The first year at Corsham

The first six months were quite difficult as I had no art language. All my understanding of art was challenged. I had no idea what tone was, even words like subtle and expressive in connection with painting were foreign to me. Many of the students had been to junior art schools or well equipped public schools. Some were totally au fait because they came from artist families, Kate Nicholson was the daughter of Ben and Winifred Nicholson (incidentally she painted very much like her mother). Gradually through practice and carefully guided study I began to realise what a complex and exciting world I was entering.

I have already described my experience of life drawing. I had high expectations of oil painting, after all this is what real artists do. The painting studio was in an old wooden barrack left over from the war. There we were with our newly purchased oil; paints, turps, enamel plate etc waiting to be instructed. There were easels and scattered here and there unusual still lifes. We just began, I had no idea how much turps or linseed oil to use. You simply got on with it. Our tutor was Peter Potworowski a genial Pole, who had come to Britain to fight in the war. Before the war he had painted in Paris mixing with the avant garde. I was struggling to be as realistic as possible but it soon became apparent that it was colour and tone, composition, a personal approach and some sort of simplicity that was valued. We learnt empirically. This gradual understanding also came from the brilliant art history lectures given by Colin Thompson. I learnt about artistic expression from all periods and cultures. Matisse, Bonnard, Piero della Francesca, Fra Angelico. Of course at the same time we were learning about the imagery of children.

We went to seminal exhibitions and all the great art galleries including the private ones., I particularly remember the wonderful Mexican Exhibition with it’s zinging colours and terra cotta walls. Alongside their major artists we saw the glorious vibrant folk art. The Diaghilev Exh. was ground breaking. It was in a whole house near Hyde Park and was theatrical and sensual in extreme even to the extent of having his favourite perfumes pumped into the rooms…who can forget such experiences.

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