirees in the Exhibition Park. I think he was a focal-point for some students who aligned themselves with 60s revolutionary activism and were less than impressed by Greenberg’s ‘Americanisation’ of all things cultural.
I recall, for example, one student who assiduously made a fortnightly trip to a tobacconist’s shop in Northumberland Street in order to make his own purchase of Hamilton’s favoured brand of rare Cuban cigars, which he would smoke while visiting Richard’s approved night-spots such as Club A-GoGo. Others would dress similarly to Hamilton, copy his mannerisms, and ape his paintings in the most obvious ways. It was difficult to know whether Hamilton approved of such things, or not.
STANLEY GREAVES 1963-1968
“I was born in 1934 and grew up in Georgetown, the capital of Guyana, at the time known as British Guiana. The first time I came into contact with the concept of Art was through my Primary School Readers – West Indian Readers books 4 & 5 – probably out of print now.“
I became a teacher at primary and then secondary school level. I had hopes of getting a British Council Scholarship to study art. The British Council closed around the late 1950’s. I had to find a plan B. In the Art International I had read of Art Colleges and two universities in the UK offering practical programs in art. They were the University of Reading, often mentioned in detail, and Newcastle. I applied to both and at the same time writing begging letters to support my studies.
A letter of acceptance came from Newcastle and none from Reading. I was puzzled but responded to Newcastle. It turned out that Reading had responded but the letter placed on my desk had fallen behind it. This was a fortunate occurrence as subsequent events revealed. My tuition fees were paid by a private company, The Booker Group, which is now a Government concern.
My wife and son Andre 4 months old arrived in London in April 1962, a few months before I did to circumvent the UK Government plan by mid year to change immigration policy as regards Commonwealth citizens. I could not leave until August. We remained in London for a year giving me a chance to visit Galleries and observe the art scene – Pop Art and Op Art, which were of no interest to me.
Arriving in Newcastle my wife who was a trained infant teacher got a job in Leam Lane, so we moved to nearby Felling some distance away from Gateshead. We were the only coloured family in Felling, and in a council flat as well due to my wife being a teacher. A resident Salvation Army family later told me there was some concern about our taking up residency in the flats, but were persuaded to adopt a wait and see policy. As it turned out we were the only family to accept children in our flat to play. This changed later on. I was called “Mr.Chocolate” by little boys in the neighbourhood, my wife “Mrs Chocolate Lady” until they met Andre my son and this was changed to “Hello Andre’s Daddy / Mummy”. The original form of address was not meant in a derogatory way but was their way of reaching out to a strange phenomenon.
The[se] concepts that shaped Pop Art meant nothing to me. I did not come from a consumer culture as it applied to the UK. Before going to Newcastle I did spend the year in London, as already stated, observing art trends but did not think of meeting them head on in Newcastle.
At the end of the first year I asked Prof. Rowntree if I “could not be given “a piece of paper” from the university so that I could return home.” He replied that he “understood my situation he could not create a precedent”. I really did not expect that he could do any such thing. “I am sorry, but you will have to stay and burn”. I took no offence.
Librarian from late 1950s
Author of http://www.artandeducation.net/paper/icteric-and-poetry-must-be-made-by-all- transform-the-world-a-note-on-a-lost-and-suppressed-avant-garde-and-exhibition/
”I realised the extent of his [Hamilton’s] presence when I tried to remember who else was on the teaching staff – it took me a long while. In ‘68 there was a lot of trouble in the Department as in other art colleges. I always wonder if that would have happened if Richard had been there.”
THE WISE TWINS, Icetric, 1967, courtesy Carolyn Earlam, 1964-1968
I was an assistant in the library at the V & A in the late 50’s and there came across Richard’s version of Hommage a Chrysler Corp in Architectural Design. I also found more on Duchamp than I previously knew to exist. And realised Richard was the man to see to further that knowledge. I got his address and went to see him – I really liked the Chrysler Corp and he said he had a litho of it – which would cost me a fiver. A fiver was the regular price – that is what I paid for the Adonis in Y Fronts print - he asked for subscribers). A bit later he brought it to the V & A – he’d added silver foil. He gave it me and asked if I would be interested in the job of Librarian at Newcastle University, Fine Art Department. I said yes and a bit later was in Newcastle.
ROSE FRAIN and JOHN (JACK) SHEPHERD
1958-1962 at graduation. Courtesy Rose Frain
“Living in Newcastle was wonderful and the Department was heaven.”
It was only a short time since post WW2 austerity had ended. Women students were addressed as 'miss' and male students by their surname.
