Yesterday was Mr N's birthday and, of course, I'd planned a few surprises for him. One of these also happened to be a trip down memory lane for me. Many years ago I did a degree in fine art at Canterbury College of Art. The new degree course had only just been created and was run by a posse of tutors from the Jacob Kramer College of Art in Leeds, an establishment with a modest reputation for embracing the avant-garde. The first Mr N, let's call him General G, arrived with them from Leeds to join the course and was already a follower of Dada and Surrealism. He believed that the idea was the important thing - not the finished art work. Yes - conceptual art had arrived in the 1960s!
I've recreated one of his works here. The original landscape was drawn whilst travelling on a coach down to Victoria, at the start of a new term.
Another representation of this landscape was drawn by placing a pencil on a piece of tissue held against the coach window and moving the pencil up and down, as the fields rose and fell. The resulting drawing looked very much like this...
Bedfordshire is very flat!
General G was keen to use imagery that was impersonal - the art work was to convey the idea, without any sensual brush strokes and the resulting distraction of an emotional response. To this end he began to use the graphic style of vintage comics.
At this point in the story we met Glen Baxter, a young artist from Leeds, come down to Canterbury as a visiting lecturer. I can't remember what he taught us but he and General G got on like a house on fire and, later, when we visited his London flat, I was very impressed by a Victorian chest of drawers painted in rainbow colours, rather like the one below.
I let them talk about Dada poetry and the like, while I admired the décor.
All this is why, when I found that Glen Baxter was giving a talk about his work at the Cartwright Hall, Bradford, yesterday, I thought it would be a bit of birthday fun to go along. You probably know his work through his comic greetings cards, appealing to those of us with a taste for bizarre humour.
It was an entertaining talk, with Colonel Baxter, as he likes to be known, a youthful 70 year old, still with the shy charm and twinkling eye that I remember so well. He gave us his potted life history and talked of how his career in art had developed. One seminal moment was his first ever sale - to the American writer and illustrator, Edward Gorey. Respect!
An Edward Gorey illustration.
I was a little disappointed that he did not seem to recall his meeting with two young artists in the late '60s - no mention of his visits to Canterbury - and he was a bit dismissive of his time as a student in Leeds. I did not dare to remind him of how much I liked his painted furniture.
But, no matter - cartoon humour was our theme of the day and Mr N's favourite birthday present was his new Bart Simpson T shirt...