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  • Interviews and Storytelling: Mary Loney

     

    [TRACK 1]

     

    TONY WRIGHT:

    This is Tony Wright, it’s the 26th of June 2012 and I’m talking to Mary Loney. So Mary, can you tell me your full name and where and when you were born?

     

    MARY LONEY:

    Mary Loney; I was born in South London, 1943.

     

    TW:

    Right, so you were born during the war.

     

    ML:

    Yes I was, yes, yes.

     

    TW:

    And do you remember any of that time?

     

    ML:

    No, not really, very very little, no.

     

    TW:

    Whereabouts in London were you from?

     

    ML:

    Merton, South Wimbledon, yes.

     

    TW:

    Right.

     

    ML:

    I lived around that area, around Kingston, for the rest of my childhood.

     

    TW:

    Right. And what was it like around there at that time?......It’s nearly into Surrey isn’t it?

     

    ML:

    Yes it is in Surrey actually really, Kingston is part of Surrey. I mean very pleasant really……quite a lot of community feeling at that time, although I think that’s changed quite dramatically since I left…..yes it was a very…quite a happy childhood really, yes.

     

    TW:

    So were your parents creative in any way?

     

    ML:

    My mother….my father was a musician; he was actually killed in the war. My mother…..danced and did all sorts of things; they were very interested in the Arts obviously, and I can remember being taken as a very young child to Regent’s Park to see the open air production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream; I thought it was magical, absolutely wonderful [laughing] and then eventually I went to Art college, at Kingston College of Art and enjoyed it enormously, and then did a year’s Teaching degree at Reading University which I absolutely loathed – I thought it was really boring and I didn’t like it [laughing]………had a very good time really, moved……obviously then left home and moved to…..where did I move to…..the top end of Gower Street; I got a job in……it was a stage school in the middle of London at the end of Piccadilly; it was mostly ballet school and stage, and I became Head of Art there to my total astonishment after I’d left Reading University……so, that was quite an amazing place to be

     

    TW:

    So what kind of art did they do

     

    ML:

    All sorts – it was generally sort of things like GCSE and A Level Art – they had to do a certain amount of normal schooling as well as doing their creative bits

     

    TW:

    Oh right

     

    ML:

    And I met some fascinating people; I met Yehudi Menuhin, I used to teach his son and I met…..I made coffee for Rudolph Nureyev [laughing]……he’d be leaping around in his…..in the dance studio, and lots of the kids were on television…..but they had quite hard lives some of these children; they had celebrity parents and……I remember Shirley Bassey’s daughter very well, a very unhappy little girl who I believe later committed suicide

     

    TW:

    Oh really?

     

    ML:

    So it was quite sad, yes…..so it was an extraordinary school…..I had an art room overlooking…….well Piccadilly really…..

     

    TW:

    Circus?

     

    ML:

    Yes, yes, and it was a rackety old building, but quite interesting. I used to take the kids out into Green Park you know, they had no playground or anything……so

     

    TW:

    What was the name of the school?

     

    ML:

    Arts Educational Trust. They’re now in The Barbican

     

    TW:

    Oh right

     

    ML:

    They moved to The Barbican

     

    TW:

    I see. So how long were you there for?

     

    ML:

    About four years……and then I met my husband…and we moved to Kentish Town…..we lived in a basement flat next to a pub, that was quite interesting [laughing]…..and I had a lot of friends in London, and then we had this idea that we’d moved northwards, and I’d never been higher than

     

    TW:

    What reason was that then?

     

    ML:

    We just thought it would be interesting to move north.

     

    TW:

    It wasn’t because it was cheaper or you thought it would be better for children?

     

    ML:

    No, not really. We actually did think it would be a much better environment to bring children up and we had two by then; we’d been foster parents in London as well; this is bit garbled, but we had been foster parents for a while, and we had one two year old, a foster daughter, and our own son who was about five months, and we decided we’d look for work up here, and Derek got a job with the Commission for Racial Equality in Halifax, so working with mostly the Pakistani community in Halifax, and we moved up…..I don’t know whether you know the housing estate up at Illingworth

     

    TW:

    Yes I do

     

    ML:

    White Lee….we moved up there; it was a cultural shock I can tell you……couldn’t get all our stuff in the building, and overnight a lot of it was nicked, so that was my introduction to Yorkshire [laughing]……and we moved up there and we’d two small children, one aged two, one five months, one dog, three cats and eleven kittens in the back of our Morris…..was it a Morris Estate, Morris Thousand; I didn’t like it very much! We used to go and stand in Marks and Spencer’s because it reminded me of London; it was the only thing I had any sort of connection with

     

    TW:

    So you were homesick really?

     

    ML:

    Oh definitely; it wasn’t that far to go…..but we did put down roots and then we moved to Parkinson Lane in Halifax, not too far from the college and I got a job in the college, and we lived there for about four years, and……then started…..decided we’d live out in the country, and we had a look at this cottage and then dismissed it; there was an old man in here; he’d been breeding Bulldogs in these rooms, in sort of cages; it had an outside loo, and that was about all. But then it came on the market again and we……foolishly or not decided to buy it…….and…..it was bloody hard work I can tell you

     

    TW:

    And how much did it cost?

     

    ML:

    One thousand four hundred.

     

    TW:

    And what year was that then?

     

    ML:

    19……early 1970’s……about ’72 or ’73 I think…….but it was not easy. We had no loo so we had a Nelson upstairs; we had no bath, and because we were trying to renovate this place, we went to quite a famous pram and baby shop called Liley’s in Halifax, and Derek went to ask them for the biggest baby bath they could find, because he needed to get in it at night [laughing]…….nobody around, and he’d walk down the stairs stark naked and tip the water out over the track……we had three children by then and I remember one of them saying ‘couldn’t we live in a proper house?’ when some of the ceiling fell down upstairs…..so it was…..it was very, very hard.

     

    TW:

    Well it’s a lovely house now. How old is it?

     

    ML:

    It is. It’s about two hundred and fifty years old I think, and in those days you got a grant for building a house, so you had to do certain things like take the stairs down, which were stone stairs, and Derek got a book out of the Halifax Library How To Build Yourself A Staircase, and he built one in five weeks before we moved in, and even the removal people felt sorry for us [laughing]……but we moved in May and it was…..it was lovely.

     

    TW:

    Do you know any other history of the house then, I mean

     

    ML:

    Yes, we’ve met odd people who’ve stopped and asked us about it. It was two houses obviously, so it had been knocked through downstairs but not upstairs, and we were absolutely sure it was haunted when we first came because we all never admitted it to each other, but there was somebody went through from what was the back kitchen and disappeared through the gate and the dogs would rush to the door, and it happened many times, and nobody admitted it, that they’d actually…..just an impression, and a very benign spirit, but I think we’ve driven her out now, there’s been so many of us [laughing]……so I got a job at the Art College part-time

     

    TW:

    That’s the one in Halifax

     

    ML:

    In Halifax yes, yes, at Calderdale College of Art, and I also got a job at…..with Adult Education Calderdale in Todmorden, so I had these two, you know, work going, and then we had two more children so we had five by that time, and the house was getting quite small for us, so we knocked through and made sort of extra little bedrooms, as I said before, like cells for them each, but wonderful community, you know, it’s the sort of place you’d come back from shopping and I can remember, some neighbours all sitting in the garden waiting for us to come back because the children wanted to play, and it was very much in and out of each other’s houses, and helped each other a lot; it was…..it was lovely

     

    TW:

    How many other families lived around here then?

     

    ML:

    Oh there were quite a few; quite a lot of children surprisingly enough. There’s one two three…..oh there’s about five or six quite close, and we did become very good friends all of us, and looked after each other’s kids when we were working……very lucky really. Snow was a bit of a problem…….they couldn’t go to school because…..which they thought was wonderful, you know

     

    TW:

    Well you would wouldn’t you? [laughing] as a child

     

    ML:

    Calder High’s not that far…….what else…..yes, as the children were growing up they had a huge amount of freedom, and four of them live in London now and they remember it with great fondness – digging dens, going out, they used to tie a string across the track to the big tree, the sycamore tree, and they’d do plays for us and all the neighbours; we’d sit and wait for hours while they prepared and got costumes on……lots of bonfires and picnics and….it sounds idyllic; it was hard work, and I didn’t drive when we moved up here, so that was quite a problem….bribing children to walk up the fields from Mytholmroyd, and there was always one that wanted a wee half way up you know [laughing]

     

    TW:

    Well there’s always a bush somewhere!

     

    ML:

    [laughing] There aren’t many bushes down that track!

     

    TW:

    So I mean, Foster Clough is the next one on isn’t it?

     

    ML:

    Yes it is, and you can walk down a track down to Mytholmroyd, to Banksfield Estate, so that’s the way they used to go, and they moved to Old Town School which was…..yeah, they loved that, very happy there.

     

    TW:

    Right. So, the Art School work that you did…….in Halifax….cos you basically, the one in Todmorden , you basically built up from nothing yourself.

     

    ML:

    I did, I did. There was an access – you’ve probably heard of Access courses running for mature students in Halifax, so I worked on that for a little while, and then I was also working with Adult Ed at Todmorden and I realised I was sending people to Halifax to do the Access course and Todmorden, all that area, they tend not to go to Halifax; they tend to go to Burnley or Rochdale, and they’re more sort of orientated towards the Lancashire side, and they’re quite remote from Halifax, and I sort of said ‘could we not start an Access course in Tod?’ and they said ‘oh it won’t run’ but they let me have a go, and I started off, I remember this vividly, with seven students - Eileen was one of them - seven students in a classroom and we did six hours a week; we had to clear it all away again, but after the first year it grew and it grew and it grew, and at that time……Calderdale College came under the blanket of Local Education Authority, so there was no dispute about pay or rules or anything like that, and there’s some big…..in Todmorden College there’s some big engineering rooms and woodwork rooms and they were all empty; they’d all disappeared, all the apprentices, and we sort of infiltrated really, and gradually took over one huge room, and I remember one workshop we had……what was it…..eleven Minis and a motorbike, and we sort of worked round it, and the students did installations on top of one of the Minis; it was extraordinary……but there was a huge sense of ownership from the students, and I remember one student – I didn’t even have a desk - got me a desk for a fiver out of a farmer’s barn and we sort of built it up ourselves, and….got furniture, and Bradford College gave us easels, so it was a very good time those years…..and then we started a pre-Access course called Routeway, and then we got a Higher National Diploma, HND in Fine Art, and so it was getting much much bigger, and then eventually…..it was partly the students, Betty Ward, who died a few years ago who was the Mayor, she and Harry were on the courses, and they got a petition up from students, asking for Todmorden to be allowed to offer a BA Honours Degree in Fine Art; it actually materialised and Leeds Met was the college who

     

    TW:

    Who sort of underwrit it…

     

    ML:

    Yes, yeah, so that was very exciting and it meant that the students could stay in Todmorden, and they came from Littleborough, some from Manchester, Rochdale, Burnley, so a huge area, and it was very very exciting, and of course they had to employ more staff, and we got very involved with the local community which I very strongly believe in; we had exhibitions in empty shops and mills and Hebden Bridge, down at Hebble End we had quite a lot, Melbourne Street where there was a big mill, it’s now converted into mills, Unitarian Church, we had many many exhibitions there, so it was an exciting time……and being twelve miles from the main campus actually served us very well I have to be honest, because I mean I just took decisions for the students and it worked well – very exciting.

     

    TW:

    So…….you’ve finished there now then?

     

    ML:

    I finished……three years ago this summer, yes, yes.

     

    TW:

    And the course is still running though?

     

    ML:

    Alas, with all the cut backs, Leeds Met axed all their Outreach courses so they don’t have a BA course which is really sad, and it’s shrunk….a lot of the courses are much smaller than they were, and it’s just a cost saving exercise.

     

    TW:

    Do you think that perhaps because you’re not there anymore and all your drive and energy really kept it going?

     

    ML:

    I don’t know, it’s very hard to tell…..I’m not sure. They’ve got some good stuff but they’ve cut back dramatically, I mean we had a purpose built ceramics room, print room, we did textiles, we offered sculpture – all these things – and a very very good guy who’s since moved south called Mike Walker who I worked with, I don’t know if you know him

     

    TW:

    I do

     

    ML:

    Yes, Mike….

     

    TW:

    Williams you mean?

     

    ML:

    No, Walker. No Mike Williams was sculpture; it was Mike Walker who did

     

    TW:

    Oh yeah, yes, I know him as well, yes.

     

    ML:

    Yes, so he was excellent, and brought a lot of sort of academic back up to the course as well, so he was very good

     

    TW:

    Because he was a librarian originally wasn’t he?

     

    ML:

    Yes he was, yes, yes, interesting guy

     

    TW:

    And then he became a kind of painter and print maker

     

    ML:

    That’s right yes, and he’s moved down; he’s in Chichester now, and Tony O’Keefe, I don’t know whether you know him – a painter – quite a dynamic sort of guy, but it’s changed and it’s very sad really; it’s shrunk…..put it like that.

     

    TW:

    How did your own work change over all those years then?

     

    ML:

    I didn’t do a huge amount while I was working; I think all my own ideas dissipated; they were used with students you know……I think you give so much at the end of the day you’re knackered when you come home; I did have a studio in Northlights and I kept that up, but did very little, but before I retired I decided I needed to get my act together so I did an MA at Bradford Uni over two years, and that got me working again, and yeah….doing a lot of work at the moment

     

    TW:

    So what kind of work are you doing?

     

    ML:

    It’s……it’s figurative work……quite big, and really based on the things that I see around me; like I had a very big painting of a couple eating fish and chips in Rochdale, and I had that short-listed for the John Moores, so I was quite proud of that; I actually haven’t got in, but I’ve got it short-listed, so that was good, so…..yeah, it’s……it’s fascinating, I’m having a wonderful time. Still teaching; I teach at Northlights…..Back Door Project

     

    TW:

    Oh yes

     

    ML:

    That’s a co-operative by the way

     

    TW:

    It is indeed, yes. Well I was one of the original members of Northlights.

     

    ML:

    Oh were you? I didn’t know that.

     

    TW:

    Yeah I was there……well I had a studio in there

     

    ML:

    You had a studio, yes, when we were at……was it Brunswick Street above……

     

    TW:

    On Melbourne Street

     

    ML:

    Melbourne, yes, yes, that’s right

     

    TW:

    At the top

     

    ML:

    Yes, up the top, yes I did for a while

     

    TW:

    Above there……well we started it and then we left that for about…..six years and we went and started Linden Arts in Linden Mill

     

    ML:

    Oh right

     

    TW:

    And then did that….

     

    ML:

    Yes I remember that

     

    TW:

    And then I

     

    ML:

    Because they’re at the top of Artsmill

     

    TW:

    They’re at the top, yes

     

    ML:

    Yes, yes I know

     

    TW:

    Well about Mike Walker – when I moved out he took my space when I moved out there

     

    ML:

    That’s a lovely space; they’ve turned that into a print area…..yeah, so it’s good, and they’ve made lots of sort of studios on the first floor…..there’s about twenty-two of us

     

    TW:

    Well the architects moved out didn’t they

     

    ML:

    They did yes

     

    TW:

    And they’ve taken over that whole space

     

    ML:

    Yeah, but the building’s been divided.

     

    TW:

    There’s the health bit at the far end

     

    ML:

    That’s right; that’s David Fletcher’s and Philip Bintliff has got…..owns this space, yeah….so it is quite interesting, and I’ve got space to work now.

     

    TW:

    Do you know of the other……creative like studios or spaces in Hebden Bridge?

     

    ML:

    Yes I do, I mean a lot of them actually are run by my ex-students, which is very nice; it’s sort of got this ripple effect…….there’s the mill behind us; what the hell’s it called…….Brooklyn, Brooklyn, Brooklyn behind us…..and there’s just one opened in Todmorden now called Todmorden Studio and they’re all e-students; there’s a pottery down in Mytholmroyd – Brearley – that’s a lot of ex-students of mine as well, so it’s rather nice to see all these little spaces filling up with people, and I’m in contact with a lot of them as well

     

    TW:

    Oh that’s great

     

    ML:

    Yeah it is, it’s really nice how it’s carried on

     

    TW:

    It must be kind of fulfilling for you

     

    ML:

    It is….it is

     

    TW:

    You know, to see all that out there

     

    ML:

    Yeah, and I’m actually getting ex-students coming back enrolling on my courses in Hebden Bridge because they feel they need something to get them going again

     

    TW:

    Oh right

     

    ML:

    So that’s quite fascinating. They’ve got degrees a lot of them you know but that’s quite…..yeah it is very satisfying really, and there’s little……there’s another one in Todmorden – Platform One – that’s ex-students, that’s run by my ex-students as well, so they’ve sort of spread out.

     

    TW:

    Well it sounds like you have been a big influence on the creative scene around here.

     

    ML:

    I just pushed it a bit I think, and I didn’t take no for an answer…..and although I shouldn’t say it, I probably ignored some of the things from the main college…….or I did things and I told them later, that worked well!

     

    TW:

    Well it obviously worked out, so I mean how could they complain?

     

    ML:

    I know, I know, but maybe my record keeping wasn’t perfect and my paperwork

     

    TW:

    Well most artists are a little bit like that

     

    ML:

    Yes that’s true, yes, yes.

     

    TW:

    So what do you think, I mean all of these art studios and potteries and what have you are thriving by the sounds of it, what makes Hebden Bridge such a good place for that creative activity do you think?

     

    ML:

    I think any place could be a place for creativity; you need to give people the chance, and a lot of the students I had in Todmorden, they were the non-traditional learners; they were the mature students who wouldn’t naturally perhaps go an enrol, say in Halifax, because they felt overwhelmed by the people there, and very unsure of themselves; there was a lot of people had addiction problems, mental illness, people with physical disabilities, but we tried to make all of them feel welcome and give them….I think it was a very safe environment; all these people who weren’t sort of the more natural entrants perhaps to go to an art college, and they, I think we nurtured them, I think that’s what it was, and it grew by word of mouth; there was very little advertising when we started, and it was word of mouth. I had one guy who joined and he said he only came in to clean the windows, and I persuaded him to [laughing] the course, and a lot of them said ‘it’s your fault Mary, you persuaded us!’ I’d go ‘go on’ and of course a lot of the courses were free then, and that makes a difference…….and now if you’ve got a degree in anything, no matter how many years ago you took it, you’re not eligible, even if you’re willing to pay your way, to study a, you know, to go for a degree again. I think that’s grossly unfair.

     

    TW:

    Oh right I didn’t know that

     

    ML:

    Absolutely. When you think when you were eighteen and a lot of people got pushed by…..perhaps ambitious parents or….you know, to do a degree. I had one who did a degree in Theology; it’s not what you want to do at all, and you know, when they’re older there’s a….people are living much longer aren’t they and I think they need to be given a second chance, people, and I think that’s how we…..that’s how I thought about it anyway.

     

    TW:

    But in this era of cut backs……like humanity shall we say, are ignored really aren’t they?

     

    ML:

    They are, absolutely, and maybe the studio groups are sort of trying to nurture that, I mean very difficult because you’ve still got to pay, even if you have half a space in a studio, you’ve got to pay something…….I would love to open……an independent art college……that’s a dream for quite a lot of us I think who’ve been in teaching probably.

     

    TW:

    I know a few people like that myself I must say. It is an ambition

     

    ML:

    I know colleagues of mine, yeah, absolutely. If you could find a building big enough…..

     

    TW:

    But there are still art schools at the universities, or what used to be polys or what have you

     

    ML:

    Yeah, yeah

     

    TW:

    And they must still take students in……maybe on more of a limited basis than previously

     

    ML:

    Absolutely

     

    TW:

    But there will be a kind of……..mentality about the kind of people they want to do those particular courses….

     

    ML:

    They’ve been far more selective.

     

    TW:

    What is it? What makes a…..prospective candidate to an art school these days good? Why would they accept somebody

     

    ML:

    Probably somebody without any obvious problems, and a good portfolio of work, but then we used to sort of…..I looked for the potential in people, and some of them….they hadn’t done art for years and years and years, and you’ve to think ‘if you’re motivated’ and it was amazing how people progressed…..and you know, I learnt not to make assumptions about people when they came for interviews because people constantly surprise me. Give them a chance…..and so many of our students had never been given a chance at school, ever…..you know, that little voice in their head ‘well you’re no good at that’ – it stays with you for years and even students I’m teaching now, who are actually paying to come on some of my courses, very, very unsure of themselves……and they were told they couldn’t do it, and I think we all know that…..by art teachers, absolutely

     

    TW:

    Well what do you think those kind of art teachers are looking for then? Are they looking for a student who

     

    ML:

    An easy ride I think – I’m being very cynical – but I do, I do, and it was very limited, the art they did in some schools; it was copying things, being sort of academically good, and I’m sure you’ve found that as well.

     

    TW

    Well….I……I was lucky in the sense that my foundation was based on the Bauhaus

     

    ML:

    You were lucky

     

    TW:

    And that was a very good introduction to…..to art, and then when I went to art school it was…..the first year…..it wasn’t a degree, it only became that later on in the third year, and so in our first year we were taught how to mix our own paint and to makes sized and stretchers and all of that, although it was very much life drawing from nine to five every day practically, but after a term of that I got up and said ‘I want to study colour’ and they allowed me to do that

     

    ML:

    Good……good

     

    TW:

    So they were open minded in that sense….but I think an awful lot of art schools are very prescribed really

     

    ML:

    Absolutely, and they have to fit within certain criteria; it’s a box ticking exercise isn’t it? And you have to sort of twist it round to make it work for some of the students.