After buying paint, paying rent etc. I didn't have enough money to buy the Set books. The (excellent) Department library operated timed borrowing slots for these, so revision was a bit challenging. I did paid work from time to time and throughout the summer vacs. (in London)
Fellow Students were from all over the UK, including London and Wales; very few were from the NE. My friends were mostly (but not of course, exclusively) in third and fourth (/fifth) years and were also made from other departments such as English and Philosophy, actors and director David Prosser from The People’s Theatre.
We subscribed to certain precepts of the Aesthetic Movement / the putting of 'genius into one’s life' and bought lovely furniture such as scrap screens and velvet covered Chaise Longues from Anderson and Garland, the Salerooms in Market Street- for pennies, as Victorian artefacts were not in fashion.
We held soirées, playing records of Arnold Schoenberg, Bartok et al, and serving sherry, and were involved with the publication The Northerner, having friendships with poets and other writers.
All night (dancing) parties were a feature throughout student days. I also attended the lunch time discos at The Majestic Ballroom, dancing Rock and Roll and The Twist. Richard Hamilton was a prominent figure at these sessions.
The poet Tom Pickard and Connie Pickard (formerly Connie Watson) who started the Morden Tower lived in a flat in the same house as us, and thus I met and heard Basil Bunting, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti et al.
Gregory Corso at Morden Tower
courtesy Rose Frain
STUDENT LIST 1964-1965
MICHAEL SNODIN 1964-1968
Museum Curator, Art Historian and Chairman of Strawberry Hill Trust
He wrote at the time, in a letter to his parents:
We don’t start using colour until half way through next term. There are only 36 students in the first year. I am glad I didn’t
know this at the interview because over 200 people were interviewed. Not many people in the department are very 'arty', in fact
there are more 'arty' people outside it ...
Newcastle seems a lively place. The smog settles down in the afternoon and is reputedly the most acid in Britain. Down by the river everything is seen through a yellow filter.
There are 3 night clubs, include the “Club A’- go-go “home of the Animals” (a pop group). There are raves every Saturday in the sumptuous Student Union Ballroom.
Perhaps the noisiest people are the males of the messy-painting branch of the painting school. They are disliked by the rest because (i) messiness is unfashionable (ii) they actually take an open interest in art history all the year round.”
(Many people recall the impact of Ralph Holland.)
ANDREW MORLEY 1965-1969
Artist, Teacher, Author of Street Jewellery
“Hamilton disappeared during Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday (rumoured to return to London to prepare an exhibition and some other mysterious project, allegedly driving a racy sports car very fast.”
In Term 2 most of us were bored by the weekly morning lectures on perspective delivered by Louisa Hodgson (nearing retirement, who had worked there since the University was Armstrong College), whom we played up horribly in the usual impudent undergraduate way. One Friday, Hamilton took us to task about this. He confided that in the preparation of Five Tyres Abandoned; he had despaired of getting the accuracy he was aiming for. He admitted that he had asked Louisa for advice, and that she had elucidated the correct perspectival treatment, to his great joy and relief. Apart from affording her common courtesy, he suggested, we should attend to her words of wisdom, as although we might think now that we would never need perspective skills, one day we might, so we should learn the basics when expert tuition was on offer. We were duly shamed, and behaved better thereafter. His stout support for a colleague was all the more admirable in an institution where (we were told by more senior students), many of the rest of the Fine Art staff regarded him with disdain. But he always enjoyed the respect of students.
Our first encounter with Hamilton was inspirational for more than the academic revelations it afforded. We were gathered in Studio One, its walls still pristine white from the paint job of the previous year's Final Show, but seated at very distressed tables, on rickety stools. Hamilton entered, tall and lanky, his hawkish profile topped by a tattered comb-over, flashing his horsey-toothed grin at us, flanked by Derek and Mark, all of them were dressed in the then very unusual fashion of Levi's jeans and shirts. Mark's Levi's jeans and shirt were still dense indigo, Hamilton's jeans beginning to fade, his shirt a cowboy check, while Derek was possibly wearing Wranglers or Lee's. All wore desert boots. They stood facing us, Hamilton centre stage; he slowly un-popped the triangular flap of his shirt breast pocket and took out a short cigar, which he licked and placed in his mouth. Mark reached into his jeans' lighter pouch pocket, withdrew a Zippo, snapped it open, ignited it and lit Hamilton's cigar. Mark and Derek then took soft packs of Kent and/or Marlborough from their shirt breast pockets, tapped the top for single cigarettes to slide out, put the packs towards their mouths, bit on the filter tips, returned the packets to their pockets and lit up. The students, now all-agog, awaited the start of the sermon. It started complicated and got more and more baffling. We were smitten! These people were TRENDY! SO cool.
The Collingwood Monument, Tynemouth, Trafalgar Night
THANK YOU ALL
“Thank you for stirring up so many happy memories.”
Richard Hamilton postcard 1969
courtesy Andrew Morley