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The jump towards abstraction, which has happened in my life time, has passed me by as a sculptor. I have always believed that my fellow human beings are the most interesting and essential subject matter. I call myself a New Humanist to celebrate this belief - “know thyself” remains sage advice. We are able to get all sorts of information from our computer screens but the computer culture seems to have impaired our ability to read each other’s body language. This cannot be repaired by the exclusive diet of abstract art we are fed today. Observed art not only educates the eye, it sophisticates the mind. Seeing truly is desparately needed today, I suggest life-drawing as a very good training in interpreting the world about us; it instills a certain humility in perceiving. I do happen to be specially gifted with memories of the physical world which keeps me pointed there no matter what the fashion. Also my training in the old school was outstanding for its time.

When I went for an interview at Camberwell it was out of term and the principal Leonard Daniels entertain me in his office. Vogel, the head of sculpture was due to attend but came at least 20 minutes late. In that extra time Daniels persuaded me to do a year of intermediate before I went for sculpture. This was a very fortunate happening for two reasons, artistically and sexually. At St Martins I had been in a class of very varied age groups from about my age to pensioners. Intermediate was very different. There was only one other male of my age who had also done his national service the rest were all 17 or 18 year olds. My own experience of girls at that stage was a NAAFI girl in Germany. I was rather shy and and inexperienced with English girls of my own age group or younger. A boys-only school does not prepare one for real life. Here I was in a group of charming young sirens. Head down but watchful I made no move.
But I was seized upon by a beautiful girl, Anna of Polish origin. She had a very talented father who was a fairly well-known painter showing at Gimpels. He afterwards return to Poland and was at the very forefront of modern Polish painters. Her mother and father were separated and her mother made her living by dressmaking. She was a very intellectual and a charming woman and introduced me to all sorts of rather spiritual French writing - Simone Weil and Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest who had his own interesting ideas about evolution. I was almost more fond of Magda than of her daughter. Anna was top talent of the textile dept. at Camberwell doing fabric printing as her craft for the intermediate exam.

Anna and I became an item for my whole period, that is nearly 3 years, at Camberwell. It was a happy period. I bought myself a second-hand Bantam motorbike. It was the smallest possible motorbike with a pillion seat. We went to Cornwall on it twice I think. We went to Paris and we went to Bath. Anna’s father taught at Corsham which was the most modern Art School in England at that time. We stayed with him for 1 or 2 days on our way to Cornwall twice. He owned a cottage near Penzance which he lent to us for holidays. Anna's mother had a friend in Paris who lent us her flat while she was away for another summer holiday. It was a great introduction to Paris, my first. I acquired a huge respect for Paris as an art centre first hand. It already enjoyed that respect in the art world in England in my student days but by 1960 the centre of the art world moved to NY. Rumour has it the move was heavily publicised and financed by the CIA. (If so, it was a success as far as they were concerned but for world art it was an unmitigated disaster.)

Through Anna I met the Gaberbocus Press, Francizka Themerson and her husband Stefan. As the name ‘Gaberbocus’ (Latin for Jaberwock) implies they were a bit Dada in their tastes. Francizka had a very good sense of humour which she was able to convey with her cartoons; they published a “Good Citizens Alphabet” by Bertrand Russell illustrated by Francizka which I particularly liked. Stefan also wrote a really interesting essay on the persecution complex in which he suggested that it may not be in every case a complex but a persecution reality. As a Polish Jew who escaped from Poland from the Nazis he had a very good point. They had reasonable success in Britain but Gaberbocus was very much a niche interest. Their adopted daughter was Jashia Reichart the art critic, also rather Dada, a friend nonetheless. Micha had a Francizka painting.

Most of the other students were on government grants; grants mind, not loans. The grants were just sufficient to get by, go to school and get there with a bus pass. Anna for instance lived in St. John's Wood and travel to school everyday by bus, I did not qualify for a grant because my father eaned too much; I doubt whether I would have qualified anyway on talent alone because public schools in those days did not regard art as a serious subject. I was well behind the other students to begin with.

If the above sounds like paradise it was - a socialist Paradise. The Labour Government after the war managed a transformation, which has steadily been eroded over my adult life-time. Camberwell was and is a working-class district and most of the students were of working-class but doing sufficiently well. I was seen as an alpha male for the first time in my life within an egalitarian society.