     

    TW:

    But I’m thinking that an area like…..you know, Hebden Bridge, Mytholmroyd and Todmorden, this Upper Valley area, it seems to attract so many different kinds of creative people, not just artists, but musicians and actors

     

    ML:

    Yes and lots of writers, yes

     

    TW:

    And I’m still trying to pin down why that is, and it’s not just because……it’s a cheap place to come because it isn’t any more

     

    ML:

    It isn’t, it’s expensive

     

    TW:

    It might have been when you first moved here but it’s not anymore, but it still attracts those people and I’m just wondering whether it’s just the landscape or the…..the community spirit that there is, I mean how

     

    ML:

    Yes it could be that, I mean originally there was a lot of hippies wasn’t there? And I knew a lot of them too you know, up and down on this hillside and I don’t know, maybe that attracted people; I mean it is visually, it’s interesting to look at isn’t it? And you’re within easy reach of Leeds or Manchester and all sorts of sort of cultural activities, yeah

     

    TW:

    I’m just wondering whether the sort of non-conformist kind of attitudes of local people were born and bred here…..rubs off on non-conformists who are trying to get away from something and finding this place; I’m just wondering whether those kind of like attract like, kind of thing

     

    ML:

    Yeah it could be, and a lot of people have come up from the south haven’t they? I mean we were…..long before anybody else, we were one of the early incomers, because I do remember telling someone, we lived in Ealing for a while and we said ‘we’re going to live up north, up in Halifax’ and she said ‘oh I am sorry’ [laughing]….people were commiserating with us because we were coming up here, and it was black and dark – no stone cleaning, no shops open on a Saturday afternoon; it was a bit dour…..but the landscape is fantastic. I like that greenness.

     

    TW:

    It’s changed quite a lot since……in the forty-odd years you’ve been here

     

    ML:

    It has yeah, oh it’s totally, totally changed. Even since you’ve been here it’s changed hasn’t it?

     

    TW:

    Well is that just the physical side of it?

     

    ML:

    No it’s the people as well, you know, and the type of food they’re selling

     

    TW:

    So everything’s changed really; the whole lifestyle has changed

     

    ML:

    It has really I think, yes, yes. I mean we’re some of the oldest residents on this hillside…….now you know, we’ve lived here for a very long time, and we look at these incomers……and it’s changed; they’ve bigger cars…….farmhouses are renovated at a huge cost which makes our minds boggle you know, considering how we did ours bit by bit and living in it…..very different.

     

    TW:

    Right……okay……so why have all of your children gone to London then?

     

    ML:

    They went to college and they stayed…..you know, that happens a lot. You put down roots, but……my eldest daughter……they’ve been together for about eight years and they’ve got two young daughters, and they’re going to get married up in Hebden next year and they’re hoping to move up, but it’s finding jobs, housing’s more expensive. My youngest would quite like to move back up with his partner , but again it’s finding work……and the house property, I mean it’s cheaper than London but it’s still quite expensive, so and they did music; two did music, one did art, one did astrophysics, so….and one is a journalist actually; he’s been a journalist, so, you knows?

     

    TW:

    Well all of those…..categories of work are limited with these cut backs again; I know journalists who’ve lost their jobs and it’s hard

     

    ML:

    Yes, yes, it’s just, I know – you’ve got to be realistic haven’t you? I mean they’ve got quite interesting communities where they live in London; I’ve been down the last week, so it’s very different from up here, but they love coming back and the children, the grandchildren, just love the freedom. They cannot believe you can walk out of your gate and you are allowed to, and you walk along the track, and they’ll pop down and see Linda and Bob; you don’t do that when you live in Tottenham or Lewisham, you just don’t…….which is a shame, and my kids say they would love their children to have this freedom.

     

    TW:

    Right. Are you involved in Arts Festival in any way?

     

    ML:

    Open Studios I am, yes. I’ll have an open studio next week and I have done for the last few years; and we’re trying to decorate, I’m going there today actually, the basement gallery; we’re hoping to just get a little bit sorted out at Artsmill, so some of us are having work showing there

     

    TW:

    Where the carpets used to be made at the hole

     

    ML:

    Yeah the big hole, yes

     

    TW:

    Is it still there, the hole?

     

    ML:

    It’s still there [laughing]……it’s sort of been boarded up; there’s a huge amount to do to it, but I think we’re just gonna go ahead with it even though it’s……a bit piecemeal….be good though, be interesting, yes.

     

    TW:

    You said you had this…..a picture……short listed for the John Moores

     

    ML:

    At Liverpool yes, I was quite surprised

     

    TW:

    So is that still like one of the big things in the art world?

     

    ML:

    It is, it is, for painters anyway, yes it is. The first time I’ve gone for it, so……and they have about three thousand entries so it’s quite nice to be short listed. Unfortunately I didn’t get into the final thing, but it’s given me a boost!

     

    TW:

    So I’m just wondering about the art world really, I mean there used to be like John Moores and the Royal Academy Open Summer Show and those….there are other ones about, but

     

    ML:

    There are

     

    TW:

    I haven’t been involved in the art world for……nearly fifteen years now

     

    ML:

    Really? Yes, yes

     

    TW:

    I’ve been in teaching and doing this, and I’m just wondering if it’s changed in that time, I mean it sounds like it hasn’t really

     

    ML:

    Not really, no I still feel it’s

     

    TW:

    So it’s quite static

     

    ML:

    Yes it is, it is, and very difficult to sell any work at the moment…..and quite hard to get exhibitions; I’ve had joint…..I’ve had joint exhibitions with people, but you don’t……my work certainly wouldn’t sell. I think everybody thinks it’s slightly sinister, so…..[laughing]

     

    TW:

    Sinister in what way?

     

    ML:

    Well there’s a lot about childhood and…….the way children are treated in our society, and that’s what I did for my……my MA, for my dissertation, but I’m quite interested in elderly people, really old people, so…..you know, it’s social realism possibly, I don’t know

     

    TW:

    Right. So have you got any….artists that you look up to in that…..sort of field shall we say?

     

    ML:

    ……yes…..you know, you take little bits from artists don’t you? I went to the Lucien Freud Exhibition in London the other week, and found that quite amazing, and there’s all sorts of, Marlene Dumas, there’s a whole range of artists that I do look up….I manage to get down to exhibitions, and I’ve always run loads of coach trips down to London, and when I was up Todmorden we used to run European trips every year for the students, and take them…..first trip for a lot of them…Paris and Barcelona and Madrid and Prague, we had a wonderful time. It’s getting more expensive now.

     

    TW:

    Yes it is, yes

     

    ML:

    It precludes some people which is a shame, yeah.

     

    TW:

    Do you think art should have a message then, you know, this social realism kind of thing

     

    ML:

    I think it’s everybody according to what they believe in you know; mine has changed, like it does when you’re working…..it changes doesn’t it? And I’m very moved by the…..the things I see around me.

     

    TW:

    Right. Well it’s more people that you’re interested in

     

    ML:

    Yes I am, very interested in people and their lives and…..how they survive and…..they’re amazing.

     

    TW:

    That’s very interesting……so you paint?

     

    ML:

    Yes.

     

    TW:

    I mean, you were teaching sculpture and print making and all of this

     

    ML:

    Oh I teach anything, yeah, I don’t mind [laughing]…….you can usually…..yes, I mean, I’ll admit to students, this isn’t really my forte but I know so-and so and so-and-so and I can take you so far, but painting’s my main…..and it always has been

     

    TW:

    So that’s the one that you enjoy yourself

     

    ML:

    Yeah

     

    TW:

    So what would be the basics to teach somebody to paint then, if…..like I said I haven’t done any in fifteen years and let’s say I came to one of your courses at the back door and said ‘right, I haven’t done it in years Mary, where should I start?’ What would you say to me?

     

    ML:

    Yeah, do you know what it is – it’s giving people confidence, so you give them something – they need to have an early success with what they’re doing, so I’ve discovered; give them something that you know they can achieve and they go ‘oh, I didn’t know I could do that’ and it’s lovely to see that, and then you bring in the nitty gritty, some of the drawing skills they need, how to mix paint; I do an oil painting workshop and that’s quite interesting……and I find students really enjoy that once they get going. It’s all sorts of things – basics of design, look at other artists, take them to galleries, give them a sort of very rounded view of art.

     

    TW:

    Right. And how do you…….after, you know, a term or a year even…..it sounds like you push them in the right direction and you give them knowledge……technical knowledge they need to know, and then they kind of go on their own journey as it were

     

    ML:

    No they keep coming back and you make it more challenging for them, I think that’s what you do, within their limits, and what they’re interested in as well, and I think you have the luxury when you’re not working for a college that you can listen to students and actually what they want to do, and what knowledge they want to acquire, and that’s very important. You can’t always do that when you’re working

     

    TW:

    Within a system

     

    ML:

    An establishment, yeah…..yeah.

     

    TW:

    And when they come to you…….their aspirations shall we say, not just to learn how to do art, but where to take that and either try to sell or make a career of it – do a lot of them have those sort of aspirations as well?

     

    ML:

    Well surprisingly they still do, although this is not in a college with me, it’s just…..you know, the studio setting. Yes some of them, I mean some of them I have directed up to Todmorden to do perhaps an Access course…..and encourage them you know, to build up a portfolio, but they’ve all got different needs all the students…..very very different; different ages, different abilities, so you go from like this, you know, you’ve to be very aware and very sensitive to their needs as well.

     

    TW:

    I’m just thinking about comparing like Northlight and Linden Mill, Artsmill……and the studios and the people that are involved

     

    ML:

    Yeah

     

    TW:

    Are there any kind of comparisons or are the spaces the same, or are the people different

     

    ML:

    Oh yes there are……I mean Northlights is a co-operative, so they…..everybody’s expected to help to a certain degree, and the studios, they’re much smaller, it’s a much more open system. Artsmill which I do like, I’ve got my own door, I can shut it; I’ve got a lovely big space, not particularly good light but you can’t have everything for the price, and that works very well for me. The other one, Northlights, has done brilliantly but it’s very open, there’s a lot more noise, it’s much more…..it’s much harder to concentrate on what you’re doing. I do like to sort of be away and have some music or something going.

     

    TW:

    Right. So in….in the open studios, do you think there’s more of a mingling of ideas between the artists?

     

    ML:

    Not……sometimes……yes, not always….sometimes. I think open studios is quite good because people do tend to mix and wander round, and I think my present students are very curious, and my old students are curious to see what I’ve been doing, you know, they come and have a nosey round [laughing]…..and see if I really am any good at all, after all these years of telling them what to do! So it’s hands up, this is what I do…..I’m under no illusions, don’t worry!

     

    TW:

    Do you think more could be made…..of the arts in Hebden Bridge then? Not from a teaching perspective, but of a more emotional point of view?

     

    ML:

    Yes I wish we had a really…..a really big space where people could exhibit, because it’s very limiting in Hebden. Whether the new gallery at Linden Mill will answer that; it will be…..will have ground floor access eventually when it’s made which will be brilliant, because there’s no access for people with disabilities, no wheelchair access at the moment and that’s really not on, and neither does Northlights, not upstairs anyway.

     

    TW:

    No that’s true…….so

     

    ML:

    I think the whole thing needs to be more accessible.

     

    TW:

    So…..if you had a magic wand

     

    ML:

    I would have a big space in Hebden

     

    TW:

    Would you like…….for example, instead of building flats and shops on some of those empty spaces, would you like to have like an arts centre or

     

    ML:
    It would be absolutely wonderful, a big arts centre…..minimal costs, where people could come in, perhaps a sort of drop-in centre, and like many of the things in this Upper Valley, word of mouth – I know it would work. You’d have loads of people coming in; give them a chance….give them a paintbrush, some colours, you could offer all sorts of things…..ceramics and textiles and print making……you could fill it, I’m absolutely convinced of that

     

    TW:

    Well that sounds like you’d like it to be….a new art school so to speak

     

    ML:

    Absolutely…..well yes, yes

     

    TW:

    Well what about just a promotional space, like for exhibitions and that sort of thing

     

    ML:

    Yes that would be…..yes that would be excellent, but it’s gonna be new flats isn’t it?

     

    TW:

    Ah well, who can say? On Brown’s field are you talking about?

     

    ML:

    Yes I was, I just think what a fantastic space

     

    TW:

    Well there’s all the goits underneath it so that’s gonna be a lot of time and money to sort out

     

    ML:

    That’s true, that’s true, I mean it is on the flood plain isn’t it?

     

    TW:

    Oh definitely yes.

     

    ML:

    So maybe that’s not a good idea. Plan B! [laughing]

     

    TW:

    We’ll have to see, yes.

     

    ML:

    Well we have wandered round and looked at places; we found a fantastic place, Unit 8 on Valley Road; it’s now been….it’s owned by Setbrays and we actually, we actually called ourselves The Big Shed and we tried to get funding and to persuade Setbrays to let us have it, but unfortunately they turned it into offices. We worked quite hard for nearly a year doing that, had a lot of….the first meeting had sixty-five people came so they were so interested; it would have been fantastic

     

    TW:

    Well you’ve got your audience there

     

    ML:

    There is, yes, yes I know, but it’s quite sad; it would have been wonderful that place, and there’s one or two places down Victoria Road, those…..the egg packing places

     

    TW:

    Yes the old places

     

    ML:

    Heated and we went round those, had a look at those, but it’s money basically. It’s trying to get some funding which is almost impossible at the moment

     

    TW:

    It’s difficult, very difficult

     

    ML:

    Arts Council funding, you know, it’s a no-no. Yeah, it’s a shame. I don’t give up – I keep

     

    TW:

    Maybe in a few years

     

    ML:

    You never know, I keep saying to people ‘if you see anything let me know’

     

    TW:

    Yeah [laughing]

     

    ML:

    Like these students in Todmorden of mine, they’ve got the upstairs of….I don’t know what…..Iron Gates I think, the actual factory, and he’s let them have the upstairs spaces, no heating yet, that could be a big drawback in the winter, but…..but it’s a nice space and he seems to be quite a good landlord, so they’re just opening up now

     

    TW:

    Whereabouts is that?

     

    ML:

    Stansfield Road; you go past the bus station and it’s the first road on your…..right, and it’s right down the end on the left with iron gates, and they’re beginning to fill up so I’m so pleased about it

     

    TW:

    Yes that’s good

     

    ML:

    I think they’d quite like me to offer one or two classes – I’ll think about it.

     

    TW:

    You’d have to fit it in

     

    ML:

    [laughing] yeah, exactly! What else would you like to know?

     

    TW:

    Well, I’m just wondering whether there’s anything I haven’t asked about, that you might like to speak about really

     

    ML:

    I don’t think so….oh I did get an MBE for all this work once

     

    TW:

    Oh did you?

     

    ML:

    In the year 2000, yes.

     

    TW:

    Have you got an MBE?

     

    ML:

    Yes, believe it or not. For services

     

    TW:

    Have you got it now?

     

    ML:

    No I don’t know where it is…….well

    TW:

    Did you meet the Queen?

     

    ML:

    No I met the other one…..her son

     

    TW:

    Her son…….Charles

     

    ML:

    Charles, yeah.

     

    TW:

    Oh right.

     

    ML:

    He looks as if he’s got a lot of problems, and very inhibited I think, poor guy.

     

    TW:

    Oh really?

     

    ML:

    Yes. It’s very shabby, the Palace.

     

    TW:

    Oh well I wouldn’t know, I’ve never been there myself [laughing]

     

    ML:

    I felt slightly guilty about accepting it, but the students

     

    TW:

    Well you should have given them some tips on how to do it slowly over time [exactly]

     

    ML:

    Yes exactly! It was a very bizarre, totally surreal experience, quite funny actually.

     

    TW:

    Is there a very formal way that you have to do everything? Are you told how to act?

     

    ML:

    Oh yes, yes, yes.

     

    TW:

    Really?

     

    ML:

    Absolutely. It was hilarious. When you’ve received your medal you’re supposed to walk backwards – I thought buggar this, I’m not walking backwards. I just said ‘Bye’ [laughing] and you could have three people with you, so my two daughters and my husband were there, and they were just killing themselves laughing, and there was the Band of the Royal Irish Guards and they were totally out of tune, and the loos smelt, I mean it was……a bit like Monty Python [laughing]…..I’m sorry about that, but it’s true actually; it was not impressive…..at all, and I felt slightly guilty you know, about accepting it

     

    TW:

    So who put you up for this?

     

    ML:

    The college I think, yes, the main college

     

    TW:

    What you’ve done is amazing you know

     

    ML:

    Not really, just happened – it grew organically and that’s the best way for things to happen, and I acquired things; I’m quite good at that.

     

    TW:

    Well it’s having…..the kind of personality that you have, that engages with people

     

    ML:

    You have to persuade people don’t you? And I’m quite good at twisting arm too

     

    TW:

    Are you?

     

    ML:

    Yes I’m quite good [laughing]…..oh dear

     

    TW:

    I’m thinking…..this…..this house that you live in……really it’s……I’d like to try to get a bit more…you know….do you care a lot about this house? Was it a farmhouse?

     

    ML:

    No no, just two cottages.

     

    TW:

    Right. And you don’t know why it was built? Was it built for farmers or was it built for weavers or

     

    ML:

    No not specifically, no no, it was just two cottages. Probably farmworkers I would imagine lived here. There’s a little study through the sitting room and buried inside was a tiny clog, but that was to keep the evil spirits away, and unfortunately when we brought it out, it just sort of disintegrated. Derek did take it to Banksfield Museum, they had a look at it, and it was absolutely minute, and you bury those in the foundations

     

    TW:

    And how did you learn that then? How did you learn that that’s what they did?

     

    ML:

    I don’t know, read it, read it in a book, probably in the museum as well, would have told us, and you have holly and rowan you plant and that keeps witches away, so we’ve kept it

     

    TW:

    I know about that, but the clog – what symbolism is there of the clog?

     

    ML:

    I don’t know. It was a child’s clog; it was absolutely minute, and it is to sort of to ward of bad luck I think

     

    TW:

    You haven’t found a cat buried in the walls yet then? [laughing]

     

    ML:

    No we haven’t, not yet. We’ve had loads of cats, but [laughing]…..just one disappeared, but I think…..yeah…..and we’ve had hens and somebody in Todmorden gave me peacocks and they use……you could hear our peacock Arthur miles away; we had a pair which was quite interesting

     

    TW:

    Did you really?

     

    ML:

    And they used to roost up in the trees, but so they wouldn’t get caught by foxes I used to have to knock them out with a drainpipe at night, and we had a shed with a high perch, and try and get them to go inside to protect them; we had ducks, we had geese, Shetland pony, donkey, all sorts of things over the years you know, never made a penny out of any of them; it was sort of the good life, it didn’t quite work! [laughing]

     

    TW:

    What happened to these peacocks then?

     

    ML:

    Eventually they…..we think they got caught by foxes. We had them for quite a few years, and my friends over the valley in Mytholmroyd could hear them at night, and every now and again they’d take off and roost up in someone’s tree or on a roof you know – fascinating

     

    TW:

    I didn’t know peacocks could get that high.

     

    ML:

    Oh yes, they’re amazing.

     

    TW:

    Right. Were they a couple then?

     

    ML:

    Oh yes, Arthur and Muriel, yes.

     

    TW:

    You didn’t have any baby peacocks?

     

    ML:

    She did lay some eggs, but they’re not very clever and the eggs got eaten by something; they’re not very bright actually – they’ve got quite small brains. And Arthur, I don’t know whether you’ve seen them, you know, when they display, and they make this ‘sshhhh’ with all their brown feathers; he used to do it to cars coming down the track, and you’d hear cars driving down and they’d stop, and we’d say ‘that’s Arthur’ [laughing] – he just wouldn’t let them go! He displayed to dogs, to cats

     

    TW:

    What, blocking the road do you mean?

     

    ML:

    Yes, oh yes, absolutely. ‘Oh look at me I’m lovely!’

     

    TW:

    You don’t need a guard dog – a guard peacock! [laughing]

     

    TW:

    We had guinea fowl and they sound like football rattles. They used to make that noise if people came down, and we had geese that used to chase people, so, you know, very different for someone born in south London; we learnt a lot.

     

    TW:

    Well I mean…..going on to the other theme about the environmental side of things

     

    ML:

    Yeah

     

    TW:

    Why did you have all those animals? Was it for the children, or were you thinking about

     

    ML:

    No we were interested – we just liked animals – we wanted to keep them; we had a lot of goats for years and years and years and I did used to milk them, except the children didn’t like the milk so that was a [laughing]…..never mind…..no we did…..I mean we have a sceptic tank and spring water so we’re fairly self-contained up here, which is good. I mean it’s hard work; you have to maintain things and look after them, but…..it’s a huge sense of satisfaction I think, and my husband Derek’s very good, I mean he put the electricity in, he put the plumbing in, and built everything, but it took a long time……and we had to dig up the stone flags in the sitting room because that was one of the conditions of getting grants – it was a shame really, but we found all these little marbles from a game called Nur and Spell under the, under the

     

    TW:

    Oh I know it

     

    ML:

    That’s right. We kept some little…..yes that’s right

     

    TW:

    Have you got some?

