I was born in 1939 in the Birmingham suburb of Quinton, close to the industrial Black Country as well as rural Worcestershire, Shropshire, and Warwickshire. My father worked at the Austin Motor Works in nearby Longbridge.

I suppose you could trace my career as a professional artist back to 1950 when I sat the pivotal eleven-plus exam. Had I passed, I would have been on my way to the local grammar school, but things didn’t work out that way. Anxious to come up with an alternative for me, my mother found out about Moseley Road Secondary School of Art. I ended up applying to it and studying there between the ages of eleven and fifteen. 

Like other so-called junior art schools, Moseley Road was there to provide its pupils with a secondary education that had a bias towards art, enabling them to obtain various forms of design-related employment. In my case, that would’ve been graphic design, but by the time I’d completed the course I was totally committed to becoming a painter. To fulfill that ambition, I knew I needed to win a place at my home town’s art college.  

My parents only agreed to let me apply to Birmingham College of Art on condition that I’d go on to take a teacher-training course. The only trouble was, I needed to pass a specific number of “O”-level exams before I could be considered for that. Since these hadn’t been part of the curriculum at my junior art school, I had to spend a lot of time studying for them during my first year and part of my second year at Birmingham College of Art. 

In those days, the first two years at the college concentrated on what was known as the Intermediate Course, structured around life drawing, composition, and a craft-based subject. I chose lithography as my craft subject not just because it was the nearest to painting but also because I loved it. Most of my work consisted of drawings of my family, of Birmingham cityscapes, and of the landscape around my parents’ home. 

The Intermediate Course culminated in a series of exams, which I passed. I was then able to move on to the two-year National Diploma in Design (N.D.D.), where I became one of the students specialising in painting. We focused on composition and life painting, for which there were more exams at the end of the course. By then, I’d become interested in contemporary artists such as Naum Gabo (1890-1977) and in the Russian Constructivist art movement—interests that lay beyond the boundaries of what the examiners regarded as acceptable. 

Ironically, I never enrolled on a teacher training course. Towards the end of my time as a student at Birmingham College of Art, I applied to become a post-graduate student at the Royal Academy Schools in central London. I was given a place on the course, though I had no financial support. To keep myself afloat, I found a job as a waiter at the Studio Club on Swallow Street, not far from Piccadilly where the Academy Schools are located. I worked at the club from 5pm until midnight for three nights a week, which gradually increased to six nights a week. 

In that era when Britain’s strict licensing laws made it illegal for pubs to serve drink outside tightly controlled lunchtime and evening periods, the Studio Club was one of many venues that exploited a loophole in the regulations. On condition they served food with the booze, they could stay open while the pubs were closed. 

My responsibility at the start of each evening was to make the sandwiches accompanying the drinks. Usually I had to slather the bread with tuna and mayonnaise. Needless to say, very few of these sandwiches were eaten by the club’s members, who included a wide variety of people from the London arts world, the writer Henry Williamson (1895-1977) among them. 

The Studio Club wasn’t just a drinking club, though. It had a dance-floor, where people could dance to live music performed by the jazz pianist Alan Clare (1921-1993). 

At that time the Academy Schools were very traditional and staid, but a few of my fellow students such as John Hoyland (1934-2011) and Basil Beattie (1935-) were making work that was abstract and related to contemporary art. I also had a number of friends and acquaintances at the Royal College of Art, who were involved with the emerging British Pop Art movement. The closest of those were Allen Jones (1937-) and Peter Phillips (1939-). Peter had been a student with me at Moseley Road. In London, the two of us shared a flat together with the painter Michael Upton (1938-2002). The flat was on Holland Road in West Kensington. Both Peter and the flat feature in the B.B.C. documentary, Pop Goes The Easel, directed by Ken Russell. 

Soon after moving down to London, I saw the Jackson Pollock show at the Whitechapel, as well as the American Painting exhibition at the Tate Gallery (now Tate Britain). Against the rather gloomy backdrop of Britain in 1959, where the depredations of the war were still tangible, these felt fresh and exhilarating. They transformed my attitude towards painting. Not that anything remains of my paintings from this period—just a few photographs of them, displayed on this website, alongside some of the drawings I did during the three years I spent at the Academy. 