Looking back, I find it strange that I left voluntarily before my time. I was longing to get on with my own work unsupervised. I found myself a garage in Tufnell Park - 52 Burghleigh Road. It was not a garage you could get a car into. The doors were not quite wide enough and it had a fairly strongly sloping floor it was roughly the shape of a wedge of cheese that was higher at the narrow end. I found the flat and persuaded Keith Bennett and Don Smith to move in with me. I don't remember how I met up with Don, he was a remarkably talented sculptor whose father was a taxi-driver in Liverpool. He also took pretty good photographs he had been a star student at St. Martins but I didn't meet him there. The flat was the ground floor of 52, it had a kitchen and a loo and two rooms plus the garage. I was able to use the kitchen and the loo it also had a very small triangular garden. If I remember rightly the rent was less than £5 a week. I slept on an attic floor in the garage on a mattress I found on a dump. I made my first solo bronze castings there. I also discovered a way of working from my drawings which gave better results than direct from life. Life needs to be simplified.

By this time I had bought a dilapidated Reliant van it had three wheels and looked not unlike the vehicle driven by Zampano in “La Strada”. I spent quite a lot of time out in the street stripping down the engine which I really knew very little about but a kindly neighbour kept looking in and giving me advice. I drove that vehicle for several years it was very easy to park. Whenever difficult I drove in frontwards and lifted the back two wheels to the curb. One of my worst experience with it was when driving along Shepherds Bush Road, a queue at a bus stop suddenly started gesticulating wildly at me, I slowed down then one of the back wheels fell off. It had simply come unscrewed. I managed to screw it back. I must have been on my way to Janets. she lived in the Goldhawk Road. I and Anna had parted as she found other interests at the RCA. I was upset but not devastated, our romance had wained into longstanding, friendly habit.

In January 1958 Barnett Freedman got me into the sculpture school of the Royal College of Art. I drove into school in my Reliant van where many of the other students were driving second-hand Rolls-Royces, or (in the case of Alan Cooper, the claranetist for the Temperance Seven, drove a superb ancient Lagonda. My friend Stephan Cohn drove something nearly as swank. In those days one could buy such antique cars for under £200. Mine cost £25.

I was receiving £5 a week as an allowance from my father added to which the army paid me £4.5 for every weekend that I did for the Territorial Army. Also two periods of two week camps twice per annum at the same rate. I was remarkably well off. For the first period at Camberwell I was sharing a flat with Jim Durrant and Keith Bennett both of whom I had met at the Lancaster Gate digs. The flat was in Eardley Road, Earls Court we were turned out of that flat after a year or so for entertaining ladies there. On the run to Camberwell from there I had to pass the Marmite factory at Vauxhall. It was necessary to take a deep breath 100 yd earlier and hold it as long as poss, the smell was really nasty. It was a long run. So I took a single room, first in Balham and then in East Dulwich to be nearer to Camberwell. The Bantam was essential.

There was a very comfortable association between students and staff at Camberwell. We all used to have lunch at the local pub (The Walmer Castle) together. There were parties at various flats around and about. Added to which the sculpture school was remarkably well equipped and up to the moment in architecture. The sculpture School was not as lively as the intermediate year but we could use the studios up till 8 at night and I often put in a 14 hour day.

The staff at Camberwell were extraordinarily united in their ideas about teaching art. Coldstream have been head of painting and the whole school seemed to be pretty much in the Euston Road tradition. At first I found the idea of measuring, often with an old-fashioned bus ticket, which had fare stages marked long it about 1/8in. apart, quite absurd; but one day Chimp Chamberlain who had been introduced to me by Joe Dixon director of Intermediate, as someone who “would give it to me straight from the shoulder”, gave me a mind changing lesson. I had done what I considered a rather beautiful drawing and Chimp sat down in my place looking at the same model from the same point of view and did a drawing which took him perhaps 5 minutes but was incredibly different to my own, simply because he was looking very carefully at the proportions of the model and I was looking at the features. He did not have to say a word. I was stunned and and horrified by the difference. It was a wonderful lesson. His criticisms of my painted comps were straight from the shoulder, they cured me of colour for 50 years. Such direct criticism has gone alas. I value it and occasionally dish it out but no obvious St.Paul type conversions such as mine have resulted.