     

    ML:

    Yeah, somewhere packed away.

     

    TW:

    They’re ceramic aren’t they?

     

    ML:

    Yes they’re little ceramic balls which are called nurs and spells, that’s right

     

    TW:

    You hit them with a….like a…..a bit like a golf club

     

    ML:

    There were quite a few, and there were mouse runs underneath the flags and all these little ceramic balls, and we discovered what they were.

     

    TW:

    Why did they make you take up the flags?

     

    ML:

    That was one of the conditions; you had to lay a concrete floor

     

    TW:

    Oh really?

     

    ML:

    A shame really. I regret that bitterly but we didn’t have a choice. We had no money, and we were reliant on a grant, and we’ve got concrete down….and then one of the cats walked across the concrete in the hall I remember; I saw this cat come flying out of the door, and Derek had kicked it……great big feet…..[laughing]…..oh dear!

     

    TW:

    Left its signature

     

    ML:

    Yes, absolutely! We have done some silly things probably over the years, but it’s been good….I think the children, they look back and say they had a fantastic childhood, and it was so free; they’d go out and we didn’t worry about them really

     

    TW:

    What do you think about people these days, who have this sort of ecological tendency – everything you know, green this and green that, and everything…..what’s your take on that?

     

    ML:

    Bit over the top probably…..a bit more of a realist I think.

     

    TW:

    Right. So are you in favour of wind farms or not?

     

    ML:

    I don’t know. Derek doesn’t like them at all; I’m not sure. I don’t know how much electricity we actually get from them. I personally don’t mind them; they’re quite sculptural sometimes, but the noise is quite intrusive. I wouldn’t want to live near one at all, and I don’t know how much it disturbs the birds – I’m not sure about that. I’m very undecided.

     

    TW:

    I’m just wondering, like you have your own water and all that sort of thing. If you had one of those, would it generate enough electricity for your household?

     

    ML:

    I don’t know; I’ve no idea. A lot of people, they are springing up; they are quite obtrusive some of them. Intrusive I mean….yeah, not sure…….what do you think about them?

     

    TW:

    I’m a bit like you….I find them…..I’m not sure because……in theory I think they’re a great idea because it’s sustainable

     

    ML:

    Absolutely

     

    TW:

    And I’m really quite in favour of that idea, of any kind of, you know, sustainable. Having said that, I don’t know how much they actually produce. You hear a lot of contradictory argument about ‘oh they only produce this much’ and ‘the wind only blows at a certain time of the day’

     

    ML:

    Yes I don’t know actually how much they really, really produce

     

    TW:

    And then of course they can….some people think they’re a blight on the landscape, and again, I see them as being quite sculptural

     

    ML:

    Yes they are aren’t they when they’re sort of turning round

     

    TW:

    What….eighty years ago or ninety years ago when they put up all the electric pylons

     

    ML:

    I think the pylons are far uglier and intrusive

     

    TW:

    We would have complained about all of that, but again, you look at them as sculpture, I think of them as totem poles

     

    ML:

    I know I know, I know and you think actually……yeah, interesting

     

    TW:

    And people don’t even notice them now because they’re more interested in the electricity that we get out; I’m just wondering whether

     

    ML:

    I don’t know, I really don’t know

     

    TW:

    I wonder if wind farms will become like that eventually, I don’t know. I’m a little bit up and down about it really.

     

    ML:

    Yes I am as well; I absolutely agree, yeah.

     

    TW:

    Right, okay.

     

    ML:

    Anything else do you want to know?

     

    TW:

    Well I’m sure we could carry on talking for ever

     

    ML:

    For ever, yes!

     

    TW:

    [laughing] but I think that’s…..

     

    ML:

    I’ve probably left out enormous chunks but it doesn’t matter

     

    TW:

    Well that’s alright; it’s……..what you’ve said has been quite fascinating really

     

    ML:

    Good….good

     

    TW:

    Just let me have a look at this

     

    ML:

    Go on

     

    TW:

    Yeah……I think that’s it really

     

    ML:

    Good

     

    TW:

    I’ll turn it off and if we think of anything else I’ll turn it back on again

     

    ML:

    Yes just turn it back on again, okay

     

    [END OF TRACK 1]

     

     

     

     

    Read more

  • Interviews and Storytelling: Tony Wright 2

     

     

    [TRACK 1]

    TONY WRIGHT:

    Ready to go then.

     

    INTERVIEWER – MARTIN JONES:

    Yeah.  Well first of all, hello.

     

    TW:

    Hello.

     

    INTERVIEWER – Martin Jones:

    What I want to speak to you about today Tony if it’s okay is……being an artist, where you get your inspiration from and does it tie in with you, politically or personally, or the way you live, and what inspired you around the time to become an artist, so I’ll start off with….I think, when did you first make the transition to becoming an artist or deciding you were gonna be an artist?

     

    TW:

    …..deciding I wanted to get into art and be an artist…….started about when I was….I don’t know……twelve….ten, eleven, twelve, somewhere around that age.  I think…..I mean it’s something I always liked to do.  I have a memory of doing finger painting at nursery while the other children were taking naps and I just carried on, and the teacher didn’t notice, and then I heard my name called out and they’d all got up, got dressed and were standing in the queue ready to leave, and I was still….there was paint all over my shirt and my hands

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    So nothing’s changed then!

     

    TW:

    No nothing’s changed, this is true, so I mean I have memories of really being into it when I was little, but…..and I always enjoyed doing it, but I think I went to….a reasonable school, a Catholic school in Omaha in Nebraska and we had to do a kind of…..IQ and some other sort of tests, and out of those tests they said I was the artistic type, and I thought ‘oh really, oh that’s interesting’ and I think it probably held true because there were questions like ‘what would you like to do with a typewriter – write a story, fix it if it broke, sell it to somebody’ and it went on like that, and I guess from doing that they sort of thought I was artistic, so once I’d kind of got it in my head that I was that way inclined, I…..and I think I must have had it naturally anyway, I went for it and I just started doing all these art classes and I loved it, and I just never really stopped.

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    Did you have a lot of encouragement from school and family?  Did they see the potential that was in you to become an artist…..

    TW:

    My family did I think.  I think both my parents were frustrated creative people.  I think my father wanted to be a drummer, he wanted to be a musician really and he….we always had music in the house and that’s what he really wanted to be, and my mother was….she used to design her own clothes when she was young and make them up, but they all got on the, you know, the nine-to-five treadmill thing…..and neither of them really ever did anything, but I think they saw the potential in me and then…..they didn’t push me, they…..if that’s what I wanted to do they supported me in whatever it is I wanted to do really

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    Did you actually go to art college?

     

    TW:

    Yeah.

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    Whereabouts?

     

    TW:

    I did a foundation year in St Helens and then I did a degree in Epsom in Surrey, and later on I did an MA at Leeds.

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    So is it a case of……you’ve got pretty hefty qualifications, but do you think your art would have remained…..as it is if you hadn’t gone for the qualifications, or do you think that inspired you at all, all that sort of thing… 

     

    TW:

    Oh, I think it totally changed me.  Before I’d done…..any…..before I’d completed any of my formal education shall we say, I was….I used to read about art all the time and try and do it, and I’d actually done some correspondence courses as well….and it was very much…I was a Vincent van Gogh man, Vincent van Gogh, he was like my….sort of hero.  I read everything about him and tried to paint like him, but I used to read about….I liked Rembrandt and Goya and different kinds of artists like that, I used to read about them a lot

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    So you looked at the classical artists really

     

    TW:

    Yeah, at that time, yeah, definitely, yeah.

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    Do you relate to any modern artists at all?  Is it something you liked to see or

     

    TW:

    What now, or then?

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    Well now really.

     

    TW:

    Now…..these days…..the only contemporary artist that I probably have any kind of interest in are the ones that do things to do with nature really.  I like Andy Goldsworthy, or that type of person really…..mainly because I’ve just got fed up with the art world as being….so insular and so narrow minded that I’ve kind of rejected a lot of it – it’s not so much I’ve rejected the artists, it’s just I’ve rejected the subject almost, and so I don’t keep up with it as I used to; I used to read – I used to know about everybody and knew everything that was going on.  These days my knowledge is somewhat limited, so I’m not really against it

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    Do you find that those artists who were against the grain, maybe talking late sixties, early seventies, who were considered to be outsiders in the art world, are now those who are running it and…..decide what’s art and what’s not

     

    TW:

    I don’t think artists really have much say in running anything much; I’m sure some do, it’s agents and gallery owners and critics and the likes of them that dictate what goes on and what gets known.

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    So it’s actually more….the actual freedom of art is always gonna be there because people… 

     

    TW:

    Well most people who are into art, they’re not gonna be bothered with all of that side of it.

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    But it is becoming a very……what’s the word for it I’m looking for……a very business orientated…..

     

    TW:

    It’s a very Saatchi kind of mentality….I mean if that’s what you want then fair enough go for it, but……it’s not what I was ever into, and never have been into making money really, unfortunately – I’ve been very successful at that – not making money! [laughing]

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    I think you should be proud of that to be honest. [laughing]  What artist apart from van Gogh – do you think van Gogh is championed by so many people because he is so…..the mad man with bright colours I suppose…..was he one of your main inspirations when you were a teenager?

     

    TW:

    Well when I was a teenager, after that, I suppose the Blue Rider movement – Paul Klee and Kandinskey and Macke and Marc and that…..that became very important for me, which later sort of turned into the Bauhaus movement, but all of that period from the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, that whole period I find fascinating really.

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    Is that the German Bauhaus movement?

     

    TW:

    Yeah.

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    As in the furniture and everything?

     

    TW:

    Well it was also…..I mean Gropius….Walter Gropius was an architect but it was also about furniture, but it was about everything cos what it was supposed to be, they taught the principles of design, of colour and this and that and the other, and that was supposed to be included into everyday life, that was part of the whole ethos which I really kind of went for in a big way really.

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    Where do you see yourself now as an artist?

     

    TW:

    Well  don’t….well I do and I don’t…..I haven’t painted in about ten years really.  What I have been doing during the last ten years is been thinking about it a lot…..and when I actually stopped painting I was becoming more and more involved with using words as part of the image, and I suppose…..in my head I’m still there somewhere…..but what I’ve been doing is I’ve been doing……I have made some things out in nature, just do things that don’t even get photographed, they just get left and they disappear, but also I’ve been developing story telling as a kind of alternative creative activity.

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    So the art that you’ve…..you’ve just….the art’s still there but you’ve just changed lanes in a way.  Does that make sense?

     

    TW:

    Well….that’s right, that is right, although I don’t do much.  I plan to get back to doing it……just exactly when I don’t know.

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    Did you have a……an anti-epiphany I suppose, when you decided to stop painting, or was it just something that stopped, you weren’t getting that creative urge… 

     

    TW:

    I made a conscious decision because of……my personal life……I got divorced and had to get a job, a nine-to-five sort of job to earn a lot of money to pay off my wife, my ex wife…..and I knew that if I was gonna continue being an artist, cos when I do I just get so immersed in it that I don’t do anything else, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to hold down a proper job if I carried on thinking about it, so I had to focus on earning the money bit, which is what I did, and in fact it’s what I’m still doing, although what I do now gives me a lot more scope, a lot of free time shall we say, and it’s……collecting oral history which is what I do, is a creative activity in itself really, or I look at it in that way.

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    Do you get as much satisfaction, I mean, that thing that you do, with seeing people and getting their life down on film and tape, is fantastic, I think it’s such a positive thing to know the history of individuals as well as a society if you like.  Do you get as much satisfaction out of doing this as you did when you were….when you were painting and drawing or

     

    TW:

    It’s a difficult one that…….because what immediately runs through my head…..how do you…..how do you balance them up, how do you judge this against that, and I guess I used to get satisfaction from both of them and also get very frustrated from both of them, but in very very different ways……I think if I won the lottery tomorrow I would set up a trust and I would sit on the committee that ran Wild Rose interviewing people, although I’d still like to be involved by interviewing people but I’d have other people do all the rest of the work and I would probably just paint as much as I could, or create things out in nature.

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    So you’d know this was still carrying on and you’d have an oversight?

     

    TW:

    Yeah.  I have a kind of…..thing about it, that it’s…..which I shouldn’t do really, because I started it and I’ve…..done it for nine years now…..I’m getting to the point where it’s no longer just the way I make a living, it’s….it’s become

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    Part of your life

     

    TW:

    It’s starting to become – it is a big part of my life – but it’s actually starting to become what my original vision for it was, which was creating this archive over a period of time and looking at one small place, Hebden Bridge, but on all different levels so that there’s a whole…..it would probably be for other people to go through it all and work out what was really going on here…..over the past ten years or over the next ten years as well.

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    Is that how long…..I mean has this got time structure?  Have you decided there will be a cut off…..like painting, have you decided, will there be a cut off point ‘I’m going back to painting’ or will you decide to carry on with the nature sculptures, or will you go in a completely different direction that says things that you haven’t done that you want to do now, regarding your artistic…..artistic-ness?

     

    TW:

    Yeah well there is, I mean there are….I have ideas of like not so much making films as in big Hollywood productions or even low budget feature films, but I would like to maybe use video more, and use it almost as if it were a painting, and create layers of things and use….again, use words with it, but…..incorporate images of nature as well as humanity, and the use of words, be it just sound and talking or actual visual words that….you know, and create like montage kind of things in film, so I can see myself going that way really.

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    So that would be getting many different pieces of film and editing them together

     

    TW:

    Yeah.

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    That sort of thing

     

    TW:

    That sort of idea.

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    I want to go back a bit.  When you were……first getting into art….as a teenager, as a young man, was the political……change that was going on, would it be the late sixties? Is that right? 

     

    TW:

    Late sixties yeah, I mean I started art school in……well I went to university in ’69 in the States but I wasn’t studying art, although I did study art but it wasn’t at an art school, and the political side of things….it was very much….it was a very big part of my life…..because there was all the Civil Rights and anti Vietnam and stuff, and I was really…..like the autobiography of Malcolm X, but I was also listening to…..pop music – rock ‘n’ roll

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    That was an amazing time to be around.

     

    TW:

    People, you know, with kind of revolutionary ideas and….but also lifestyle choices and just talking about, you know, it doesn’t all have to be the way they tell you it has to be

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    They’re throwing questions at you and it’s up to you to make your own answers to them I suppose, yeah.

     

    TW:

    Yeah.

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    When…..we were going back but we’ll come forward….when did you come to Hebden Bridge?

     

    TW:

    I moved to Hebden Bridge in 1987.

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    Had you been living in the UK before that or had you

     

    TW:

    Yeah, I’d been living here since 1970.

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    And…..I’ve been to the United States, I loved the place – the weather was better – what made you actually connect with the UK and want to make you stay here?

     

    TW:

    Because I thought it was a place…..it was freer, it was a place where the word freedom meant something.  In America I felt that everything was…..controlled is the word about America, everything was trying to be controlled……and……my father was American and my mother was English, and the whole idea…..I mean the National Health Service as an idea I thought was brilliant, you know, for a start, but also it seemed to be a much freer place where you could say what you wanted to say…..without getting hit over the head with it.

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    Well there’s time to change. [laughing]

     

    TW:

    It has changed a lot since.

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    When you moved over, was it at a time when you……you started…..painting straight away or was it something you fell back into or was it something you continued from

     

    TW:

    When I came here?

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    Yeah.

     

    TW:

    I came here to go to art school.  I moved to Liverpool; I lived with my grandparents…..and got into a foundation course in St Helens which was, again, their course was based on this Bauhaus idea in a sense….their foundation, it was a rotating….you did a week worth of…..well 2D, so there was design and painting and all that sort of stuff and a week of 3D, so we worked with clay and wood and glass and metal and all that, and then a week of what they used to call graphics which was much more to do with the commercial side of art, and then the fourth week you were back to the other one, but every week you always did life drawing, photography, art history and what they used to call complementary studies, which was to do with a little bit of sociology and a little bit of literature and what have you.

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    Have you ever thought about going into teaching art yourself?

     

    TW:

    Yeah yeah, I have done.

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    Was that in Hebden or

     

    TW:

    It was in…….well, you say teaching, I was…..I actually worked as a community artist for a lot of years and I started doing that in Kent.  I lived in…..in Folkestone.

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    Someone’s got to! [laughing]

     

    TW:

    ……and actually began doing that in….the early eighties, then I went off; I came to Manchester and did a course, did a qualification in community arts which wasn’t just painting and art, it was also, I did music and theatre as well, and public speaking and things like that…..and then I worked in Salford, in youth clubs in Salford and I was part of a circus group……and did all sorts of things for a year or two there, then I moved to Hebden in………again, I started teaching in adult education and in further education, and did that for part-time, while I did community arts I also did teaching and I was painting and I had…..used to have exhibitions in various parts of the country and I had a gallery in London and showed some of my work.

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    So you’re quite a successful artist really aren’t you?

     

    TW:

    Oh, I don’t think successful’s the word [laughing] but I’ve done a lot!

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    Oh I don’t mean to say it in a monetary way, I mean you certainly haven’t……you’ve been there and you’ve pushed the boundaries out for certain you know, you’ve done the galleries, you’ve done the….but I’ve got to go back to the circus troupe….tell me about this.

     

    TW:

    It came about in a very weird kind of way.  When I was doing the community arts course, every term you had to do a placement and I’d been living in London before I moved up here, and I had a friend there who had a girlfriend who had a friend who lived in Eccles and worked for a community magazine, and he used to work with a youth worker who ran this…..community centre, well he didn’t run it, but he ran the activities in it, and so through that long line of things I got hooked up with him to help him work in this community centre, and I did a term doing that…..and then I did a term with Horse and Bamboo doing large puppets and stuff like that, and then…..I started working with this guy because he wanted to learn circus skills because we were working with kids that were unemployed, kids over eighteen, or were they over sixteen…..I think they might have been over sixteen and under twenty-five who were out of work, and he decided one way to get them engaged was to teach them circus skills, so there was a group called Manchester Circus…..Skills something or other, I can’t remember exactly what they were called

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    What sort of time period was this?

     

    TW:

    This was ‘80……must have been early…..late ’85…..’86

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    Cos there would have still been high unemployment then in the north

     

    TW:

    Yes.  So we…..you know, we had to learn it and then we…..you know we learnt it off the proper people and then we taught it to the kids and we had a thing during the week in the evening, and then a kind of Saturday club thing that we did with them, and we did….you know, juggling, clowning, unicycle riding, stilt walking, you know, all that kind of basic stuff…..and then we used to go and do little performances in working men’s clubs, like rugby clubs; we went in with the kids and various places like that [laughing]

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    You say you moved to Hebden Bridge about ’87.

     

    TW:

    Yeah.

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    Was it a place that you….cos it took me a year to get used to the place.  It is a very…very eclectic…..very open minded artistic place.  Did you grab that vibe straight away or did it take a while to

     

    TW:

    Fairly quickly I think……I mean we moved here…..the reason we moved here…..was….we were going to Scotland on holiday and the car broke down, and we couldn’t get it fixed for three days so we stayed here and we decided we liked it, and at that time I was working at the University, well the Polytechnic as it was then, of Manchester in the Art History department and my wife had just gotten onto her Social Worker course in Leeds Poly and it just…..because we happened to break down here, we realised it was half way in between the two and we thought ‘right, well that’s’….and we just sort of liked the whole place, there was….you know, the park and the smallness of the shops and….because we’d lived in London together then we’d lived in the south side of Manchester together and we were gradually going from you know, big cities to smaller and smaller and this just seemed like a natural progression and we liked it, and as soon as we were here, after about two weeks we found out she was pregnant, so I started plugging into….thinking ahead because we bought this particular house so that I could have a studio here, of course with a child we couldn’t do that so I started looking around for studio space and found…..and helped found North Light originally, and also helped found the….the nursery - it was NAG – Nursery Action Group, I became part of that and we did it at the bottom of Moss Lane and once I’d got it up and running after about a year and a half, two years, I just turned it over to the people who got employed and they’ve taken it on leaps and bounds, bought Crossley Mill and they’ve turned it into a really good thing, so I realised there was a lot of people doing all sorts.

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    Do you find that Hebden Bridge has changed since you came here?

     

    TW:

    Oh yeah.

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    For the better or for worse?

     

    TW:

    ……

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    Or a little bit of both?

     

    TW:

    …….well I suppose both in a sense.  I mean change is pretty inevitable really…..it’s a lot busier now than it used to be.  There’s more traffic……there’s more people, there’s even more, I mean it used….they wanted it to be a tourist town and it has definitely become a tourist town, and when I moved here there were lots of like junk shops and antique shops and now there’ll all cafés 

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    It’s got a very European vibe to it – do you find that?

     

    TW:

    Yes, I mean they have things out on the street, I mean that would never have been known back in the eighties……that whole idea was….anathema I think to people in Hebden Bridge.  There are less born and bred locals now than there used to be I think, because….of an older generation, well a lot of them have died basically and people….people who are here and have made some money, they’ve….a lot of gone to France or Spain or Portugal and that sort of thing to kind of retire because it’s nicer and the weather’s supposed to be nicer and it’s cheaper to live I think, or it used to be.

