11- 20 October 2012
This show explores the continuing influence of a uniquely British institution, Bath Academy of Art. The artists are drawn from the final years of the college’s independence in Corsham, near Bath in Wiltshire, over 20 years ago. A small number of the group moved to East London in 1987 and have been pursuing their creative work, some alongside other careers, ever since.
Inspired by the exciting developments in the arts in Waltham Forest over recent years, the artists decided to bring this larger group together for a celebration of their achievements as well as to note the significance of the three years that were spent immersed in the art college community. These artists live and work in Chester, Bath and Devon as well as in London, and all continue to develop the creativity that was uniquely formed in Corsham.
the following is an extract from an essay by Stephen Clarke
In a paper for a series of conferences at the Tate Gallery in the early 1990s, the artist Susan Hiller related the comment that whereas Paris has artists’ cafes and New York has artists’ bars, in England we have art colleges. She then went on to elaborate that the function of the British art college was to validate a professional path but tied to this was its nature as a socialising body. British art education, she says, “has been a rite of passage more than a form of training, a situation where older artists influence, criticise and sponsor younger ones and where the younger ones keep their elders on their toes”. This relationship between master and pupil, authority and the acolyte, was neatly visualised by another artist, Tom Phillips. As an introduction to a profile of his own work on BBC2 television in 1989, Phillips traced his lineage from his own tutor/master Frank Auerbach through to Auerbach’s tutor Bomberg, followed by Bomberg’s tutor Sickert, and so on until he reached Raphael. Many of us who went to art college can trace a similar lineage. We were all taught by artists who were taught by artists. It is a ‘vertical’ chronology stretching through time.
Alongside this vertical heritage is a horizontal plateau. On this plateau are our contemporaries at college, our fellow students. We look across to their example; we learn from the work that they have done; we acquire skills that they have forged; and we take sustenance from both their encouragement and their criticism. It is easy to label this as mere influence but in both cases, tutor to student and student to student, it is more a matter of dialogue. This dialogue does not end with college, it can last many years as can be seen with this group and their current exhibition project.
All of the artists in this exhibition went to the Bath Academy of Art, in Corsham in the mid 1980s. What is apparent from the work of these artists is the emphasis upon crafted skills honed in the studio rather than conceptual critique sharpened in the seminar room. Although art and design education in Britain still thrives it has become something different. The conferences referred to above sought to look at the state of British art education in the 1990s. Twenty years on perhaps we are still asking what should the art college of the twenty-first century be?
Stephen Clarke is an artist, writer, and lecturer based in the northwest of England.