At the end of the course I found a job as an Associate Lecturer in Painting at Nottingham College of Arts & Crafts, which didn’t require the teacher training qualification my parents had been so keen for me to obtain. Back then, Nottingham was a small college that didn’t even have its own painting department. Painting was merely a branch of the Graphic Design Department.

Ready for the advent of the Diploma in Art and Design (Dip.A.D) qualification, the artist John Powell (1911-2003) was appointed to develop the course. The fact that he had to create it from scratch gave him the opportunity to construct one of the first Fine Art courses in the country. Instead of having separate painting, sculpture, and print-making departments, it combined all three disciplines. Though the other staff and I were specialists in each of those, we were expected to help students working outside our chosen areas. 

As time passed, the course expanded to include photography and film. Students had the chance to move between all media, sometimes focussing on a single one, sometimes combining them. My enjoyment at working on such a fluid course was the reason why I would stay there for the remainder of my full-time teaching career.

In parallel to my teaching, I produced a large body of my own work. In 1965, this was exhibited in a solo show at the Ikon Gallery. Two years later, I contributed to the “Survey ’67” group exhibition at the Camden Art Centre. Another couple of years after that, I had a second solo show at the Ikon Gallery. All of this work has been destroyed, though I still have a few photographs of it, several of which can be viewed elsewhere on my website.

By 1969—eight years after leaving the Academy Schools—I’d reached a point where I felt that my work had left me with little room to evolve. Aspects of that work would always remain among my interests, yet I needed to find a new way of expressing them, so I went back to working from direct observation, spiced with imagination. In retrosepct, I realise that it was one of the most emotionally intense periods of my artistic life, which has provided me with the foundations on which I’ve continued to build. I knew I was being true to my feelings, but I also knew that I’d exiled myself from the fashionable trends in contemporary painting. 

Between 1976 and 1987, I often exhibited at the Coracle Press Gallery in Camberwell, London. I also showed my work at the Ikon Gallery in 1974 and at the first British Art Show, which toured the country from 1979 until 1980. Some of the pictures that I exhibited over this period were bought by the Arts Council, the Government Art Collection, Nottingham University, Teeside Art Gallery, and other institutions. 

From a practical as well as an aesthetic point of view, my friendship and professional association with Simon Cutts (1944-) at Coracle Press exerted a huge influence on my work. By publishing books of my drawings, he nudged me in the direction of producing work that was both serial and narrative. Our books were The Transit of Venus, Drawings As Prints, and The Christmas Apples, the latter of which also featured poetry by Stuart Mills (1940-2006). 

By the late 1980s, I’d become leader of the B.A. and M.A. Fine Art courses at the art college in Nottingham, which had been absorbed by Trent Polytechnic and grown into one of the largest art colleges in Britain. I combined my work there with stints of part-time teaching at the art colleges in Derby, Loughborough, and Bradford. I was also an External Assessor for the Fine Art B.A. at Sunderland College of Art, a member of the Validating Board at Wimbledon College of Art’s Fine Art B.A, and a member of the East Midlands Arts Council’s grant-awarding panel.

When I eventually relinquished all these commitments and retired from teaching in 1993, I was free to develop the serial aspect of my work. Over the years, I’ve been attracted to working in sketchbooks, partly because I can—by filling the pages from front to back—place my pictures in a fixed sequence which conveys the changes from one day to the next. For me, a sketchbook is a work in its own right, not just a set of visual notes.

Over recent years I’ve concentrated on painting and drawing rather than exhibiting. The only times my work has been on public display is at the Royal Academy Summer shows of 2016, 2017 and 2018; the Towner Art Gallery’s “Towards Night”, a 2016 historical survey of painters’ depictions of dusk and night; the 2016 “Art of Paper” exhibition at the Royal Geographical Society in London; and a 2016 survey of artists’ sketchbooks, which toured Britain. 

I continue to paint in and around my home in the minster town of Southwell, twelve miles north of Nottingham.

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