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    Where do you see yourself as an artist in five years’ time?  Where do you….have you ideas and goals that you want to go towards or do you just take it as a feeling ‘I’ll do it when I feel like it’ or do you have set….. ‘right we’re gonna start doing this then, that then’

     

    TW:

    I don’t…..think I have any goals as such….I just want to….between now and in five years’ time I just want to be able to start doing more artistic work, so I suppose it’s a goal to do more I suppose, and where that leads me I’ll have to find out

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    An adventure.

     

    TW:

    It is a bit, yeah.

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    I’m sort of running out of questions and stuff. [laughing]

     

    TW:

    Okay. 

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    I’ll have to frame this right.  Do you regard yourself, or have you always regarded yourself as someone who likes to create or to put yourself in that bracket, like ‘I am an artist and that’s…..there are’…..do you see what I’m trying to say?

     

    TW:

    Do I see…do I….my identity

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    As an artist

     

    TW:

    is as an artist, yes, I mean I think I’m a human being before I’m anything else…..but definitely I feel as if I am an artist, even though I’m in a hibernation period at the minute [laughing]

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    That’s not a bad thing

     

    TW:

    Well it’s not really because I’ve…..like I said I was so fed up with the art world and its bitchiness basically and I just turned off from it all…..I’ve got to a point now where it doesn’t bother me any more because I can, I can laugh at it, I can…

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    You can see the irony in it I suppose really.

     

    TW:

    Well there’s some irony yes, definitely, and it just…..it’s like water off a duck’s back now I think

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    Do you…..being your own artist, you have the ability to do your own thing and keep that foot out, one foot in the art world and one foot out, so you can step either way if you want to, so you don’t have to, I suppose tolerate the bitchiness and you, you can just do your own thing.  Is that something you’re aiming towards, or have you got already?

     

    TW:

    Well I don’t even have one foot in, I haven’t even hardly….I haven’t got a little toe in at the minute, apart from….just my own tiny little bubble when I do odd things every once in a while…..

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    You say you’re…..you’re doing stuff with nature now which I really love.  I like that…that principle of building something that’s gonna decay over time because it’s….everything decays but I think it’s got a certain beauty to it……why have you decided just…..or you’re aiming it towards nature.  Is that something that you’ve wanted to do for ages or

     

    TW:

    Well I always have….I mean I trained basically as a landscape painter, although I wildly veered off that into doing……people but I did used to do a lot of drawing of….animals and plants, so I suppose that’s part of nature, but it was a very kind of realistic type of artwork, but I used to experiment with….you know, collect mud and bits of leaves and pine needles and all that and make pictures out of those sort of things….just experimenting with…..rather than, you know, human made found objects, nature objects, and I used to create things that used to hang, you know, I used to spend hours sewing together seed pods and all sorts of weird and wonderful things, seaweed and feathers and God knows what, and they’d be like sculptures but they’d be hanging things, so I’ve always been involved in……in nature and using it in some kind of way…..and now because of….I suppose my….my beliefs; I’m very anti…..religion shall we say, or authority I suppose is another word for it

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    A man after my own heart. [laughing]

     

    TW:

    I want to…..have options of looking at things without being a member if you know what I mean.  If I want to look at you know…..the Christian religion, I want to look at it for what it is, not….I don’t want to be part of it, I don’t want to be a true believer and all the rest of it; I’ll look at it and see the good and the bad in it, and observe it and say ‘right, that part of it’s crap and that part of it’s really quite good actually’ and the same with political movements and……sort of keep my mind open

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    So you’re almost like a social commentator; you’re an independent…

     

    TW:

    Well, not so much a commentator, but an observer that I can then use into my own….little world and some people I suppose would say ‘right then you have a message to tell to others’ but it isn’t a message as such except for the fact that….you know, I want to have an open mind and observe this stuff and try and put it together creatively and then when you wanna look at it, I want you to be the same; I want you to be open minded and get out of it or not get out of it whatever you can

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    Again it’s putting something there and saying ‘right, I’m not telling you what to think.  You’ve got to make your own decisions and get what you want out of it’.

     

    TW:

    That sort of thing.  I mean the last big art piece I ever made way back was…..it was a series…..it was a whole series of images attached to a series of words, and the first word was ‘artist’ and I looked it up in the dictionary and I typed it all out, and then within that meaning of what the word ‘artist’ meant, I underlined one of those words, and the second word became, the word that was underlined, and I typed out its meaning, and I underlined one of the words in its meaning and so forth, and it led from artist to viewer through a series of about twenty-five or thirty words, and each had a different picture associated with it, and some were by me, and some were by little children that I’d worked with in school – there was a whole series of images – and that’s the kind of way I think about it, is that you know, what happened…..you know, from the artist to the viewer, a whole series of processes take shape and if you did it reverse-wise it would work the same really

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    So it’s one feeds back to the other isn’t it?

     

    TW:

    Well in a way yeah, so

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    If you do decide to start painting again, or sculptures, would you……would you…..would you want to show them, would you want to get them in galleries again or is it just for you, or is it……just for that satisfaction

     

    TW:

    No, really, I mean it’s…..I think I’d probably like to show them somewhere; I’m not exactly sure where…..I know like…..the Zen Masters used to, you know do their calligraphy, with wonderful calligraphy on scrolls and roll them up and keep them in drawers, but they’d only bring them out every blue moon to show another master – ‘oh see what I did eight years ago, isn’t that pretty good yeah?’

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    So it’s more of a personal journey

     

    TW:

    But that’s still showing it to your own audience, you know, your Zen Master audience right, well I’m not in that category but…..it seems, I mean I can sit and write poems, you know, or write stories or…..or dance around my living room all the time and no-one would ever know I did any of that

     

    INTERVIEWER:

     

    Please tell me you do.

     

    TW:

    I do dance around my living room, but that’s beside the point!  But if you’re creating something physical, it seems to me as if……are you gonna just stack it in the corner and…..and then it gathers dust and…..I suppose that’s just as valid and eventually it just rots away and that’s the end of it and so what?  It’s just like human beings, we’ll kill ourselves off or the ants will take over and we’ll be like the dinosaurs, we’ll be gone, and the earth will continue for more millions and billions of years, and artwork’s similar really, but I….I kind of have this idea of, well, if I go to the trouble of making it, maybe I ought to share it you know

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    That’s what I think  you….if you are going to create again, judging by your paintings and that, they deserve to be shown, me and Sam, we love the black and white stuff.  I love the stuff……where is it…..I love these with the trees, I just think they’re amazing

     

    TW:

    They’re trees of life

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    Yeah they’re absolutely amazing, and again dug the Peruvian… 

     

    TW:

    Well that one….I did a series of birth, life and death.  That’s the death one actually [laughing]

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    That style of…..of painting is….is…..it’s…I don’t know how to put it…..it’s sort of real and not real if you know what I mean; it’s got that……the longer you look at it the more you see, the more it gets you thinking about what’s actually in there; that’s…..at a quick glance it’s just a bloke, but it’s not, there’s more there.  You look at the expressions on the face….yeah, I really think you should display your paintings mate to be honest.

     

    TW:

    Well maybe I will…..maybe I’ll take up your…..advice and try and

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    Don’t take my advice – you’re damned if you do! [laughing].  I’m taking responsibility for nothing!  Just one more last question really for me.  Do you think that your art has been influenced by living in Hebden Bridge?  Your thoughts….your creative juice, has it got it flowing again……so if you’ve been here since ’87….cos it’s quite insular, Hebden Bridge, it’s different from the towns down the road – it’s just got this vibe to it, and that…..has that played any….

     

    TW:

    Well in a wider sense, yes……because of the landscape really, but not just that, I mean a lot of my pictures…..when I first lived in Hebden were to do with…..partly to do with the birth of my son, and I’ve always been inspired by mythology and….a kind of…..a spirituality I suppose, whether it is a kind of wiccan thing or a cultish sort of thing, so I have created…..pictures to do with those kinds of stories, and lots of mythological stories are about what they would call a hero, but usually heroes are a child who then progresses through into manhood, so I painted pictures or I…..created things that were to do with those kinds of stories, and I saw Hebden Bridge as the stage where all that happened, cos I used to do a lot of walking and you can go up and see Mesolithic stuff and Neolithic stuff and Bronze Age stuff on the tops, and then as you kind of like walk down to the bottoms you just get closer and closer to contemporary times, so I see this small little place as a kind of…..age, an epic, a place where, you know, all kinds of things can go on

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    And have gone on…

     

    TW:

    Yeah, so it’s inspired me…..in thinking, reinforcing the stuff that I was into….and finding little spots all over different parts of the valley where I can identify then with certain stages of these stories and therefore try to create pictures…..that had to do with those really, and music has always been a part of my life so I started trying to draw music into it……so I did a whole series of pictures about musicians and there is a lot of music goes on in Hebden Bridge…..so really…..Hebden Bridge has a big influence because of the way that it is, and because I’ve been living here and I’m just reacting to my environment really.

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    It seems to be not only a beautiful place, it seems to be…a smelting pot for….for….I used the word widely….people with artistic inspiration and talent, it’s….there are a lot of people here and that must influence you because you’re not only…..not only….mixing with the countryside, you’re also mixing with the people that are here, and it’s quite inspirational

     

    TW:

    Yeah there’s a lot of creative people so you can have very weird and wonderful conversations about….just about anything really

     

    INTERVIEWER:

    I’ve seen you a lot in the pub – I’ve seen lots of weird and wonderful conversations. [laughing]  That’s it for me Tony.

     

    TW:

    Okay that’s fine, that’s fine.  Finished now?

     

    [END OF TRACK ONE]

    Read more

  • Interviews and Storytelling: Richard Wincer

     

    [TRACK 1]

    TONY WRIGHT:

    This is Tony Wright, it’s the 4th of May 2011 and I’m talking to Richard Wincer in Arts Mill.   Can you tell me your full name and where and when you were born?

     

    RICHARD WINCER:

    My full name is Richard James Wincer.  I was born in 1951 in a place called Alvechurch in Worcestershire.

     

    TW:

    Oh right

     

    RW:

    Near Birmingham.

     

    TW:

    Right.  What was it like in Worcestershire in those days?

     

    RW:

    I had a really good childhood, quite free in the countryside.  We lived in a sort of rural area and basically in the 1950s at that time, looking back on it, it seemed a very freer time when we just wandered around the countryside basically.  I lived there till I was about ten and during that time I sort of went fishing, playing football and was out most of the time.  I developed a strong affection to the countryside and I can’t complain about it all, it was a really nice time, and then later on after that at about the age of eleven I moved to a place called Bromsgrove also in Worcestershire, which was also in the countryside, and I basically carried on doing the same things, playing sport, fishing, wandering round the countryside and I had, looking back on it, an enjoyable childhood.

     

    TW:

    So did you relate to the countryside in a special kind of way do you think?

     

    RW:

    I think over the years I did develop an attraction and an affection for the rural landscape there which has certainly influence me as an artist and…..definitely, all those early experiences have really influenced my work, looking back on it now, certainly, and they still do, in fact I still go back to the area.  My mother still lives there, she’s ninety now and she still lives in Bromsgrove and I go back visit her and I go back to my old haunts; I go fishing in the places I used to go fishing when I was a child, and take photographs of the area, and often it will come through in my work, so I’ve got….I think it’s quite important, that sense of place, I really do feel that, so….I’m very much aware that these things influence my work.

     

    TW:

    Were any of your family artistic at all?

     

    RW:

    No…..my mother could play the piano and my father had a good singing voice, but he didn’t really sing that much – no, not really, so….you know with all that pressure to get a proper job basically rather than being an artist….but I think I knew from quite, from being in my early teens what I wanted to do and that’s what drove me to carry on to be an artist basically

     

    TW:

    Did you have any formal training then?

     

    RW:

    No, I did the normal O Level and A Level at school; I went to a grammar school and the art department was quite good, and I became very interested in landscape painting and soon found that it was one of my big passions really, so along with sport, I played  a lot of sport, and by the time I was about seventeen I really pretty much knew what I wanted to do, it was just how to go about it really, and I’d already been out there in the countryside, taking canvasses out and painting pictures on my own at that age really, so I was pretty much determined that’s what I wanted to do, but obviously there’s always the pressure that ‘are you gonna get a proper job?’ ie, ‘is it gonna make you any money?’ and I think even when I first went to night school in Stourbridge which was the first year of a foundation I was basically told that it would be very difficult to earn a living, but there’s just something driving me to do it, I just ignored all that really, so it’s proved to be correct [laughing] – I haven’t made a lot of money, but I just felt that….I think I knew from that time that that’s what I wanted to do.

     

    TW:

    So how did you progress then, through your twenties, late teens to twenties?

     

    RW:

    Well, after doing a couple years of foundation at Stourbridge I decided to specialise in fine art; I pretty much knew that I wanted to do that anyway and then I applied to a London college because being ambitious and everybody felt the place to go would be London, and I fortunately got accepted at Goldsmiths College, so I was at Goldsmiths College from 1971 to 1974, and….and that’s where a lot of my art education really got started and I met a lot of very interesting people who taught there, and they changed the way I looked at things, and…..I don’t have any regrets about that either, it was a really good place to go and it was just getting to be….it was just starting to be the place to be in terms of art education.  As an arts school it was starting to develop its reputation so I was there at the very beginning of that really, and you know, I met a lot of very interesting people and some well known artists, so it was good.

     

    TW:

    Well when you finished at Goldsmiths, did you carry on painting, or did you have to earn a crust in a different way?

     

    RW:

    Well I had to…..I wanted to do post graduate but I didn’t get…..it’s a bit of a long story – I didn’t get accepted at Slade or the Royal College although I had an interview so I was suddenly out of the college environment and no job and no work basically, and into the real world where I found it very difficult at first because when I was with my contemporaries I was in an art situation, studying art on a very intellectual level and suddenly I was unemployed basically, and I was unemployed for a while and then I realised I just had to do something, so I just got a job in the Parks and Gardens Department, just learning how to be a gardener and although it was poorly paid, it was actually a really good experience and I met lots of people who were ex-dockers because the docks were closed in London and so the Council was employing a lot of ex-dockers at that time and I….I enjoyed it, a bit like I suppose National Service really, and I had, I just felt……I was full of my own self-importance a bit when I left art school but I was….you know…had a big ego….it brought me down to earth a bit and I worked there for a while and then I could have carried on working and worked my up, because they offered me a better job with all the qualifications that I had, but the art thing pulled me away from that again, so I left and I managed to finally get a studio in Deptford in South London which I found there quite a large building which had a floor in it which I set up as a studio and I was still in contact with all my old people from Goldsmiths, so I got them involved and we set up a studio in Deptford, in south east London, and then I just basically tried to do my own work and do jobs; I worked as a technician in a school for a while, a pottery technician, so I learnt about ceramics and I lived quite cheaply in some cheap council housing in Deptford, and so I managed through those early times to get by and tried to establish myself as an artist, which wasn’t easy, and…..so I was always doing some form of employment to earn some money on a part-time basis or I’d have a few months when I’d work, and I was still trying to do my own work as an artist….so then by the time….I was still doing that and living in Deptford by the time I was in my early thirties and then I got into a couple of quite good exhibitions in London, so I started to get established then, and a bit more work…..yeah, so….it was a struggle but you know……

     

    TW:

    What exhibitions were those?

     

    RW:

    Well in 1980 I was in what was called a Summer Exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery which was selected by another artist called Tony Carter and that was for basically promising up and coming artists to get a foothold, so that was quite a good…..you know, quite a good audience for that and the work was well received, and then further on in 1983, with a show at the Hayward Gallery, a sculpture show at Hayward Gallery.  There were about fifty sculptors in the country then, so I sort of got myself into that position but then I found it quite hard to sort of capitalize on that and….so I just went back to my studio and I carried on working, and then my work at that point – one of the nice stories is….I had a job, my way of earning a living at that point was window cleaning so I would usually get up about half five and then I would go out with a sort of gang of window cleaners and I’d be finished by one o’clock, two o’clock, so I had the rest of the day to my own work and we were driving all round the centre of London and at one point during the Hayward exhibition, because my piece of sculpture was outside, you could see it from Waterloo Bridge so one morning I was in the back of the window cleaning van and we were driving over Waterloo Bridge, I saw my sculpture outside the Hayward Gallery and I was in the window cleaning van! [laughing] and everyone was going, ‘Richard’s hut, Richard’s hut’ so it was a bit of a strange situation to be in that, you know, and…..I still couldn’t sell much work because I was doing large sculptors and installations basically which weren’t sellable like a drawing or painting, so I wasn’t making much money at all from art, in fact hardly any, so I was still window cleaning at that point, and then unfortunately I got made redundant from that because there was no work, and so I was walking around thinking ‘this is a bit rough- I can’t even get work as a window cleaner now’ so I decided to…I just had to do something, I wasn’t making enough money from art, so I set up my own business which was making wooden canvas stretchers for artists, for frames that they stretch canvas on and because of my contacts in the art world I knew there was a niche for good quality stretch frames, and well, it took quite a lot of….I just jumped in at the deep end really and I finally got that set up, made a lot of mistakes, finally got it set up and I worked away, and suddenly it started doing quite well because people knew me from the art world, and soon really well-known famous artists started coming in to me to get their canvas stretchers, and I made sure that I was at the right top end of the market, I gave a really good quality products and basically I was a craftsman working with wood, and so that sort of…that was okay you know, I’d got it going but there was a certain tedium in it when I was just working at my woodworking machine doing hundreds of tenons, and again I had this call that this isn’t what I should be doing – I should be doing my own work, so I was supplying lots of well-known artists with things to do their own work, so I turned up at their studio thinking ‘this could be me really’ - delivering stuff – and so at that point I got an offer, somebody wanted to buy it, because it was going up, so I sold it, sold it after about four years and that gained me a little lump sum of money which was really nice because I’d never really had any money, and about a year…..oh I remember now, this money….I’m tying into my childhood bit now – my mother had gone to visit my brother in New Zealand so my house in Worcestershire, the house was empty, so I thought ‘the first thing I’ll do is I’ll drive up to the house and stay there for a bit’ and I found that one of the things I did was I went out and bought a whole new load of fishing tackle with the money, or some of the money, and suddenly rekindled this interest in what I’d done in my youth and I thought ‘really this is…’ so I’d been in London twenty years at this point, and I thought ‘why am I there?’ – I didn’t feel my work as an artist was going that well and so I spent a bit of time back at home, a month or so, getting familiar with the place and you know, sort of going fishing and doing things, taking photographs and when I went back to London I didn’t feel I had any connections with it any more, and I felt that I was getting near forty, I’d be thirty nine or something like that, that I should leave but as it happened you know, there was a strange circumstance where I actually ended up meeting up with someone from my past, which developed into a relationship and my partner, Louise, was living in Hebden Bridge so I met her and fell in love, then she said ‘well come and live in Hebden Bridge’ so I left London and came to live in Hebden Bridge so that would be 1990, something like that, something like that, and again I arrived and it was a bit difficult at first because again I’d no work and my money was running out, and then suddenly I got all these phone calls from London, saying they weren’t happy with the stretchers they were getting, so I thought ‘I don’t know what on earth I’m gonna do’ - it was all a bit difficult, so I thought ‘I’ll start again’ and in the meantime I’d had an artist’s studio at Dean Clough in Halifax, so I started developing all my contacts again with the artists that I’d dealt with and they wanted my stretchers again, so I started manufacturing canvas stretchers again as a way of earning a living, and….did that for a while and left Dean Clough and went to another, bigger workshop in Siddal in Halifax, and I found that I could make stretchers and do some painting, and I got my work going again, my paintings going again and…..then about, I think it’s about eight years ago now, I took the plunge again and just stopped the business.  My lease was up and I had to leave the building so I thought ‘I haven’t really got it in me to start again, so this time I’m going to give up and start painting again, and see how I get on’ so I just took the risk again really’ so that’s how I went from – that’s how I ended up here then getting a studio at Arts Mill, so I’ve been here for about eight years now.

     

    TW:

    Right.  So do you still make sculptures or do you just paint now?

     

    RW:

    I don’t make much sculpture at the moment.  I do the odd wood carving. My problem with sculpture was that you soon get a studio full of sculpture that if you haven’t got an outlet for you’re just cluttered up with sculptures, especially if it’s large, and I started a process which is a bit akin to wood carving which was wood cut print making, using wood cut, so I have a wooden panel which I then carve the image into and then ink that up and take a print off that, so I found that connection with the wood and the carving of the wood to make a wood cut quite a nice compromise, so when I get a 2D image I still feel that I’m sculpting it out of the surface, so my wood cuts did quite well and I usually get them in at the Royal Academy in the Summer Exhibitions, so that’s one of the main things that I’ve done, is wood cut.

     

    TW:

    Do you have, what shall we call it, a philosophy of art, what are you actually trying to say with the work that you do it?

