On the 12th to the 16th of April 1966 I had an art exhibition at the Assembly House in Norwich. I was at the zenith of my career as an artist, at the age of just 17. You can tell therefore that from there it was downhill all the way. I was doing art A level that summer, the first of two attempts, and art filled my days. I was obsessed with being an artist. I was absurdly young to hold a retrospective exhibition; or indeed any sort of exhibition. It was mt first, but also also my last exhibition, and the motive force behind it was (of course) not me but my father. Having tried to make me into an electronics enthusiast, a chemist, a meteorologist, a photographer and a printer with mixed success (the last two I was ok at, but not the others) he was now encouraging me to be an artist.
The worst part of running one’s own exhibition was sitting at the desk (and hoping to make a sale of course) and having to listen to the public’s comments. They were not all as caustic as they should have been; I think I would say some much worse things about my younger self. One that I do remember was that I ‘was no Augustus John’. I wasn’t too sure who Augustus John was at the time but now that I am aware of the artist I would wholeheartedly agree. I certainly wasn’t like him. In a way, though it was a sort of compliment, even to envisage the possibility. Most of the time however there were no comments good or bad, and indeed nothing much happened at all. Actually my exhibition was not a total disaster. It got a good review in the Eastern Daily Press (mainly I think because the reviewer knew my cousin Andrew Anderson) and I even sold a watercolour to a real member of the public.
My success at Art A level was not so great. I passed at my first attempt, bur only just – grade E. That’s one above failure. I don’t think my drawing ability was quite as low as that, but my art theory was appalling. For that I must blame my art master, dear old “Beaver” (Stuart Webster) who was a sweet man but totally at sea teaching art theory; he didn’t even try. His method was to sit me down in front of his meagre stock of books and say “Read what you like”. At my second attempt at the exam the next year I got a whole grade higher – a D. Still other people took art A level and passed, and I am sure some did better than grade D. Perhaps if had taken it a third time I might have reached grade C.
Luckily I did rather better at my other two subjects, History and English, but imagine anybody applying to read history at a top university with only 3 A levels, one of which was Art! I doubt very much if such a candidate would even get an interview, even with an A in Art, let alone a D. I got in because they took not a blind bit of notice of A levels, relying instead on their own entrance exam which I took just before Christmas 1967. Nevertheless I did get offered a place at LSE on the strength of my A levels. I don’t think my art A level impressed anyone though.
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