Another teacher Dick Lee, was kinder and gave me much good advice. He had just returned from Rome where he had spent 2 years on a Rome scholarship. His dedication to teaching and his friendliness became my role model as a teacher for life, but alas my personality did not allow me anywhere near my model, there was too much of Grandma in it. I was mortified many years later, probably 1968, to hear that the students had more or less got him thrown out of his, by then, senior post because he was so old fashioned. Fortunately, he became quite a success as a selling painter in his later years. He taught here at Verrocchio once and made one of his famous characatures of me out of a rock he found. It did not look that much like me but I wish it would turn up again. By then he was suffering too much from alzheimers to become a fixture but still sweet natured.

By comparison with other students in Intermediate my paintings were quite terrible. I was using poster colours which are very difficult to handle but I didn't realise it was the medium I was using that made them so bad. I just assumed that it was that I was a born sculptor. Now in my old age I have found out that my colour sense is at least passable. I am sure I would recgnise it if I struck lucly but it has not happened yet. I very much admire Joseph Herman’s monumental miners in a wet looking Wales but I don’t live there. Here we are closer to Cezanne. I am drawn towards Gauguin’s hedonism but rarely get anywhere near it.

For a craft I did carving in the sculpture school and enjoyed that a lot. My fellow students there were very talented. Raphael Maklouf was in the same year of intermediate. Raphael was called the genius, not because he was called Raphael but because his paintings were so amazingly talented. I think he was only 17 at the time. A lot of the students had been to Junior art school and Raphael was one of them. Meaning they had spent their time at school from the age of 13 mainly concentrating on art, with little input of other subjects. Raphael had arrived in England from Israel at around 12 because he had some eye infection that would have made him blind had he stayed in Israel so his education was stunted to say the least. His father was a carpet-dealer in Petticoat Lane. Looking back I can see nothing in his make-up that could possibly lead one to foresee that his genius would take an entirely different course in life.

He should have gone into the painting school. But it was thought that he would profit from experience in sculpture. So he went to sculpture and remained a sculptor for some years. He was asked to make designs for medals. After some time at it he realised that designing medals was not the way to make money, that was made by running a mint. By good fortune at that time the Royal Mint was moving from London to Wales and he was able to buy a number of old machines at scrap metal prices on the advice of two workers at the Mint. He offered them partnership in the business he set up. They declined, so he ran it himself with enormous success. Minting in gold for the boullion market and in chocolate for the tourist market. He even minted whole currencies for Morocco. The quality of his painting declined but he became rich.

While at the sculpture school Raphael organised the casting of a life-size figure all in one piece in bronze. I was asked to come back to Camberwell to help pour 5 hundredweight of bronze. Meaning five crucibles of molten bronze in unbroken succession. It was a very ambitious project and amazingly it succeeded. I and Mike Gillespie being the most experienced were asked to get the first crucible out of a coke bed fanned electrically. We did it and then patiently waited for the other 4 crucibles to be got out as well. It took so long that by the time we were able to pour, our bronze had frozen in the crucible but fortunately 400 weight was just enough to complete the casting. This was one of the many experiences that allowed me to see the impossibility of the way archaeologists had envisioned the ancient Greeks’ method of casting, which led 50 years later to my over-turning a great stretch of art history (The Elgin Marbles are largely Roman not Greek).

Another of my fellow carvers was Richard Cowdy, who afterwards became my partner in in our bronze casting foundry. He was in the year behind us but very gifted in many ways. I remember him beating a piece of sheet led into a really convincing recumbant figure as a student. He went to Goldsmiths for his teaching diploma which put him off his stroke for many years but when he came back to traditional forms he was as good as ever. Also very musical (he could never recognise what I was singing as I carved) and in later life, at painting.

I am old enough to have benefited from the education in observation that was once insisted upon in art schools; I was at Camberwell 1955/7. Even at that early date the school was regarded as reactionary by Her Majesty’s inspectors for its insistence on observation, the sculpture school in particular. At Camberwell sculpture students spent 95% of their time working from life. Typically there were two nude models and one portrait model posing in the long studio for 4-6 weeks each. Normally a model would stand in one pose all day for six weaks. That was our daily diet. Only in the last month before the exam were we allowed to practice composition (the other half of the exam) but none of us toyed with total abstraction during that month. Observation was sacred. We usually worked life-size in clay from the model. Vogel, had a really good eye as a critic. Some of his own work was exceptionally beautiful. He made some very fine small bronzes. He died before retirement.