     

    RW:

    Well I suppose you know, I’ve always felt that it’s….a spiritual activity.  I’ve never really done it to try and make money which sounds a bit strange because that’s probably why I’ve never had any money, but I’ve always tried to keep this feeling that I’m searching for something of the truth in some way, and I try and remain true to that; obviously you know, it’s really nice when I sell work but I don’t really wanna just make work to make money – what I mean by that is I don’t want to just look at a market and compromise what my vision is and how I see things, and in order just to sell work, so it’s a delicate balance between doing what you feel you’re really about and getting someone to feel that when they see your work and making it work financially.  You can go the other way I think and say ‘I’m just going to make money from art’ – what sells, what is popular, what does well and do that, but I’ve never really felt comfortable with that at all, so basically it is a deep spiritual activity in the sense that a lot of the time I don’t know where the work’s coming from – it’s an unconscious process and I still have that idea that the artist is some sort of medium for things that come in from somewhere, I don’t know where, and it comes out through you and you’re trying to find what that is and you make those mistakes, then every now and then you get something that really does work and it’s quite magical when that happens, and because once you experience that magic the first time, you know that is the truth – there is something there trying to express the truth, and…..I don’t know if that makes any sense at all

     

    TW:

    It makes perfect sense to me

     

    RW:

    Yeah, yeah….but you know, it’s difficult because obviously……[getting a drink] 

     

    TW:

    So do you think your audience or spectators, people who look at your work, do you think they get some of that magic and some of that spirituality out of the work?

     

    RW:

    I hope so, but people tend to bring their own filters into it when they look at work.  You have to be open and very often people will approach work with pre-conceived ideas, and so a viewer will look at a piece of work with their own pre-conceptions so they filter out sometimes, so instant decisions are made like ‘I don’t like it’ or ‘I like it’ or ‘it’s not my thing’ whereas a lot of work really needs to be contemplated and you need to spend time, but we don’t seem to have time and I’m guilty of it myself you know; I make a judgment in about three or four seconds on something, so I’m guilty of doing that when I approach other artists’ work I have to say….but there are people and it’s happened quite recently; I’ve recently sold work when someone’s come in and gone ‘I really like this’ and they paid me for it, and I really appreciate that, so it does happen definitely, you know.

     

    TW:

    I’m just curious, you said when you were young you were always in the countryside, and you seemed to have….you liked it shall we say.  When you moved to Hebden Bridge then, the landscape around here – has that affected you or your work in any way?

     

    RW:

    Well I’m not sure; I think people who see my work tend to think that it has.  I still, if I’m doing a landscape now, I mean my work has gone through a period of abstraction and I’m now coming back now, so my recent work – I’ve been working on abstraction which obviously gets rid of the figurative image, but has a landscape feel to it, I think you could feel the landscape in it.  Now I wasn’t sure whether it was a Yorkshire landscape or whether it was a child thing, or….I really wasn’t sure, but just recently I’ve been pulling it back.  I’ve been coming back to more figurative – I’m on the border between figurative and abstract which is the realm I find quite interesting now….I was explaining where you can, you know, on a sliding scale between being very detailed and very figurative, going right the way through then to abstraction, where there’s virtually nothing but a black square, so if you’re painting, in a way you’re operating somewhere along that scale.  At the moment I’m….I’m finding it quite interesting to be just where the images start to go into abstraction, so….for me to deal with abstraction was quite hard at first because I’d never done it before, and now things I’ve learnt through that…..I’m trying to bring it back, so the landscape feeling is coming back but I find I’m using imagery from Worcestershire rather than Yorkshire, but I think there are elements of…..I think it must happen, you know, I think people would look at them and probably say ‘it’s not…..’ it’s not coming from where you might think, it might be a bit more…

     

    TW:

    So I mean, this sort of imagery, this naturalist imagery, you’re on the edge of it, what about the other aspects of it?  The colour side of it, or even design or shape, that sort of thing, or even scale, are there any influences locally that affect those aspects of it, or is it just you in front of the canvas kind of exploring what’s there?

     

    RW:

    Well I don’t…..I don’t go out any more….I don’t go outside and paint which is a different feeling.  If you’re out in the landscape and you’re working outside directly, then that is a different feeling.  It’s something I’ve been thinking about trying to do, then I would probably be a bit more aware of the scale of things like you’re saying, and the real colours that are out there, but when you’re drawing on your inner self, it’s a different thing, so…..I think I’m very much aware of the vast expanse and how small we are in comparison to that I think, so…..and also there’s a feeling of isolation about it you know, the lone house in the middle of the wild countryside, but there’s a certain comfort in that in the sense that you know, when you’re trudging back you see the hut in the distance with the light on and smoke coming out, that sort of romantic idea or the feeling that you’re coming back to a sort of warmth you know, that feeling – I used to get that feeling late at night when I’d been on a fishing trip and you’re walking in the sort of dusk or darkness back, but you’re going back home sort of thing you know, so there’s a feeling of isolation about it, but as an artist that is a part of the process, that you can feel isolated but it’s a very nurturing, creative isolation if you know what I’m saying.  The problem is getting the work out there and you getting out there to promote what you do.  I was said to be….I’m happier if I come to the studio, I can deal with that; the problem  that I find hardest is getting out there promoting and marketing what I do, in fact I’m hopeless at it, so some of the paintings do express an isolation but it’s not a lonely….it’s not a loneliness, it’s a nurturing, creative space or place where you’re trying to express yourself.   Does that make any sense?

     

    TW:

    Yes.  So is there a kind of romantic element or a symbolic kind of meaning to between abstraction and sort of naturalistic sort of pictures.  Do you think about those aspects of it when you’re actually painting?

     

    RW:

    I think I tend to be on the romantic side, yeah.  I think there’s a strong tradition of…..well there are various things that you can get trapped – there are certain things on the romantic side you can get trapped into, that is the starving artist in the garret which is a myth basically of we all starve and we’re all just poor and mundane, you get discovered, well……it’s not true basically [laughing] but you can get locked into that, you can think ‘oh I am this person, this’ you know ‘I’m poor but I’m doing really good stuff and one day someone will just walk in and say this is all great’ – bit of a dangerous situation to get into, so there is the romance of that, but there’s also that….we have an English landscape tradition through Turner, Constable and the romantics – I definitely feel akin to that because I associate with the….there’s a romanticism about nature, plant life and that thing I was saying about the artist being a medium for external things and a reliance on the unconscious – that’s romantic, and not….I used to intellectualise a lot about art; I have always had a theory or a reason why I did something and a lot of that came from my art education.  A lot of work in the seventies was conceptual so if I was talking to someone, I’d have to have a very good reason or why I was doing something, or I could talk very eloquently about what I was doing because I had a theory, or the current theory of art which constantly changes, so each generation of student thinks they’ve got the answer, but it changes.  As I’ve got older I don’t intellectualise as much about what I do, I work basically on a feeling about things, not to the extent you know, that I feel I’m slapping the paint all over the canvas in a highly expressionistic way where it’s just a motion, there is some control, but I find the more I think….I get trapped if I start thinking too much, I need to be acting and doing something and learning from that really.

     

    TW:

    Right. I suppose there’s two things I want to ask really.  One of them is about being an individual and the other is….for the lack of a better phrase, issue-based work.  Would you put yourself in either of those categories?

     

    RW:

    You mean issues politically?

     

    TW:

    Yeah.

     

    RW:

    No….no, I don’t do that…..I have tried to in the past, but I don’t feel comfortable with it.  I’m not sure why….it’s….not it’s not my thing, but I don’t have a problem with it in the sense that I do know there are other artists who work like that, and deal with contemporary issues, but from my point of view, no…..it’s not a conscious decision….it’s…..from the point of view that I feel…..politically I feel that the arts is impoverished; we don’t fund the arts much…..and people who are trying to be creative and working are finding it very, very hard in the current political situation, and it’s hard for me you know, again it’s very hard to earn a living but I……I feel that there has to be people out there flying the flag for creativity, because we’re so obsessed with making money and we’re so obsessed with material things, don’t get me wrong – I don’t want to be the starving artist in the garret that we were talking about, but we seem to have lost sight of more meaningful, spiritual things and then creativity becomes a material object in itself, so people buy things for the sake of it, for their monetary value, not their artistic value, so I feel…..that it’s important for me at my age now, not being a young person any more, I mean when you’re young you want to change the world, so you get involved in….I was more political and I wanted things to change, and you know, I found it hard living through the Thatcher years you know, I felt slightly oppressed as a creative person then, and now I still have the same feeling – I feel the arts is being squashed and….we need it corporally as a society, we need a culture.

     

    TW:

    Like you said, art theories, they come and go, not even every generation, every few years they come and go, and politically and economically it seems to be the same really.  What was in politically five years ago is out now and in another five years it’ll change again I’m sure.  Is that another reason why you think you said you don’t like thinking about it too much any more, you like to just do.  Do you think on that political side it’s because it just changes, that there’s in some ways, there’s no point because you’re always playing catch-up and you’re not actually trying to produce something of value, shall we say?  Is that part of the roundness of the way you visualise art?

     

    RW:

    Yeah, you mean that because politically things change that you can’t get on one band wagon because then you’ll be off it in a few years’ time….yeah, but it’s…..it’s very difficult because you have to find your inner core then, you have to find an inner centre which is not easy, it come and goes you know, sometimes you find it then it’s just gone…..it’s an inner strength that isn’t…..obviously you’ve got to be aware that you’re a part of the sophisticated society.  Artistically we’ve gone….all the boundaries have been broken down, you know, all the barriers between the disciplines of painting, sculpture, photography, video, it’s all open to you and it’s a sophisticated world – I don’t want to advocate the idea that I’m some primitive guy working away in a jungle somewhere and I just don’t wanna know about society at all and I’m just doing what I do, that wouldn’t be correct at all cos I’m still a political, social individual who’s having to bring up a family and deal with council tax and everything else, so……but artistically, I don’t know whether I’m going to explain it very well, but….it sounds a bit….it is just finding yourself really within that, and it’s very difficult to…it’s a hard thing to do, but……you know, it goes well sometimes and then sometimes it doesn’t go so well, sometimes I feel…I come in and I think ‘time to put all the paints away and forget about it, I’m so bad’….you know, you just have incredible self-doubt because….if you’re a musician and you play to an audience you get an instant applause or whatever – you get some response quickly.  If you’re an artist in the position that I’m, in you have to work for months and months and maybe a few years and then someone will see something they like, so you’re bound to go through self-doubt, and you’re not in a college situation where you’ve got a peer group or people constantly interested in what you’re doing; there aren’t constantly people interested in what I’m doing, I don’t get many visitors, I just have to have this self-belief….and believe me, I go up and down, you know, so I wouldn’t like to make out that I’m on top of the game all the time, I’m not, but then it wouldn’t be interesting if I was.  I need to solve problems.  If I could just do it like this every day, knock them off and they were selling, and you know, it wouldn’t be interesting.

     

    TW:

    You say you still do a lot of wood cuts and you do the painting as well which is in this flux position.  How do those two compare, your wood cuts to your painting?

     

    RW:

    Well I’ve had a slight problem with it because the wood cuts is a sort of fairly…it’s a disciplined craft in a way; you have a distinct process to go through and that controls your emotions in some way.  Like I was saying earlier, you can’t just fling the paint at the canvas.  If you’re doing a wood cut, you have to go through the process – that is you make your panel, you put your image onto the panel, you carefully cut it, do a graphite rubbing to see what you’re getting, then you have to ink up the thing and….it’s a…..there’s a craft to it, there’s a skill to it, and then of course you’ve got all your emotional image that you want to get into that as well, you know…painting can go right….as I say on this scale where you are literally splashing colour around, either angrily or despairingly, and so you’ve got this emotional outlet, totally emotional outlet, but really I feel things come together more when you can control the emotion in some way, so I’ve had a problem with the painting from the abstraction point of view because…..well I’ve found over the last few years, I enjoy physically painting but….I’m throwing myself into an abyss; I don’t know what I’m doing in a sense – sounds a bit strange – but I don’t know what’s gonna happen when I’m painting, and with a wood cut I know I’ve got an image, say of a tree, I’m trying to reproduce that in some way and I know at the end of the day I’m gonna get some sort of image of a tree……when I’m doing an abstract painting, I don’t know what’s going to occur, basically – I’m far more lost and that can be an interesting position to be in but it is also quite frightening in a certain way, and having tried to do this for about four or five years now, that feeling of throwing yourself in at the deep end was getting a bit tiresome because what I want to feel at the end of that process is that something really happens and I’ve got….wow, after all that work, yes, I’ve found what it is I’m trying to say, or what I’m trying to do, but I was finding that more and more difficult so now I’m pulling it back and using a little bit of imagery, recognisable imagery with it, I’m feeling much more comfortable and things are starting to flow a bit and I’m back….I  feel it’s more about what I’m about and when I’m involved in an abstraction I’m dealing with what high art terms….I’m dealing on the sort of….. ‘wow what happens if I paint a black square and put it on a wall’ – what question does that ask of somebody?  So I’m involved in arty theory which I feel comfortable about, now I’ve pulled it back, I’m more comfortable with what I’m doing without looking at the whole history of American abstract expressionism or something like that [laughing]…..you understand what I’m saying?......and…..yeah

     

    TW:

    Very interesting that, yes.  What do you feel about sort of Hebden Bridge, the sort of the art scene in Hebden Bridge or the cultural scene in general?

     

    RW:

    Well I feel very good here…obviously as an artist you feel….if you want to, if you’re a young person and you want to get on in the art world, really you do have to be in London, sadly.  Everything focuses around London, so when I left London I knew I was making a bit of a….you know, could I be making a mistake?  But it was my personal life that took me through that and became happier in that sense.  Now what I wanna say about Hebden Bridge is….I do feel very comfortable here and I like it, and there is a group of artists/musicians, there’s some very interesting people in Hebden Bridge – I’m not a great socialite, but I do…..I mean I like it here, but I’m always aware, from my past, that I’m no longer in London, but then I used to deliver stretchers to hundreds of artists in London who lived in rabbit warren studios with their name on the door and nobody had ever heard of them, so you could feel incredibly isolated if you live in London – you don’t….it’s not this great world - it can be equally, it can be a very lonely and isolating place, and there are a lot of people who leave colleges and a lot of artists who feel like that, although they are actually in London.  I don’t…..I’m probably at a period in my life when I’m more comfortable with myself now, as an artist and as a person, and I like Hebden Bridge, it suits me, you know, it’s not a…..it doesn’t suffer from the small town mentality – I don’t feel that – I think it is quite open because of the people that you can meet her, you know.

     

    TW:

    Right, okay.  Are there any sort of other artists that have influenced you in any way?

     

    RW:

    Well my first influence was traditionally Constable, and having rejected all that [laughing] and gone through you know, the art education, I rejected all that and I got into the sort of classic Marcel Duchamp phase, whose work I did find very interesting, but….since that time I’ve just tried to develop my own vision of things.  I do look at other artists’ work and it varies; I may like somebody or you know….and now I do….have a broad range of things really and I still look at….I go back to looking at Constable oil sketches or Turner, the very traditional things….but for me the problem is creating the time to do the work really, that’s one of the big things – doing it, yeah.

     

    TW:

    Do you think you’ll ever, on that scale you were talking about, go further and further towards the realism side of things and may actually become a landscape painter, and that might be a direction you want to go

     

    RW:

    It’s possible.  At the moment I’m….one of the problems I had was because the wood cut was so figurative and the paintings were abstract, I felt I was sort of split in some way, I was trying to tie the paintings in, and I think when people look at a….you have to be….if you’re in the top echelons  of the art world or if say somebody like Picasso, it gets to a point where you’re so well known it doesn’t really matter what you do; you can do….well, a sculpture with forks sticking out of it, or next you can do a drawing of a…..a really nice linear drawing of a nude, it’s just a Picasso and everybody accepts it, or…..but when you’re not, then galleries and people like to say ‘what is it that he does?’ so the problem I have sometimes is because I do different things, or one minute I’ve got an abstract painting on then I’ve got a woodcut, ‘hang on, is he a woodcut artist, is he an abstract artist, how do we compartmentalise him?’ do you see what I’m saying?

     

    TW:

    Yeah

     

    RW:

    But it shouldn’t be like that really, you should be free just to do things.  If I feel like I want to make a video or a film, then I feel I should be able to do that, but I’m trying to, at the moment, artistically bring this, you know, this figurative element into the abstract world where I’m on that boundary between the two, which I’m finding quite interesting at the moment, so then the imageries, coming back to the woodcuts, its landscape, I’m feeling a bit happier about them, I’m feeling happier about things, so…I don’t know whether that answers your question – I can’t remember what

     

    TW:

    Yeah, the other thing that’s a bit split like that is the fact that you use all this imagery from Bromsgrove that you bring back to Yorkshire and then you base things on, but  the environment here obviously fulfils you in some kind of way, so you’ve got this kind of double imagery in a way that you’re trying to fit together as well.  Does that bother you, or is that something that you’re actually trying to do, or just sort of happens?

     

    RW:

    No, I just feel that if that’s happening, it’s about what’s happening in my life and you now, I tend to feel that work is about my life in a way and my experiences in life, which is where I want the work to come from…..so I’m happy with that really.  I’m aware that these things are gonna crop up, and even family life, I’ve done work about my family situation and used figures from my personal life in the past, so I’m happy when work shows those things cos I know it’s more truthful and more honest.

     

    TW:

    Yeah.  Do you sometimes think you’re going back to your childhood at all when you think of that?

     

    RW:

    Yeah there’s obviously….there’s a feeling that you could say is…what’s the word….when you’re looking back in a nostalgic way, regressive in some way.  I used to worry about that, but I don’t worry about it any more because I don’t know, it’s like you….I listen to authors who write books – I used to do interviews with authors and it would be about their childhood and everyone was saying ‘I’ve got a great book’ and then there’s an artist you’d do something and you’d say ‘can you do something about your childhood and they’d say ‘oh it’s a bit backward looking, nostalgic’ and it’s not – it’s a part of the rich vein that makes what you’ve actually become, and I don’t feel uncomfortable about that any more, you know, and there’s a childlikeness to some of the things I do, but then that’s because that creative spark can be very childlike and playful, and it hasn’t any preconceived ideas at all, it just does what it does in an honest way, you know………..

     

    TW:

    Right.  Well I just wanna ask about, I mean I’ve been asking you all about your life and you’ve been responding.  Is there anything that I haven’t asked that you’d like to say, either about your work or your life in this area?

     

    RW:

    I suppose if there was a message that I’d like to say, is that…..if you’ve been given gifts in life you should use them, and if it’s to be an artist or a musician or a teacher or caring for people, it’s a crime not to use it, so that’s what I’ve realised in later life that I have to do, no matter what the circumstances are.  Don’t waste your gifts basically.

     

    TW:

    Are any of  your children….are they artistic in any way?

     

    RW:

    My son who’s fifteen, George, plays guitar, so I think he’s got a lot of music ability, so I’m encouraging him to do that, yeah, it’s really nice.

     

    TW:

    Do you talk to him at all about being an artist or being a creative person?

     

    RW:

    He’s at an age at the moment when he’s just out playing sport and doing things, and he does come here, but at the moment he’s sort of all things on his mind.  I’m sure it will change – I don’t push it…..and he is toying with the idea of going to art school, although I feel that his true vocation would be in music in some way, but no, he’s sort of quite blaze about it all really, he doesn’t [laughing] you know, he just wishes we had more money I think, more posher cars and things like that, but I’m sure it will change, unless you do the classic thing of you don’t wanna do what your parents did, I don’t know – who knows?

     

    TW:

    Yeah.  How long have you actually been in this studio then?

     

    RW:

    I think it’s about eight years now.

     

    TW:

    And you find the environment…..cos you have a kind of separate studio and in different parts of the building there are groups of studios, so there would be more interaction shall we say.  Do you feel quite comfortable to be on your own?

     

    RW:

    I am completely comfortable with it, yeah and I really enjoy it, and I can’t wait to come in in the morning.  You know, there are times when I get a bit down and think I’d sooner do something else, but this is the best studio I’ve had for a long time and I like the idea that there are people around, but I didn’t really want to be in an open plan situation.  It reminds me a bit of being back at art school, and the rent takes up a sufficient amount of my budget, but you know, I like it.  I wish I had a bigger space but everybody wants a bigger space but the light is good, it’s nice and warm, it’s a good studio, yeah.

     

    TW:

    Well I think we’ll leave it there then if that’s alright, we’ll call a day.

     

    [END OF TRACK 1]

    Read more

  • Interviews and Storytelling: David Wright

    [TRACK 1]

    [BACKGROUND INTERFERENCE FROM 17:04.05 to 25:22.7]

    TONY WRIGHT: Right it’s Tony Wright, it’s the 4th of May 2011 and I’m speaking to David Wright in Arts Mill. Can you tell me your full name and where and when you were born?

