VII – Student Days

London in the nineteen sixties was a most exciting time to be a student, especially an art student though when you are young you take things for granted and need the later mirror of hindsight to fully appreciate what you have had.

I loved my attic room, the house on Carlton Hill, the Craig family, my bicycle ride to Kensington Church Street and the Byam Shaw. I loved the life room with the model’s platform and old fashioned anthracite stove and tall studio windows. Life drawing from the nude was mandatory and until you had acquired a degree of proficiency you were not allowed to use paint. We were allotted tutors and I was extraordinarily lucky to be under Bernard Dunstan and to some extent his wife Diana.

Bernard was at that time an A.R.A. Most of the teaching staff were to do with the Royal Academy, hence the emphasis on observation and good drawing. Both Bernard and Diana were fine painters with an acute sensitivity for the handling of paint and colour, and perhaps most importantly of all a joy in the process of painting. They have remained my friends over the long years since studenthood.

Peter Greenham was head for my fist year. He was perhaps one of the finest draughtsmen in 20th Century Britain, Jane Dowling, his wife, more of a print maker. I have a wood engraving done as a Christmas card of the sky above Bethlehem hanging in my kitchen. I treasure it.

Maurice de Sausmarez took over as principal in my second year. He had a brilliantly intellectual brain, was a very good painter and above all an innovator.

Maurice believed that we should also have a well grounded appreciation for the other arts. W.H. Auden came and talked to us, also Nicholas Maw talked and played some of his music.

Out of a hundred students, a third of us have been lifetime practicing professional artists. Maurice was also kind – if he saw me on my bike and it was raining me and the bike got a lift in is V.W. camper van. Sadly he died of heart problems far too young. He was a great man.

Because Byam Shaw was a small school (about 100 students) and private my fellow students came from widely varying nationalities, backgrounds and ages though a similar degree of talent. We had no canteen, but an electric kettle and a staircase, also the pub at the end of the road where interaction between teachers and the taught was encouraged.

There was also emphasis on the History of Art and the composition and history of painting materials.

I also made good friends with a number of my fellow students. We did the ban the bomb march – at least in London, tried to makeshift trendy clothes, few owned cars or, if they did, they were of the string and banger variety.

After my second year Maurice de Sausmarez encouraged me to work alone in my attic at Carlton Hill except for printmaking and life classes. He also vetoes my spending time in Ireland, consequently the Christmas break was with the Craig family in London, Easter there or off with friends – one Easter a small group of us went painting on Mull staying in a cottage belonging to Sylvia. My summers were spent in France but more about that later. I occasionally saw my cousin Patrick Grattan-Bellew who was at Cambridge, but otherwise had little contact with my family.

The kitchen table and living room at Carlton Hill were the focus of my non-artschool life. Adrian Mitchell was the first to write a rave review of the Beatles who were recording in Abbey Road which was nearly next door. Mike Kustow and Adrian were working on the ‘Marat Sade’ for the Royal Shakespeare Company. Judy Scott-Foy knew all the satirists – Spike Milligan, John Cleese, David Frost, Bernard Levin et al. Eleanor Bron played the living room piano. She was a phenomenally gifted musician – and Edna O’Brien wept over the kitchen tabs for her breaking marriage. Her Gebler sons were playmates of Michael Craig. Michael spent a lot of time stretched on his belly in front of the television drawing – usually birds. He was eight or nine at the time. We all watched the horrific assassination of President Kennedy on that grim November day. The television was black and white and not very large. We also avidly followed “that was the week that was” as we knew the people in it.

The contraceptive pill was newly invented and not readily available and condoms not completely reliable, so virginity was a condition of self-protection rather than morality.

Charles, who I fell for, had gone on to the Royal Academy schools. He was not very tall, attractive in a Napoleonic way and, I later learnt, well-practised in the art of seduction. He was also very talented, owned an old red van and lived on a somewhat austere and damp house-boat called ‘Lady in Blue’ which was moored under willows on the Thames at Chiswick. His grandfather was the fashionable portrait painter of the nineteen twenties and thirties Ambrose McEvoy.

Charles persuaded me to relinquish my virginity in my bed at Carlton Hill accompanied by the sombre strains of Winston Churchill’s state funeral on the radio.

PhilippaVII – Student Days