I was not one of Vogel's favorite students, we were somewhat wary of each other. He admired my drawings and in fact started to draw himself for the first time under my influence. I never got much encouragement for my sculpture from him. I was a slow starter. I left Camberwell early but returned to help with numbers for the exam, there were only three of us. I was one among the huge majority of candidates that year who failed the National Deploma of Design,. It did not phase me but it did irritate. There was quite a lot of work to do in the thesis; mine was on the evolution of sculpture if I remember right. If I were to try the exam again a whole new thesis was necessary, I did’nt.

Through the influence of the painters at Camberwell I became a passionate enthusiast for the drawings of Rembrandt and it was this enthusiasm which lead me to reject the neo-classical influences of Vogel and adopt Rembrandt as my guiding spirit. (This happened at least 10 years before I made my paradigm-changing discoveries of Rembrandt's overwhelming reliance on live groups of models to work with.*) Knowing nothing of the official view of Rembrandt and being quite certain of my judgement based on experience in drawing, I ploughed ahead oblivious of the consternation I would cause.

I was keen to get away from Camberwell and work on my own so I left before completing the course. I learned to work from my drawings. Surprisingly the results were better than my work direct from life. It would seem that like Bonnard, I find nature direct overwhelming. With the passage of time I came to be thankful for the rigorous education of the eye that I received from Vogel and the drawing staff at Camberwell. By their unremitting criticism they undoubtedly changed me from an ebullient, post-renaissance hedonist, to the more sober, hardworking, sculptor I became. I think this experience taught me to vere more towards Grandma’s discipline than the non-judgemental attitudes of teachers currently. The present generation of students are badly served by their teachers and the price is crippling for life; I and my generation were lucky in the moment of our education though hopelessly unsuccessful in the new climate of art.

From Rembrandt I have learned to rely more on our Roman inheritance of three dimensional geometry than on the Greek lay-figure approach, which was largely used by the Renaissance masters, but which in my view, lies exhausted for the moment. I find three dimensional geometry far more responsive to the variety of life as exemplified in Roman portraits and by Holbein and Rembrandt among the painters. Holbein has been used as a role model even by that great reviver of the classical tradition, Ingres. He was seen copying Holbein in his 80s. Interestingly I had already shown a gift for three dimnesional geometry at school. Surprisingly, I was in the top set for maths and came top of that in 3d geometry - for the one and only time.

The slow mode of production of sculpture and the sheer weight of the product predisposes sculptors to a more conservative approach to our art than is usual among painters, where the cult of novelty has temporarily crushed a more rewarding relationship to tradition. Painters produce probably ten times faster than sculptors; this allows them to keep up with changing fashions where sculptors cannot even if they wished to do so. As for putting on shows in foreign parts – impossible without financial help from a patron or “The Arts Council” that while holding the purse strings now confidently dictates the acceptable path for art. Figurative artists are designated “the wrong type”. Artists must reclaim their lost leadership, it is the only way out of the present catastrophe.

Our view of humanity and our position in the universe have changed immeasurably in the last 100 years so the need for self-examination has become more urgent, not less. There is not the least danger of repetition working within the figurative tradition if one is responsive to the changes in the human condition. I feel many artists abandonned the figurative tradition at the moment when it needed to be reset rather than abandonned.

The Camberwell approach was to look for the architecture in the figure, the way it balanced against gravity. Narrative art was frowned upon. Rodin was under a cloud, Bernini was unmentionable. Though I feel myself to be more an expressionist now, that architectural training remained with me. When I moved to Italy the Sienese expessionists have tipped me in that direction, particularly Barna da Siena, whose work in San Gimingnano opened my eyes to the priorities of the Sienese school; I much admire his Crucifiction and Kiss of Judas there. From the first I was an admirer of the powerful expressionism in the Avignon Pieta. But here in the province of Siena I was bombarded by works of almost equal power. The classic austerities of Piero della Francesca slipped into second place in my philosophy. Also the people here are always looking for ‘emozioni’; an idea that would have appaled most Brits in my time.

The fact of being in a region of wonderful stone Italy reawakened my liking for the physical labour of carving. As a student in London there was only second-hand portland to be had, which is not too appetizing. Alabaster, marble and travertine are easily available here and comparatively cheap. As soon as the building was reasonably fit for courses I found myself teaching and enjoying the carving more than modeling and bronze casting which had occupied me exclusively in Britain. I am still at it at 87. In fact the move to Italy which was more or less forced on me because the hiatus occasioned by my Spanish adventure left me with no teaching available in Britain. Though the move necessitated a lot of exhausting building work it turned out to be refreshng and rejuvenating over all. The mid-life crisis gave me a new start.