    DAVID WRIGHT: Yes it’s David Alexander Wright. I was born in Birmingham on the 22nd of September 1929. I went to school there; first of all to an ordinary school where most of the kids left at fourteen and went on to work. I lived on a council estate which had not long been built on the outskirts of Birmingham and it had quite a sort of good feel about it because it was one of the modern ones of that time, and the people that had moved into the houses were quite new and had come from elsewhere, most of them, so from the local school I then went – oh by the way, I lived in a place called Billersley which was just off King’s Heath which is a better known district, and I went to a strange school which was called Chittiford Road School. From there I went to Moseley Grammar School and spent the next three years with a gap in between there....I was evacuated during the war and went to Devizes and I did a couple of years in the local grammar school there and returned in my fourteenth year, and started my exams which were then school certificates and a higher school certificate. However, going back just a little bit – my father was a sculptor so I was into the arts right from the beginning and when I went to school, he had no interest in academic studies at all, so I really ploughed my own furrow there with help from a doctor with whom I stayed as an evacuee, who did a lot to help me raise my academic standards, and at the end of the school certificate I got the right amount of results to go on to university if I wanted to and I thought I’d go into the sixth form to do literature, not art although that was the thing I’d set my heart on. I’d worked a lot with my father in his studio, so I had a good knowledge with grounding in all the arts really; he was interested in music as well, but I thought I wanted to do something totally different from him, so I joined a sixth form literature class and I did about three or four months of that, and I’m afraid I got into a tangle with the guy who ran it, the sixth form tutor, and I decided that I didn’t want to go on, and he was glad that I didn’t want to go on, so then my father, and this is the interesting part of my story, because we lived in a council house remember; my father decided that I could stay at home and work [ I didn’t have to go to college, he didn’t want me to go to college at all, and he knew that I was going into the Air Force at eighteen, so at sixteen I spent my days in my own bedroom which I called a studio and painted under his tutelage and also of course under his wages because I’d got no money and I helped him on some of his commissions which were quite big, many of them, and that’s how I earned my money, so that really completes the sort of embryo of my artistic interests and education, so I’ll leave it there because then I went into the RAF.

    TW: That was during the Second World War?

    AC: That’s right, yes.

    TW: And were you a flyer?

    AC:

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    No, no, I was....twelve when the war broke out in 1939, but my father was and he felt, although he was a pacifist by heart, he felt that he had to do something about Nazism. He was a pilot in the First World War and flew in, you know, wooden canvas aircraft, and he looked a very smart man in his uniform; I’ve got photographs of him, but in the Second World War, although I can remember a conversation we had driving along, he said ‘this shouldn’t happen’ he said ‘people like me and you and Germany don’t want this, and I don’t want it and the rest of the world doesn’t’ and he said ‘it shouldn’t happen’ but he joined the RAF again, and he worked on the ground, although he flew occasionally and he was there until the end of the war in the late 1940s, at which time I went into the Air Force myself and my two brothers had also been in the Air Force during the war, so you know, we had quite a sort of camaraderie about the Air Force, the four of us.

    TW: I see, I see. Were your brothers artistic?

    DW: No, none of the others were. I was the youngest and I suppose they’d set their teeth against it quite early on. My sister was quite academically clever and so was my older brother, who became a pilot in the Second World War, and.....my other brother was a bit of a tease in a way because he got into difficulties and hot water on occasions, but art was not anything to him, and my sister went into the nursing service, even in her middle teens, and ended up becoming a nurse and eventually rose in the ranks there, and she and I met up again when I finally did go to college and that was after I came out of the Air Force and I went to the Slade, then she and I shared a house in Hampstead during that period....

    TW: Go ahead.

    DW: Okay.

    TW: So did you study painting at the Slade?

    DW: Yes, but I mean getting into the Slade was interesting from my point of view because....a lot of people who went there were very well heeled you know, they had wealth at the back of them, and I’d done what they probably hadn’t done and I’d worked on my own and accrued quite a lot of big paintings, big for that time, and when I applied I got a further education training grant which was from the Government, being in the RAF, so my fees were being paid really through that, and I suppose the assumption was - my proposal was - that I became a teacher afterwards, though really what I wanted to do was go to the Slade because I knew its reputation and just paint and develop that, so I bundled a whole load of quite big works for their interviews into a lorry and drove off when I was invited, and I was interviewed by William Coldstream who was the new Principal, he’d just come from Canada, and I got a place and they were rather shocked to see this lorry standing outside the Slade steps with all these big works on it, and I had to get people to carry them in, but I think it must have impressed them because I started there in the 1950s and did a three year course.

    TW:

    2

    When you finished, what did you do after that then?

    DW: Well I hedged my bets actually; I didn’t want to teach but I thought if I ever did at any level, it might be a good idea to have some sort of certificate so I went to Birmingham to a newly developed art teacher training, and I succeeded in getting that certificate, so you know, I put that in my back pocket just in case, and then I went....[interruption from someone else] .....the training at Birmingham. It was a new establishment, and it was.....it was in the lead. It was at that time regarded as one of the bright colleges for teaching training in the arts, although I found it rather boring in a way and I didn’t get on there very well. They wanted me to be a senior student which I did become, but I found all that such a bore that I’m afraid that it lapsed and I was chucked out of that job and somebody else took it on, fortunately. At the end of that I again decided that I didn’t want to teach and I wouldn’t, and that I would find myself a studio somewhere. Well I got married not long after that, and I moved out with my wife to Bewdley in Worcestershire, found myself an old factory and rented the whole top floor of that and began to paint. It was not very remunerative – then as now – but I did sell some pictures and my wife taught in Birmingham so you know, we had a steady income, but I met up with someone from the BBC and they wanted to know whether I would like to do some work for them, because they’d heard me play my guitar and sing to it, and they gave me one of their slots on a magazine programme in the evening which I did for some years, and I did that first of all for radio then eventually for television, transferred to ITV at some stage in my career, and I made something like six guineas a week out of that, which was quite a large sum in those days, and then......moved from Bewdley out into the country and took an old farmhouse apart which was timber framed and re-built it to live in with my wife. We worked on it together ourselves, and from that point it was difficult financially so I did take some teaching and went to the local college in Kidderminster where I became a lecturer for the time being.

    TW: Right. How did you eventually come up to Hebden Bridge then?

    DW: Well that was a rather sad but a necessary move. My wife and I fell out, not too seriously, but I said I couldn’t go on living where we were and she didn’t want to move so I said ‘I’m going to apply for a job in Wakefield’ which came up. It was the Head of a School of Art which they still called it when I first made the application. I did my reading and I read up about Wakefield and how many schools there were in the area and what sort of courses they had, and they had a foundation course and I was always interested in those, and in fact I set one up in Kidderminster, and I thought ‘I’d like to go to....an art school to work’ you know, the traditional school, and I made the application and I got the job, so I moved to Wakefield on my own and I did live there for quite a long time, and was at the college for twenty years, and developed the School of Art into a Faculty of Art and Expressive Arts and Design, so it was not until 1990 that I was free to do what I wanted to do, but I didn’t stop working, so I mounted quite a large collection of work during the time I was at the college of my own, set up a number of exhibitions for them and other places too – commissions – and eventually by chance met up with one of my staff who was actually doing her own work in Hebden Bridge in the mill, in Linden Mill. She had a large studio and she said ‘well why don’t you come and share this with me?’....came here to Linden Mill. Linden Mill seemed such a comfortable and welcoming place and it had that wonderful feeling that it had been lived and worked in for years and years, and it had.....sustained itself and also it had carried that sort of atmosphere with it – working atmosphere with it, and I found

    3

    the architecture so interesting too, and I said ‘are there any other spaces in the mill?’ Ro Knapper who was one of my former staff said ‘yes’ and....she brought me upstairs to the one across the way, over the other side of the stairway at the centre of the building, and it was huge, it’s bigger than the space we’re in at the moment which is the gallery, and I negotiated with the owners and got it for about three hundred pounds a month which was quite a lot of money for me to find. By that time of course I was retired, so I had my own income and I’ve been here in the mill ever since, and of course it was wonderful because it was a large space so I could do large pieces of work which I’ve always done, and I set to and spent a year or two working in there, just on my own, other people in the mill came to visit me and friends, and one day, talking to Ro Knapper who was the person who introduced me to the place; she said ‘wouldn’t it be a great idea if we could have a studio and a gallery in the building?’ In Wakefield I set up the Arts Mill, Wakefield Arts Mill, which was a complex of studios and one of the reasons why I came to Hebden Bridge to talk to Rowan was that the politics of the administration got so barbarous that I thought ‘I’m not staying here any longer’ although we were due to go into the new art gallery in Wakefield as part of the complex there. It never happened eventually, but anyway I resigned and came, took up abode here, but traveled to Wakefield......nearly every day.

    TW: What year was it that you came here?

    DW: That was 2003....and in 2003, as I say I lived in Wakefield but she and I came to look at this place here because there was a public arts consultant who lived in the space that we’re sitting in here; this was his office and it was all empty apart from this bit, and who should be sitting at one of the desks but a former student of ours who’d been here for two or three years with him, and talking it over, we decided that the three of us plus the......ghosting at the back as it were....the arts consultant, we would set up a gallery. That was in 2003 and we started that really off the cuff. I mean we didn’t write a plan, we didn’t do a business presentation of any sort, we didn’t ask anybody else to contribute, to be involved, I just went to the owners again and said, ‘tThat space is not being used. Would you donate it to us for a period of time, and give us the chance to set up a gallery with certain policies and we’ll see how it goes?’ and they said, ‘Right, you’ve got it for free for a period and we’ll see what happens. Well it never changed; we had it for free until 2010 and they were very good to us, the owners; they never bothered us, but were very pleased as it began to grow, and we had a policy, a contract.... (David begins to cough)

    TW: So did you have to start paying in 2010?

    DW: Yes, but that was another sort of move, which wasn’t expected; in fact it came as quite a blow. The gallery gathered force and we had a programme that covered international and national, and people who worked in the vicinity....people who worked in Hebden Bridge in fact exhibited here, and the policy was quite wide and democratic and we always vetted everything that came in. Sometimes we rejected things, but we had connections with galleries in London and we could select things, so the range of work was tremendous, from local artists to.....people like Bridget Riley and.....we’ve had a Picasso exhibition specially set up for us; last year we had Goya; last year we had Anna Maria Pochenko; and Paula Rego has exhibited here nearly every two years. So we’ve had a wide range of exhibitions at different levels....and the policy was quite distinctive

    4

    and quite definite in that it was not a commercial gallery. We did not set anything up, any exhibition, to earn money; we set it up to bring as wide a range of people into the vicinity as we could, to feed....well, the festival among other things, but otherwise all the artists in the area who might have the chance to do something here that they couldn’t unless they went a long way away, or they couldn’t get to places, and to draw people in from outside. So it added to the tourism to some extent.

    TW: Do you think the area, the Upper Calder Valley and Hebden Bridge in particular, is a creative area and the fact that people appreciated the arts helped the gallery become a success?

    DW: Well it’s fed a lot into it; the atmosphere, the quality of life in Hebden Bridge and the very broad range of artistic activities that go on in Hebden Bridge and of course its history – the writers that have been here or used to come – poets and so on – but I think it’s the sense of permanence about the place. I know it’s earned a cock-eyed name from time to time, but I think all that can be pushed aside for the fact that there are lots of people here....very knowledgeable, very interested in the arts, who make a contribution to the town in their own right, but also of course, have something amidst them, not just arts and gallery people, others as well, which is really like a show case for the things that go on and the work that goes on in Hebden Bridge – visual and other.

    TW: Right. I mean, the international artists you mentioned – Paula Rego and Bridget Riley, Frank Auerback and others... it not being a commercial gallery, how do you sell it to them, that you know, having an exhibition here would be a good thing?

    DW: Ah well, they are commercially viable those ones, and they come with a price tag on them, and if we can sell them we will sell them, so the fallback position is – when we can get artists that are of such a status that they can encourage people with money to come in and look at what we’re offering, we earn a living from that to some extent. It’s hit and miss, but funnily enough, the artists who bring in works that are at a much lower cost often don’t sell as much as one or two pictures from someone like Paula Rego or.....Pasmore, Victor Pasmore, for instance; we’ve just sold some works of his as well. I suppose the one layer of visual arts that we don’t touch at present, although we’d like to, are those that are actually contemporary, and at the forefront of their own work really; and things that are going on in the arts nationally and internationally. We can’t afford to bring those except through bought-in exhibitions from the Arts Council which is run now... one of the circuits is run through the Hayward Gallery, so in fact this year we’ve got one of the most controversial area of artists sending their work.....the Chapman Brothers, and we’re showing that at the festival. So we do get these challenging sort of exhibitions from time to time and that’s part of our policy – to challenge our audience if you like.

    TW: Now I know because the uses of this building have changed recently, you’ve actually set up a whole series of studios in another part of the building. How did that come about?

    DW: Well I’ve always hoped that we would pay our way as a gallery and I was negotiating

    5

    with one of the owners to set up a studio on the same floor as the gallery in a huge space, which is parallel to it, which is all glass and it is therefore called ‘the greenhouse’ and I set up a design, costed it all out, and we discussed what income we would get from it, he and I, and we agreed that we would start building it and that we would split the income between us in what we thought was a fair division. In the middle of all this, quite to my horror, he came to me one day and said ‘I think you’d better sit down and listen to this’ and he said, ‘I’m afraid you will not be able to build your studios on this floor,’ he said, ‘and not only that, I’m afraid we’re going to take your studio over.’ I said ,‘You’re going to kick me out?’ He said, ‘Well, you can put it like that,’ he said, ‘but it might be to your advantage, and what I recommend you do is to speak to the other half of the management, because there is this person who now owns this side of the building, because he’s got a proposition to put to you and the proposition is as follows: We will not do it on the top floor, but because he is moving out of his space we will build it on that floor. It will give us an income, but more than that, we’ll expand the Arts Mill to the whole of this side of the building, we’ll try and get other people in to it and then we will live off that income and we will make bids to the Arts Council (which we’d already decided to do), so I’ve had a discussion with the other partner and one of the things he is keen to do is to give access to the gallery in such a way that it will attract more people and it will also give people who....were invalided or whatever, with wheelchairs even, to gain access to the building and to come into the gallery.' So it was decided that the gallery as it stands will be moved downstairs and it will treble in size, and I will then take over this gallery as my studio. So we set to: plans have been drawn up; we made an application to the Arts Council and we are breathlessly waiting for that; and we now have twenty studios and we also have, in the plans, four exhibition spaces – two smaller and two larger ones – and we also have a café written into the plans, so we might make it more of a social centre than we have done in the past - if it all comes into being. But you hold your breath on these occasions because the Arts Council, although we’ve had it vetted and we’ve been visited and they’ve seen it as a sustainable project and they’ve suggested what sort of bid we make... it’s never guaranteed. What happens after that, if we don’t get the bid, the grant, I don’t know – we’ll come to that in due course. But up until then we’re very optimistic and we’re still showing exhibitions right up until the end of year here in this gallery, and we hope to have the other one probably taking over before the end of the year, but we don’t know.

    TW: So doing all this administration work, has it impacted on the amount of time that you’ve had to create your own work?

    DW: I haven’t done any. I stopped working – I said, ‘The best thing to do is to put it behind you for a year, or less if possible, until you get back into your studio when the gallery goes downstairs,’ and I haven’t felt deprived in any way. And in a way it’s going on in my mind; I’ve got ideas – I’ve just been doing some small drawings ready for my next launch into it, but of course you fail to move with the times, you fail to have work that you can show that is contemporary in your own style, and when it comes to doing an exhibition, as someone pointed out to me a couple of days ago, all you show is retrospective work [laughing] which is not good for your psyche in a way.

    TW: Don’t you think though it might give you a period of reflection so that you can look back over the years and the different types of work that you’ve completed, and maybe draw a line under some of it and say ‘well I’ve done that now – I’m going to move on to something new’ – have you not had a reflective period?

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    DW: Well I do. I mean I do that anyway, but I had a retrospective exhibition in 2008 which traveled around, and that was a time to look back and I was quite astounded by the work that I was able to dig out to show what I was doing when I was in my twenties; people loaned me or you know, I found stored behind others, and I suppose it was quite a pleasure to see that array of work and what it did reveal is that there were these stops and changes; sometimes there were slow developments, others there was a sudden break and something else started up quite different, and I think you do that anyway as an artist, and I’ve been looking back but I have not been saying to myself, ‘Let’s make a fresh start and do something – face in a different direction entirely...’ I’ve actually looked at the work I’ve been doing and on one particular section which was all about the war, I started to do another series about contemporary war and that I hope might be joined with another artist who is in his nineties now, who has painted pictures from his experiences in the war, and we may have an exhibition here at some time in the future, so I’ve got a project, I’ve got a target, I’ve got a timescale, and they are different in one sense because they deal with contemporary people as opposed to....symbols if you like, of dictators and.....people who have carried out atrocities and so forth, and bits of war and what it looked like in the First and Second World War. These are occurring here and now.

    TW: Right. Does the landscape of this area affect you in any kind of way?

    DW: Oh I find it fabulous. Funnily enough I write poetry and I write more poetry about it, because landscape is not my subject but yes, I think it’s marvellous. I come through the moors every morning to work and it’s.....an extraordinarily......rich sort of experience every day, changing light, changing effects of the weather and so forth.

    TW: Do you not want to include your poetry as part of your art work, or are they separate medias?

    DW: No they’re separate. Poetry is much more personal, although I have written about the landscape a number of times, but I’m not a good poet; I do read my poetry to people from time to time, but never here, never in Hebden Bridge, not yet anyway [laughing]

    TW: And what about your music side then? I mean you obviously made a living out of doing that at one time. Is that not something you carry on or could integrate?

    DW: No, I do pick up the guitar occasionally but if you don’t play it your skills go I think, and I earn my living by writing songs and writing lyrics and then singing to camera. It was a nerve-wracking experience for me; it was never easy and I.....to perform in front of audiences or the public, I’ve never felt comfortable, so I think it’s died out for that reason.

    TW: When you wrote songs for the radio and for television, what was the subject matter of the lyrics?

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    DW: Well they were ironic, most of them – not all of them, but they were ironic and they were about what was going on from day to day. My remit was to phone up the director of the programme who would then say ‘get hold of the Daily Mail or’....I don’t know.....’The Times and read the headlines, and base a song on the headlines’, so they were political, they were personal, they jibed at people - not too discomforting for them - or it was about some incident that occurred, usually, was not violent or too upsetting, but just doggerel really, you know. That was great fun but it was nerve-wracking because, when I wrote it, sometimes even the music during the day and the lyric, sometimes I borrowed old songs and based it on those, and then I drove thirty miles into the centre of Birmingham to the studios. I had one rehearsal – by that time they had vetted the lyric because I had to telephone that back as soon as I’d written it, and they’d tell me whether their legal department said I could sing it or whether I’d got to drop things out, and occasionally they said, ‘You can’t sing this – you’ll have to write another one,’ so I was shunted into the spare room to write another one, music and all, and then at about six o’clock, six thirty, I had to do it live to the cameras, so it was....it was nerve-wracking, I must admit.

    TW: You’ve had this broad experience of sculpture with your father and painting and poetry and music; what do you think about artists who create like installations that have a multi-media affect?

    DW: Great. I love installations – I’ve done them myself. I think there’s a misconception about what an installation is in some respects. I see installations as all-enveloping art works and ones that you can physically....merge yourself into, rather than some small object which becomes rather precious and seems to be in fact just something that goes on a plinth, though it may be called an installation. They may have to have historical, political or social meaning, but they must have a meaning; it must be an issue, and it must in a way almost swallow you, the whole thing, so that you walk through it – that’s what I think an installation is.

    TW: Almost like it’s environmental

    DW: It is, I think an installation is an environmental thing, and it will reflect the real world around in some way I think; either because of the materials you use, the issue you’re focusing on, whether it be something to do with war or you know, the green world or the not green world, but it has to be something that’s manufactured in a large space and is tangible, really tangible. I think installations where it’s purely words, purely words I find very difficult to take on board. I may use words within them, but not to....offload if you like my literary endeavours onto a wall somewhere on a small scale; I find that is not really an installation, not in my mind anyway.

    TW: Yeah. I’d like to talk a little bit more about your own work because you said you’ve had various periods over the years when you’ve done different things and gradually progressed. What kind of... do you have a philosophy of art or a way of working?

    DW:

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    Oh very much, yes. I think that if it isn’t based on some activity, be it historical or contemporary, so it is at the forefront of people’s minds that it’s a social issue of one sort or another.....then you have to use ideas. If it isn’t that, if it’s something that is totally imaginative in a sense, the issue has to be replaced by some sort of spiritual or mystical....sense of.....dream or even nightmare if you like – another world; it has to be another world. So it falls into two halves really. A lot of my work is based on ideas that take you into realms of the imagination; gardens I’m particularly fond of and I use a lot of those as backdrops to ideas, but they’re always somehow enfolding an idea about mystery, about magic, about the idea of penetrating into somewhere different and therefore has a surreal flavour to it. But the other ones are quite distinctly thumbing my nose at situations like the art establishment, banking, investment. The one that I’m working on at the moment is religion....that does involve contemporary ideas as well. But also I’ve set up ideas in my mind for the issues surrounding war and I’ve done quite a lot of work based on that......even about the law.....I’ve done a large work based on the ironies of the law, but it is eventually humorous – I hope it’s witty, but it’s irony, it’s juxtaposing ideas which run counter to if you like, the establishment notion of what the subject is about, so it’s undermining it in a way.

    TW: So you focus very much on social life as it were, rather than individuals. DW: There is one further section I suppose to my work, and that’s family – family in that sense of society.....marriage is one of them, daily living is another, I suppose also family problems and pleasures as well, they come into my work, but that’s a very small section in a way and that arises like everything else does, out of experience, so there’s a whole one on the start of and the break down of marriage in a series, but I regard those as issues as well you see, so they fall into the other categories as well.

    TW: Right. You say you paint a lot of very large pictures. Why have you chosen that scale?

    DW: Well I find doing small things is niggledy......and not only that, when you sort of explore the possibilities in making work, large or small, you get caught up in different techniques and different ways of doing it, and one of the ways of sort of getting an expansion in your own mind as well is to take an image and blow it up. Now when photocopying and all the common photography came into being, you could do this and not actually make it costly, so you could start with a small idea and by a mechanical process you could blow it up, virtually to any size you wanted, providing you could afford to fix it to the surface on which you were working, and I found that by using photocopy you could blow up images to beyond human size and providing you were prepared to work on it very steadfastly and panel it in, you could go up to eight feet by six feet, or twelve feet by ten feet quite quickly and easily, and you’d got a ground of large shapes and forms and ideas down on a surface which you would then work over in various types of colour, usually acrylic paint, so that expansion made you feel that you could walk into your own picture. It’s quite a nice sort of experience. A lot of people say about my very big works that the thing that they enjoy more than anything else, they feel that they can move into it – it’s got a perspective – not always done distinctly with perspective but it’s got a feeling that they could actually step over the frame and into the picture, so that’s one of the things.

    TW: Well the reason I asked that is, you have people like Paula Rego and there’s Goya you

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    spoke of, both of which painted large pictures but they also created quite small ones in their etchings and print making

    DW: Well I do that you see

    TW: So you do that as well?

    DW: I do that as well, but I mean Paula Rego works on her pictures on a very small scale – might start with drawing a figure you know, A4 size, and then she eventually, gradually builds up towards big things and eventually she does them just in pastel – they’re not paint any longer - and big drawings as well which she turns into lithographs and etchings, but the....I work the opposite way round. I start off with an idea, I start painting it almost immediately, I look for the images that I want to put on it, which could come from any source – I could draw them, I do a lot of drawing and I transfer those onto the canvas, magazines, newspapers - anything goes - and I blow those up bit by bit and of course they become something different then, so whereas it might start off as an inch and a half by an inch and a half, it ends up by three feet by three feet and the difference in what you’ve got on the big scale and how far it’s gone from the original statement, even if it’s a picture out of a newspaper or magazine, the gap is so wide that it no longer has resonance at that scale, but it’s very interesting to go back the opposite way. Oncethepaintisonthecanvas,youcanthenphotographthatandwiththenew techniques of print, you can actually reprint it on a small scale, in other words, boil it back down again, but of course it’s changed irrevocably because it’s now colour, it’s got a different feel about the scale of it, and it goes down to a small scale and you can print that – a one-off straight away; you can print the photograph the wrong way round by having it photocopied the wrong way round and then you can put it down on a surface and by putting a fluid on the back and burnishing it on the paper or the canvas, you’ve got a full scale picture on a very small scale, and it’s exactly the same as some of the big ones – I may have tweaked it in one way or another – and so you’ve got a sort of reflection on a smaller scale which in a way is what Paula Rego does; she often does small pictures of the same subject matter that become large works in oil pastel.

    TW: Have you ever thought about producing books as art work, because you’re obviously into this reproductive side of things. Would that not be another way to go?

    DW: Well I did start at one time doing children’s books and illustrating them, but I don’t know why, I found it a chore. I also became engaged in the past in illustrating other books, quite a number of which have been published, but I’ve always felt that they do not effectively carry the message that I want them to carry, apart from the fact that you’ve got a subject matter that you’ve got to match up to quite often, and if you can’t get the information that the writer wants in the book, in the illustration, if you can’t get a source from which to get that information, it’s a real chore.

    TW: You mentioned earlier gardens as backdrops. Is that a symbolic importance for you?

    DW: Yes, it’s.....I mean gardens are magical places to me, and many are so magical in fact

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    they become our worlds, totally other worlds. What’s so interesting about a garden is that it’s really a man-made construction in a way, or a person-made construction, and it’s taking elements which are ungovernable in a sense, and it’s creating a new world from the combination of, you know, imaginative ideas and the processes which you have to bow to in the natural growth of things, and I always think of it as a world in its own right, so you wander through a world which has been created with this rather mysterious and mystical feeling about it, and all my work in gardens is based on that notion. They have either become dreams or they have become nightmares or they have become other worlds, surrealist spaces if you like, but you can add things to them which can give you that feeling and you can, sometimes you take pictures that you’ve photographed of places, and you can quickly turn them because of what they are in themselves anyway, and that gives you the opportunity of changing all the colours of course, taking the natural colours and literally reversing them because I use computers to do a lot of those things, and it can also allow you to add things in that aren’t there and so give it another character from its original one.

    TW: Right. You mentioned earlier that you weren’t a landscapist, and I’ve heard you just talk about gardens as being man-made. Is the reason that you haven’t ventured into landscape shall we say is because you feel it’s not man-made?

    DW: No, no, I have done a lot of landscapes in the past but not of recent times, but I do create my own landscapes as backdrops to things as well, but the gardens are specific – they’re always of a particular place – architecture is one of my great things too. I love...I did architecture as a secondary subject at the Slade and that has probably given me that sense, as my father’s work has, because he worked with architects of grandiose themes you know, like the cathedral behind you there, which is....that’s an eight by four picture, very meticulously done but printed and not the original place at all you know; I’ve turned it into my own cathedral really. But that sense of awe you get when you go into a cathedral or a large space – architectural, wood, whatever, forest - that’s always inspired me, it’s as though you are moving out of the urban, rather down-to- earth, somewhat boring local situation of.....I don’t know, a council estate somewhere - although that has its mystery as well - into the spiritual world, which is ripe, if you like, for using your imaginative creativeness to get this mystical, dreamlike feeling.

    TW: Right. I’d like to follow that a bit more. I mean, although people might think that out in the wilds up on the moors it is a wild place and it is, but it has been managed for a number of years and things like cathedrals, it is said that all the pillars are imitation trees and they’re like symbols of old sacred groves and that type of thing, so do you believe the sort of symbolism of landscape shall we say, bringing that in to an art work, whereby you create your own world – is that one of the ways that you would look at things?

    DW: It’s very natural when you think of temples, in the early days of Greek and Roman architecture, those columns were in fact wood to begin with and they were transformed because man found that you could make them more permanent with stone, and so that is there, and all...I mean my father’s been into the decorative arts because he’s worked on large buildings, public buildings. They have used all the symbolism and decorative elements of the past, going right back to Greek times, and they still crop up in....like the leaf forms and the plant forms, petals and flowers and so on, and they’ve become stock

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    in trade as it were; you make something twined round a column, the bark of a tree becomes fruits on the columns of stone buildings, and the use of animals, birds and all sorts of small creatures have always been combined into it. Now I’ve been brought up with all that, so that comes in unconsciously and the broad spaces that you’re talking about, like the moors which have obviously been controlled in one sense, those wonderful, almost like....body shapes....you know, like lying people.....those are sort of endemic in a way, they belong to one and they come naturally into the psyche and get translated from that into whatever comes to mind at the time, and then you look back and you say ‘gosh, that’s just like the way that the moors graduate backwards’ or you go the other way round, you say ‘I am going to take a slice’, which I have done in some of my war paintings, and say ‘this is France but it’s based on the moors of Yorkshire’, so you get that too, you know, these interactions and reverses that are going on all the time.

    TW: Is this idea of permanence then important to you?

    DW: Very much, very much.....which makes me sad about some of the works that happen today, because......even ones that appear to be of a permanent nature.....they can’t be for all sorts of reasons. There’s been an interesting exhibition, it’s changed now, of a guy called David Nash who works in wood and he actually cultivates wood as well, so his whole life has been about wood – planing, sawing, burning, all the things that you would expect in making charcoal, so he was imbued with this idea of nature and wood, and he’s used things that have been changed in nature, sometimes by a natural process, but sometimes he’s taken something that has fallen down because it’s been diseased or.....I suppose that’s still natural, but he’s also chopped them up in certain ways that somehow reinvests them with something that is still the spirit of wood and the spirit of nature, but again it’s man-made, and those sort of artists I find, although the materials they use are transitory in a way because he uses live stuff, he combines you know, trees that grow together or form a ring or something like that, but.....nature is only relatively permanent isn’t it? Man-made things are only relatively permanent, but I think they should have some time scale to them of permanence because they re-inform people you know, in the future, and.....we all look back to history and draw things out of it, whether we be artists or you know, just ordinary....commoner garden thinkers, which most of us are. [laughing]

    TW: Well we’re getting near to the end of the hour I think. Is there anything that you would like to say about your own work or about Arts Mill that I haven’t asked about?

    DW: I don’t think there is really......I think if you just.....three sort of statements......as it were closing in from the town and its surroundings....one of the things that I know keeps me here – I don’t live actually in Hebden Bridge, I live in Rishworth, but it’s nice to come over the moors to this every day, it’s like going to work every morning you know, I could work at home because I live on my own. I have a big space which I could use as a studio but I’d feel absolutely crammed in, so it’s this feeling that you move out of what is a cramped little apartment, you go over the hills and they’re changing every day. The light is changing every day, the animals change every day. It’s burnt today; it was a sort of scabrous yellow orangey colour you know, a few weeks ago, because of its natural growth and dying, coming back to life again. Peat suddenly appears, like sores almost, or scars on the landscape. All this is changing all the time;

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    that’s great, that is a setting for a small town which is built in layers and terraces, and that is in itself like many of the ones in other countries; you like walking up the hill to them. I mean you don’t here, it’s perhaps the other way round, you walk down in a way to the town in the valley, but that’s got the same feeling, that you’ve got all these different levels at which you can see up and see down, so that’s like a rolling down from the moors into the town, and there aren’t many towns like that just immediately round here that are so compact and they have all the things going for them, even in this modern day. They’ve got a way in and a way out, which is terrific; a railway; they used to have trams which were great things at one time; they had buses which... okay, and cars can get here and get through it. So you can use what’s going on in the present to come here, and then you’ve got all these buildings that in themselves are so exciting. You know, when you see three floor buildings that are actually three houses in one... I mean you see a lot of two, but you get three here occasionally and that’s absolutely fantastic. So all these rather exciting and unexpected things gives this town a particular ambience which is comforting. There’s a sort of cosiness about it; it still has shops that are individual; it has a range of people who are empathetic and sympathetic to their surroundings and to others. It has its sharp political edge like every town does, it has those who other people fear are trying to destroy it, and there are those that feel that they’ve got to keep to the times and build it up, so there is an evolution going on, even in this present time, but it refers back to periods of the past and it refers back more than anything to labour really, to a working situation and that’s something that comforts me. Whatever it is, it’s a working situation. To be in a building where fifty or sixty young women from about fourteen up to dotage were working with machines, across there right to the end of this building, here in this space at one stage, is both uplifting and it’s tragic. So you’ve got these two interconnecting or facing issues about the drudgery of work at one stage, but the life it’s left has, you know, passed on to you – it surrounds you, you can’t help but feel it.

    TW: Well thank you very much

    DW: It’s probably all mumbo-jumbo but you can edit it down

    [END OF TRACK 1]

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  • Interviews and Storytelling: Tony Wright (1)

    [TRACK 1]

    I’m Craig Fees, it’s the fifth of October 2006, I’m in Hebden Bridge at the Mill, Linden Mill, talking to Tony Wright, going to get a sense of who he is and his experience of Hebden Bridge. I guess the easiest thing really is just to literally start at the beginning and make one’s way up to the present; we may not get there – who knows?

    Well, ask away!

    Well – when were you born, where were you born?

    I was born twenty-ninth of December 1951 in Roswell, New Mexico. My father was in the Air Force and – but I was only there for nine months, and then we moved to Maine and I we were only there for nine months, and I can’t remember either of them really.

    Before you went to Roswell, where were your parents stationed?

    In England – my father had – he was from Virginia and his father wasn’t very nice really, quite a violent man and a drunk so I believe and he ran away from home when he was fifteen and ran away to an aunt went in Ohio and worked in the coal mines for two years, and when he became seventeen I think he lied about his age and he got into the US army, and this would have been about 1935, 36, that sort of time, and so he was in the army and when the Second World War came along, so he was an experienced soldier, he’d been in five or six years, when Pearl Harbour happened he was a radio operator, he did Morse code, he was a sergeant and he got shipped and worked with the English so he was in Burma for four years as a radio operator working for them and when the war finished he…well he actually got out but because he hadn’t any education as such he found it very difficult to get work so he joined up again and they sent him to England, and he was based at Burtonwood near Liverpool and my mum’s from Liverpool and they met and they got married, and…he left the Air Force again, bur couldn’t – he got a job working for the Post Office over here? over here in England, but then he wasn’t allowed to work because the immigration laws then were such that he had to be from the Commonwealth to be able to come to this country and of course America isn’t, so he was out of a job, so he joined up again – the Air Force – and was stationed in Fakenham in Norfolk which is where I was conceived, and then at seven months that’s when they decided to ship him off to Roswell, so I was born there.

    I hate to keep taking you back, but I mean the Burma campaign – was he part of what one hears about – do you know?

    Yes, yes – he was in the front lines, he got wounded, he got hit in the leg with a bit of grenade. He was in a team; they had teams of a Corporal, a Sergeant and a Lieutenant that were communications groups and they had about fifty of these groups, all Americans, who were handed over to the British so to speak because they were short of those types of people apparently, so he did four years in Burma and yeh, he was in that fight, yeh. He has a medal for it, I’ve still got it. He really learnt to like the English at that time I think is what happened – he liked the British and…so when he did join up again he wanted to be stationed here, but after Maine he went to Korea and so me and my mother came and lived with her parents in Liverpool, and my first memories are of Liverpool – sixty-seven Lewisham Road; between Norris Green and West Derby it is. The house – the last time I saw the house it was all boarded up, I think it’s probably knocked down now.

    So we spent a year there and then when he came back from Korea we went to France and we were in France for four years, so we lived in Nancy for a year and then we went on to the air base, Toulrossiere it was called, and then when de Gaulle kicked all the Americans out of France we went back to America, and we went to Texas – Wichita Falls, but we were only there for a short time and then we were in a car accident; he was being re-trained at the time, my father, so we had to drive down to Biloxi from Texas? yeh. That’s a fair drive. Yeh. An artic, a big tractor trailer hit us and I had a fractured skull, and had Bell’s palsy for a few weeks or a month or two I think; nothing happened to my sister, mum got a cut and my father had three broken ribs and his eye I think broken so he was in hospital for a while and while he was in hospital we went to Virginia and lived with his parents on a farm in Wytheville which is…I suppose Roanoke is the nearest big town but very near the west Virginia border, in the sort of south-western part of Virginia so I went to school there and then once he got well we lived in Biloxi for about…I don’t know – six months or nine months maybe.

    So were you about twelve years old by this time?

    I wasn’t that old no, I was eight – eight or nine I think, and then we went to Nebraska; he was re-trained from being a radio operator, and what he was re-trained as in Biloxi was interpreting the spy photographs that they used to take of Cuba and everywhere else, of course we didn’t know this at the time and it wasn’t allowed – even after he’d retired he would never tell us until it got to a I don’t know – a certain fifteen year period or something and then he actually told us what he did, so we were at Offutt SAC (Strategic Air Command) headquarters in Omaha and we lived there for six years, but in that six years I think I went to seven and eight different houses so we moved about a lot – that’s the history of our family, is moving about.

    In particular, why around Omaha – why so many moves there?

    Because…well a couple of reasons really. He wasn’t really well paid, I think that was part of it but also after we’d been there about a year or he had a heart attack quite early when he was in his early forties, my dad, and basically the Air Force kicked him out, got rid of him. He was on an extremely reduced pension and he had to really fight it to get his pension, but even then it wasn’t a lot of money and he found it difficult to get work so my mother started working. It was also partly because of us – my other sister was five years younger than me and they were always trying to find a house where we could have friends and near a good school and all that so we moved about a fair bit because of all those reasons.

    What did your mother do when she took up work?

    She – well she did a business training course and then, well she worked in a big hotel called The Blackstone Hotel and she worked in the restaurant, she was – I don’t know what they’d it, there is a name for it, but she used to seat the people and basically make sure everything was kind of okay. She wasn’t the manager as such but she organised all the shifts for the waitresses and for the cooks and the barman and all that sort of thing. She did that for a few years but it was shift work so she used to have to work all kinds of peculiar hours, and then she got a job working behind the bar right across the street from that, and there was a chap called Peter Kiewit and at the time he was the seventh richest man in America [laughing] and he built this tower block, and on the top of it he built a kind of bar, restaurant and sort of club for all of his rich friends and everything, and she worked behind the bar and got paid extremely well but again it was shift work, so we moved so we could be close to that where she worked because she doesn’t drive. She only has one arm my mum so she could never drive, so she could walk to work from there. She actually made enough money for us to…move to Connecticut which is what we did, because the idea was always of us to get back to England really because they both really like England so we wanted to get back.

    What was your dad doing all that time?

    Well he was trying to get work; I mean some of the time he looked after us, but he got a job working as a barman in this hotel…and that didn’t really work out very well, I don’t think he…I don’t think he liked the pressure and the stress involved in all that side of it really because it was like a service bar so it was like non-stop all the time, and he hadn’t quite got over his illness, in fact he never really did get that well again although he did work later on when we moved to Connecticut.

    Was your mother’s eye always that way?

    She got it when she was about ten or eleven…it’s called – glaucoma I think it’s called – it’s a growth behind the eye and they might be able to remove them these days, but in those days they had to take the eye out so they did, so she’s had one eye since that age really.

    Well you got to Connecticut obviously and that’s physically closer to England

    Yes, well it was cheaper to travel over if we wanted to visit, or send things even I think. It was I think sort of a…whether it was reality or not I don’t know, but the fact that is was 2000 miles closer just seemed to make it a lot easier that when we decided to move then we could do, in fact we tried twice – once we – we came and stayed in Mararoneck in New York with the parents of a friend of my father’s who he was in service with. We looked all around – they looked all around for somewhere to live to either rent or buy that they could afford and they couldn’t really, so we had to go back to Omaha for another year and in that year they saved up a bit and we bought a little trailer, and so we travelled in that because we thought we could live in that until we found somewhere that we could really afford. My father at the time was raising parakeets as a way of making money [laughing], you know raising these parakeets and flogging ‘em on, and we also had a St Bernard dog with us [laughing] so it was crowded – it was only a small little one.

    But anyway we got there and all around New York it’s – New Jersey we could afford but they didn’t really like New Jersey and in The Bronx they found somewhere but they didn’t like The Bronx so much so we just started going into Connecticut and of course Southern Connecticut is very rich, and by the time we got half way up towards New Haven they found somewhere, in fact we stopped to have a cup of tea in this little café sort of shop that sold all sorts really, and across the road there was this kid watering the garden with a hose and he started spraying our car with it, and his mother came out and started shouting at him and my mum was standing there and they got talking; she was American but she was an Irish woman, Mary her name was, Mary Ryan was her maiden name, and she said ‘right – stay with us’ so we parked our trailer in their garden and we sort of lived in and out of their house for about two or three months until we found somewhere, and then once they’d kind of found somewhere it was easier to…kind of settle in and find work and all that, and then she did – she found – she started working on one of these motorway, these posh motorway, not the dine motorway ones, the posh motorway ones miles away down in Westport so my father drove her there every day – he drove here there for the morning shift and collected her, then she had about a four hour wait then he drove her back for the night shift and they did that for a while so that was a bit difficult.

    But eventually he got a job with the VA (Veterans Association). There was a big hospital in West Haven for all veterans and he got a job there as a guard and he did that for another thirteen years and working on the switchboard there as well, doing both, so he sort of found his little niche; he did alright out of that really, and she got a job in a different restaurant as a manageress of the floor in a Jewish restaurant and did very well in that, and they bought a house finally when I was eighteen and moved away [laughing] …well we lived there – well they lived there for…I guess it was oh quite a long time really, thirteen or fourteen years I think they were in Connecticut; I was only there for about…four really – the last three years at high school, which again we had two or three different houses in those three years, and then when I left – I went off , I went to Providence College to study to be an accountant but I soon realised that wasn’t what I was gonna be! But I did get some good education because Brownwood University is also in Providence and they had an art teacher who used to come to Providence College and do art classes so I did that and really really loved that and said ‘right, that’s for me’ and…so I only went there a term really from September to Christmas and realised I wanted to go to art school so I quit the college and got a job in a restaurant and earned money to save because I applied to these art schools and I’d gotten into one in Connecticut and I’d gotten into one in Liverpool as well, and I decided Liverpool was the best because it was the height of the Vietnam War and I didn’t really want to get drafted so I went off, and when I’d finished art school the war was over really.

    So we’re talking 1969, 70?

    Yeh, I finished high school in May sixty-nine, went to Providence at Christmas, finished at Christmas and so I worked through seventy – well came here in September seventy to go to first year at art school.

    You worked in Providence and stayed there?

    No I went back to Connecticut because I was like – I could live at home and save the money up I earned really, because we didn’t really have any money as such, but it was an awful lot cheaper to go to college over here than it was in the States, and the accident that I’d had when I was about eight, whenever it was, they’d gotten a few thousand pounds – well a few thousand dollars and it had sat in the bank all those years, and that’s what they used for me to go to college on. [answering phone]

    So you’ve left the country, which is quite a substantial move really

    Well I lived with my grandparents in Liverpool for the first year; they were both in their mid to late seventies at that time and had very interesting lives really, both of them, but my grandfather loved to talk and very often I would just sit in the front room with him and he would just tell me all these tales – how to dismantle and engine nut by bolt and how to put it back together again and all things like that really; I think that’s where I first got my inclination to tell stories and listen to people talking about their lives and what they did really.