We all see - but with attention we can learn to see connections: to observe. Through drawing from reality we also become aware of the mis-perceptions resulting from the abstract development of the human brain. This awareness keeps us humble and therefore opens the mind to the need for genuinely new approaches. It is an abiding fault in art history that they believe all art is the deliberate choice of great artists. If they did more practical work from reality they would see that is clearly wrong; practice throws up a succession of images, from which we chose as the parade goes by; and keep chosing in the hope of improving on what we have achoeved. It is the excitement of the chase that keeps us going withhout monetary reward.

Figurative art has always progressed slowly and unevenly with many long periods of recession because our minds tend to short circuit into abstract mode. Observing what is in front of us is not the boring, pedestrian occupation art historians suppose. It requires constant vigilance and a modicum of luck. Chance plays a good part in masterpieces. No artist I know sees the finished work in his mind before starting. The whole excitement of creation consists in the hope of bringing about in concrete form, what is at first vague and dreamlike in imagination. If one saw the whole thing clearly from the start there would be no point in bothering.

Imagination has never been as vivid as art historians imagine it to be in the minds of great or small. Imagination in art is usually a series of responses to the unfinished flexible image on which one is working. I see many hundreds of variants as I carve – I persue what pleases me and erase what does not. It truly is as simple as that. Art historians tend to make up enchanting stories that have made imagnation something rare and special. I insist it is a necessity of everyday life, only imagination can decide whether to fight or fly.

The work that I value the most among my works is a Crouching Figure done when I was 35 or so. The early works done after I set up on my own is mainly unsold and I have it and admire it still. (The “Crouching Figure” is the final cast of an edition of 3.) My first article was called “A Case for Figurative Art Today” about that figure. Peter Lloyd Jones, a friend from Wimbledon days, was an English editor of “Leonardo” a magazine whose main editor lived in France. He was Frank Malina, an ex-rocket designer and undertook to rewrite my article in such a way that it made no sense to me. I refused to have it published and Peter managed to negotiate another attempt, which was successful. He taught me a lot about writing. Stephan and Laura Cohn taught me even more when we rewrote my book on Rembrandt. It took us at least 10 week-ends. Nancy taught me to use much shorter sentences necessary for the American market, not that I have succeeded in entering any market so far. She has been a really useful critic in recent years. I look back on my school efforts in writing with amazement and horror.

When I was teaching one day at Wimbledon the model was a lazy and depressed girl. Every pose she took was lying down. Finally at 4 oclock I asked her if she would give us a standing pose. Then as she slowly and unwillingly clambered to her feet she expressed her sadness and I was quick enough to say stop. In the half hour left of the day I was able to make 6 sketches that were enough to stimulate memory of a stunning event. To complete the luck it was chosen as symbol of psychiatry by the new Institute of Psychiatry in Camberwell. But that is where the good luck ended. It was stolen twice from that pretigeous site, my one and only major commission in England; deeply disappointing.

Artists generally seem to have abandoned the study of mankind at a crisis; a turning-point where our full attention is needed. Why has today's art become so different to that of the previous 40,000 years? The camera can record appearances very well but the best art springs from the response of the whole artist's being to the world out there. It fires-up our own responses. It is civilizing and life enhancing. Novelty is usually an unrewarding cul-de-sac by comparison. A second reason for the change in art is the rising power of the theoretician critic. Now with government money to spend and greatly expanded media means they dominate all the passes to artistic success. It is they who guide the development of art not the artists any more.

We in the visual arts should question the validity of Schopenhaur's “all arts aspire to the (abstract) condition of music”. I see the special role of the fine art's as building bridges between the abstract nature of the modern human brain and the complexities of nature. This activity becomes ever more necessary with the advance of computer aids; our primal jungle-awareness is rapidly atrophying, as we “progress” technologically we regress in responsiveness to our surroundings. Visual artists should aspire to rebuilding our lost responses, not to evading them.

*Note:- for further explanation of my revisions of art history see my blogs, my ebook on Rembrandt and YouTube presentations at,see my “A Revolution in Art History”. It will combine many of my discoveries under a new philosophy for artists.

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