    How did they compare to your father’s parents that you spent that time with?

    Well they were very different. When we were in Virginia…my father’s mother died when he was two and his father re-married her sister so she it was his step-mum and they had quite a large extended family throughout Virginia into West Virginia and up into Ohio, and they were Seventh Day Adventists most of ‘em so they were very kind of fundamentally religious and all like that really, very calm and peaceful sort of people, whereas my mother’s side of the family were very loud, talkative and drank a lot! [laughing] – so it was like chalk and cheese really!

    My father’s lot were farmers really and then they’d become mechanics as well, so they fixed farm machinery and they had their own garage at one point. My grandfather, he was a lorry driver; he came from a very rich family. He was the oldest and…when the First World War came along I think he was about fifteen and his parents wanted him to become an electrician and had him signed up for a seven year apprenticeship at Lewis’s the store there, and he did it for a bit and didn’t like it but then what he did was he faked his age as well and he went to sea, and he joined a ship called the Bengaria which was a German ship in 1914 and he sailed round the world, so he went to South Africa and they went to India, I think Hong Kong, Singapore, various islands, Samoa; I have a gold watch that he gave my father and my father gave to me which he won in a poker game in Samoa from a German officer. [laughing] and I’ve still got that, and he had to smuggle it on board ship stuck inside a guitar because you weren’t allowed to do things like that apparently, so that watch has a bit of a tale to it, and he went to the I think the Suez Canal – not the Suez, sorry, the Panama Canal had been built then so he went through that and he was in Galveston for a long time then he went up to New York, and in New York was when that the Americans joined the First World War in 1917. Because he was on a German ship it was impounded so he lived for eighteen months in New York, and he lived in a boarding house with an Irish woman and her eight daughters; he had the job of making sure they didn’t get into trouble, so what he did was he palled up with the local Irish police and used to drink a lot of whisky and play a lot of cards I think, which is mostly what he did for eighteen months because he was still getting paid! [laughing] and what the woman of this house did, who ran the house, she used to write his love letters for him to this girl that he knew back in Liverpool and through the post they decided to get married, and when eventually the war ended and he got back to Liverpool, he married her but she was a Catholic and his family weren’t – they were Church of England I think, and that wasn’t like – that wasn’t a good thing.

    But like I say, his family were very rich but his father was a purser on board a ship and his mother was with him and they were sunk, so they were killed some time in 1916, 17 – something like that, so by the time he got back he should have inherited like this they had….so his mother and grandmother were Welsh and they had greengrocers shops, and they had a haulage firm and a like a hotel and it had all been sold off and divvied up between them, and when he got back there was nothing, and when he got married they were shunned so he said ‘right, stick it’ and he just went off and made a life for himself with his wife – my grandmother.
    So I’ve inherited some of that I think.

    A neat place to wind up.

    Well, how do you mean neat – where, in England do you mean?

    Well with those folks – those people.

    It was good, and I got all this history was told to me all the time and at the time I probably wasn’t as interested in it as I should be, although I did find it fascinating, because now I try to remember some of what they said it’s just gone really, which made me realise the importance of recording things and documenting things really, so yeh – I suppose that’s the first inkling of my real interest in oral history I suppose.

    Is that reflecting back or is that something you think belonged to the time?

    I think reflecting back really – I mean I did have an interest in that sort of thing because when I finished art school and got my degree in painting I immediately decided what I really was interested in was archaeology and of course I didn’t have any money to do another degree, so I’ve just done that on my own, so I’ve read lots of books and visited lots of sites and talked to people about all kinds of things ever since really, but never really had the wherewithal to get it together until I actually moved to Hebden Bridge.

    Just before I moved to Hebden I was doing reminiscence work in Manchester and when I decided to live in Hebden I decided that I was gonna to stay somewhere for a long time to see just what it was like, because through my childhood we’d lived in all these different places and from 1970 to 1985 in England I had been the same. I’d gone to school in Liverpool and London, then I’d moved to Wales for a bit then I moved back to London, then I went back to the States for a year or so and then I went down to Folkestone, back to London and then to Manchester, and eventually I ended up in Hebden Bridge and I thought ‘right I’m gonna stay’ and the first thing I did, because I was doing Community Arts at the time and the first thing I did was to do a Reminiscence Project and…I got Yorkshire TV to lend me a video camera and did some training with them through York University, and I did a small project where I just did ten interviews but we did a lot of workshops in the schools where we did singing and dancing because the themes were toys, games and songs of childhood, so I interviewed the people about their childhood – the older people, about what kind of dances they did, what kind of songs they sang, and then went to the schools and did workshops with the kids based around those, and then we had a kind of big final celebration where we had…musicians playing songs and we got the people….we went into Old People’s Homes as well, neither of them which exist any more – Holme House and Linden House just over here; they were both places where elderly people lived when they couldn’t look after themselves, so we used to go in there and do sing-songs with them and then record them as well, and then we got them all into a local school – it was Central Street School – and they all came down on buses and everything, and we had people doing juggling, diablos and all that, and we had sing-songs and we had the kids doing dances for them, cakes, drinks and that sort of thing and I videoed all that, and that seemed like a very good thing to do so I thought ‘yes I like this, I’ll carry on doing this!

    **And that was 1985? **

    That was a bit later – it was eighty…eighty-eight, eighty-nine over that year.

    So you came to Hebden Bridge in eighty-five?

    No I came here in eighty-seven. I was doing the Reminiscence in Manchester; I came to Manchester in eighty-five and did this Community Arts course and then started practicing it and eventually I got a job doing reminiscence work with the Hospital Arts Team at the MRI, Manchester Royal Infirmary…and that actually led on – someone who was running that actually worked for Manchester Poly at the time, and I got a job in the History of Art Department…creating educational resource packs for schools and colleges and what have you, and I’d probably still be there today but my wife got pregnant, and this all happened right at one time; I was working there and she was a social worker but she’d never done the training but she’d gone into Leeds to get the social work training and what happened was that we’d gone to Scotland on holiday and the car broke down in Hebden Bridge. It was on a Saturday night and we couldn’t get the car fixed for about four days so over that four days we looked at a load of houses and decided tit was a really nice place to live – half way between Manchester and Leeds – and we bought a house. It went through in five weeks, and then about a fortnight later she found out she was pregnant so either she had to give up college or I had to give up work; I gave up work and…and I’ve been here ever since! [laughing] and that was eighty-seven we moved here.

    It’s an interesting way to be introduced to a place

    Well we’d been once before. One of our family traditions is to drive out on Sundays; my parents always did it when we were young, and since my father died that’s what happens; my sister does it mostly now but in those days I did it and I think my mum had read about it somewhere so we came to Hebden Bridge and spent a day here – ‘yeh very nice, that’s good’ and then six months later my wife said ‘that was a nice place, can we go through there on the way to Scotland from Manchester?’ I said ‘it’s a roundabout route but yeh okay’ and then the car broke down and we realised it was just really really good, it was a really nice place, and quite convenient as well, and cheap at that time. The prices were going up then – it wasn’t really dead cheap, but it was cheap compared to in Manchester where we were.

    Where did you stay in those four days?

    We stayed at a bed and breakfast. You go up Oakville Road and that splits – if you take the down road it actually goes to the arches by where the Woodman Pub was; you probably won’t know it, but that’s where the car broke down under those arches and someone told us about this bed and breakfast. The woman who ran it worked for the local estate agent, so we’d go and look at houses and then talk we’d to her about them and she’d tell us if it was a good place or not such a good place, or if that was a decent price or not a decent price, so we were lucky to have that information at our fingertips really and it put us in good stead really.

    It’s a bit like the house where the boy was squirting you with the hose in a way isn’t it?

    Yes, it’s,,,I mean, it just sort of happens.

    Did I misunderstand you – did you say your mother heard about Hebden Bridge and thought it was a good idea to come here?
    Yes.

    So that sort of suggests she came over here.

    Oh yes, they retired in…when did they retire….1980 my father retired from the VA and of course he could combine that with his Air Force years so he was on like thirty-three years worth of pension so he got quite a good pension and they came over and unfortunately he died very soon afterwards; he had a stroke, in fact he had a series of strokes every six weeks almost like clockwork for fifteen months in which I took my mother to see him every day really- they lived in a little town called Manea in Cambridgeshire at that time…and ever since then my mother has followed me about really.

    So is she still with you?

    She’s not with me, she’s got her own house, but she lives in Hebden Bridge, yeh.

    And it sounded like your sister was still here too?

    My sister’s here now; she was married and living in London at the time and when my father died I was in a relationship and moved to London..and then to Folkestone so my mother moved to Folkestone, and then I got on this course – well I moved back to London; well I hurt my back is what really happened – I hurt my back and couldn’t work and my mother wanted to move to London so she did and I stayed with her for a bit, then when I got okay again I helped start up a housing co-op and an art studio and started doing all of that. As part of that process I found out about this Community Arts course in Manchester and got on it so I moved to Manchester to do for a year, so she sold up in London and moved up to Manchester, but her brother was nearby – her brother lived nearby and his kids lived nearby so it wasn’t just that I suppose. Then when I moved to Hebden Bridge she moved up here as well about a year later and shortly after that my sister came up because of everything that was going on; she’d got divorced and wanted a change of scene and everything so she moved as well and we’re all here now.

    She followed you over then – you came over, she’s five years behind you age wise, so she must have come over after high school?

    Well no, when she finished high school she got a kind of bursary grant sort of thing to become a horse master in a place in Minehead in Somerset to train horses and all that, which is what…she really loved horses because she’d had one in the States…Half way through that she met a friend of mine who had gone to art school with me. He’d gone over to the States to stay with a family on holiday and she’d actually met him then, but when she came over here they re-acquainted and they got married secretly, didn’t tell anyone [laughing]. They were together for…seven years or eight years maybe I don’t know, something like that, but it didn’t work out eventually.

    So that places you all in Hebden Bridge, I mean obviously a massive centre of gravity for you in various ways.

    Well it’s become that, yes.

    So what was the progression from the Manchester Reminiscence Project to you know – you broke down and all of that – how did you progress to where you are today?

    Well…let’s think how to explain it…when I first moved to Hebden I was still working at the Poly in the History of Art and when I gave that up…I was just painting really and exhibiting, not making a lot of money I must admit. I started doing community arts work and painting murals and a lot of that work was working with local communities and talking to them about their life and the place in which they lived, and how they wanted that reflected within a mural because quite often it was them helping to produce them; it wasn’t always just me doing it on my own, so an awful lot of what I did was talking to people about their lives and their communities and finding Then ways of using that in a mural that sort of decorated a sports hall, a community centre, a school or whatever it was. I did that for quite some years and it was fine, then I got divorced and I had to get a more ‘steady income’ I suppose is the word because I had to re-mortgage and all that sort of thing. I had a teaching qualification in FE but the work in FE is sometimes sporadic shall we say, so I did a training course in secondary education and I started teaching; I did that for five years, I did some primary as well but I never got a full-time position because they would either have to pay me the full wage because of my experience and qualifications and if they wanted someone of my age they wanted someone – I’d only been teaching for a few years; they wanted someone who had been teaching fifteen or twenty years, and if they wanted somebody new which I was relatively speaking, they could take someone straight out of teacher training college and pay them the lowest they could possibly pay ‘em so I was kind of stuck in the middle, so after five years of this I realised it was going nowhere and thought ‘right’. It got the end of this one summer term and I thought ‘what am I gonna do? I’ve had enough of this, it’s a waste of time’ and I thought back over all the things I’d done in my life and all the rest of it and I realised doing the reminiscence and the kind of oral history stuff – that side of things was something that I really enjoyed – and I thought I should do something like that, and of course jobs in that field are usually based on experience and it was a very much the same young and old sort of thing again, so I decided to start up my own really, if I could and I talked to a lot of people about it. I got a group of people who were willing to be a kind of committee, and I started a community group and realised if it was going to go anywhere it had to be a charity so we formed it into a charity, and we just started applying for funding and we got some from The Scarman Trust and some training from them as well, and there was a lot of training going for free really through the Voluntary Action and through WYCAS and various organisations that help people start things up, so I did it and did the oral history training as well…and then really just carried on from there and just really tried to keep going forward all the time because like I say I never really lived in one house for more than two years until I moved to Hebden Bridge and the fact that I was in one place, lived here all the time, knew a lot of people and talked about the history of the place and their lives really, it became my home and I became committed to here really and it just seemed the natural thing to do; to do something about it because…I used to go into the cafés or pubs and speak to the old people about the work they did and what it was like when it was all mills and it’s fascinating stuff.,

    Then I realised after a while that they’re all dieing off one by one and I thought ‘well really this should be collected’ and through realising that I also realised ‘what about my son?’ He was born here, he’s into his own thing – he’s not really into what I’m into that much but when he gets older he’ll probably think back to when he was little and growing up; having a record of what actually went on his youth would probably be a valuable thing, and it wouldn’t be just for him, it would be for anybody of his age or anybody that might move here, because this is one of the things about Hebden now; you get a lot of people moving here from somewhere else who are interested in the history of it but don’t know that much about it really, and I thought ‘this would be a valuable resource for the people how live here’ and the wider world really, so I started up Wild Rose Heritage and Arts; hopefully it will continue.

    When was the actual start up date?

    Well officially I think 2002 but I was thinking about it previously to that.

    Yeh, nothing ever starts when you say it starts – there’s always a gestation process

    Like I say I started in May thinking about it…kind of had ideas about it through the summer then when September came along I was doing supply teaching and there wasn’t any, so I spent a month just phoning people up – all kinds of organisations and funding bodies, charities, foundations and all kinds of things. I spent a month on the phone talking to people and learned an awful lot. I applied for this grant from the Scarman Trust, they came and saw me and gave me money to buy a video camera…and bits and pieces, all things to go with it, so I started recording then I got an Awards for All to actually start recording people and set up a web site and so I started recording people and set it up and through that time we turned it into a charity and I have continued doing that. I had to get a job in between, being the Environmental Community Warden for Hebden Bridge which was a great job, I quite enjoyed it because it was really just walking around the streets looking for things that needed fixing for lack of a better word, or things that could improve it, so if the drains were blocked I could get them unblocked, if lights were out, if there was graffiti I could get it removed, if there were posters all over the place I could get those removed, but then I started getting paths like fixed for people; older people would say ‘between this road or that road the path’s all wobbly and we fall over in the winter’ so I could get that re-paved for them, then it was – we could put hanging baskets in the town to make it a nicer place. I planted a whole load, about ten thousand bulbs of crocuses, snowdrops and daffodils so that every spring there’s flowers all over the place and in that process I again met an awful lot of people…who would come to me about a problem, like ‘that light’s out – can you get it fixed?’ and that conversation would then turn into a bit of their life history and I would say ‘I also interview people about living in Hebden Bridge, would you mind if I came along?’ ‘oh that’s okay’ and it’s just become my life really, engaging with the people around here so I enjoy my work.

    There’s a huge amount here – I’m not going to do you a very good service here because we’re coming up towards the hour, but there’s a huge amount here that would be fantastic to get into – you mentioned earlier that you were part of Linden Arts – you founded that. You seem to have founded an awful lot of things one way and another – you’ve started a lot of things.

    I’ve helped – I can’t say it’s all me, but yeh in London, a housing co-op and art studio I was part of and then in Hebden I helped set up the nursery which is now – well there’s Moss Lane Nursery – it was just over here originally. There were people trying to do that for two or three years before I came along; they were just at the end of their tether and were going to pack it in. Me and my wife and one or two others came along and gave it new impetus and we weren’t even the main people in it. I was the Treasurer and I helped work out the figures side of it and what have you, but there were people doing other things that made it all happen. And again North Lights Arts Studio – I helped set that up, but again there were two or three people who had decided to do that but they needed others and so I was one of the first of the ‘others’ to come along.

    What was that?

    Again it was an artists’ studio and it’s still going now, although they’ve moved premises recently. I was in that for about…six years I think, then a few of us from there decided that we didn’t want to be there any more – we wanted to have our own separate studio so we came here and set up Linden Arts. As a group I think there were six or seven of us and that’s still going as well. There’s only one original member still, all the others are people that have come in after, which is the nature of art studios I think; lots of people come and go over the years and usually one or two stay over quite a long time. It’s just the way to get things done really.

    When I helped to set up the housing co-operative in London I didn’t know anything about any of this, and what I found is out that if you jump in with both feet in the deep end you either sink or swim and you soon learn how it works, and then if you have like-minded people with you, then you can get a lot of things done – not everything perhaps, but you can get an awful lot of things up and running and it’s beneficial not only to yourself and the other people that you’re working with but usually it extends to the wider community.

    A phrase you’ve used a number of times before we started recording and after, is ‘it’s still going now’ – I mean that’s…well it just stands out.

    Oh right – well the people who are involved now, I mean, it’s them that are keeping it going – it’s nothing to do with me, but I suppose if you set up something that’s reasonable in the first place it allows people to carry on. I think you do need serious people who are committed to whatever it is they are involved in for things to carry on; I haven’t been part of North Lights for twelve years or more, maybe fourteen years, no – about twelve I suppose, so in those years there’s somebody involved that has kept that going, so it’s all power to them.

    It’s the same with Linden – I haven’t been with them for seven or eight years and the people that are in that have kept that going. We have had good landlords I suppose is the word because both of these are in old mills and they’re hard to do anything with, so the fact that they get an income from artists having studios in their buildings means that the building doesn’t deteriorate, they get a regular income and it’s good for everybody all way round really and it keeps the buildings intact, they don’t get knocked down for a start or as the thing is now, they don’t get turned into supposedly modern flats at exorbitant prices.

    How did you recruit the folks – directors for this current project?

    Much of it through word of mouth. Initially it was to do with people who I thought…who I knew were interested in..’cos I talk about this sort of thing all the time, so I knew there was a kind of interest from people…and so I approached them and said you know ‘I have actually started a formal group – would you like to be on the committee?’ and they said yes. From that some people have approached us…and then they’ve sort of joined as it were…it’s as simple as that really, we haven’t advertised or anything, it’s been through people who knew people who wanted to get involved, so you usually get a fair amount of commitment when people get involved in that way I find, so I suppose that’s all there is to say about that.

    I am aware that I’m doing you a disservice because there’s a huge amount; I was expecting us to you know, more into the Hebden Bridge side of things, and if we were starting again, if we had the time to put another tape in, then – there’s a huge amount there that’s all part of the history of the place and part of the texture of your understanding of Hebden Bridge and all the rest of it, which would be great to record – maybe some other opportunity will arise, but do you mind if we wind up?

    No, no – I mean I’m here for you today basically, so if you wanna do more we can do more, but if you haven’t got the time, then that’s fine or if you’ve got other things that you have to get on with then that’s fine.

    That’s what I say – I’m doing you a disservice and I’m aware of it because it’s my time restraints we’re looking at now, not yours. I mean, how do you find that?

    That’s okay.

    I mean, how did you find this whole thing?

    Oh this whole thing – well I have quite enjoyed it really. I am one of these people who can talk forever, and there’s lots of stuff that I could have said that I didn’t say because there was a kind of time limit on it really, because the tapes only last an hour so I’ve cut some of it short [laughing] – it might not sound like it but I have, but I’ve enjoyed talking about this type of thing and it does make me think back; being on this side of the camera is quite different in a way and so it’s made me realise that when I’m on that side of the camera there are other ways I could go about interviewing people I suppose, so I’ve thought about that since I’ve been talking really…so I think it’s – I’ve really enjoyed it, put it that way. I don’t know if this will be of any use to anybody in the future, but it might be – you never know.

    Are there questions that you wished I’d asked that I haven’t asked?

    No, I didn’t have any notion of what it should or shouldn’t be; I was just gonna to be here and respond to your questions really.

    I suppose I should whip out a consent form now – do you have them readily available?

    They’re on the computer – I can print one out, no problem, yeh, and a release form, and an evaluation form if you want ‘em!

    Well I mean they’re all part of the project aren’t they? Seriously, that would be…

    Do you think that this should actually be as part of the project, not just for your evaluation purposes?

    I’m assuming that it’s recorded, and I’m assuming that it would be a useful thing to have in the archives, and there are parts of it that you might even find useful in your various compilations, because you’re part of all this in other ways as well. There’s some fascinating stuff, I mean just as the Environmental Warden – the whole world that you introduced there, you know – there’s a tremendous amount to be talked about you know, and included in all this – so yeh, it should be part of the project

    Okay – I’ll take your word for that! [laughing]

    Okay, thank you very much

    You’re quite welcome. Normally it turns itself off; it’s still recording.

    If you stop talking it turns itself off? [laughing]

    No, when it reaches its time limit it just buzzes and makes a noise and stops, but I’ll stop it now.

    [END OF TRACK 1]

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About Us

Wild Rose Heritage and Arts is a community group which takes it's name from the area in which we are located - the valley ("den") of the wild rose ("Heb") -  Hebden Bridge which is in Calderdale, West Yorkshire.

Get in touch

Pennine Heritage Ltd.
The Birchcliffe Centre
Hebden Bridge
HX7 8DG

Phone: 01422 844450
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