ART EXHIBITION,THE ASSEMBLY HOUSE, 1966

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 17. 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 absurdly young to hold a retrospective exhibition; or indeed any sort of exhibition. It was 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.

QUEEN ELIZABETH I. (Scraper board)

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 than 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 possibilty. 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.

SELF PORTRAIT

– as a young man.

To return briefly to the Assembly House and my art exhibition; after it was over I had a polite letter from the manager, expressing his hopes that I had found the experience of the exhibition rewarding, and would book the room again for the following year if I wished. It was from Captain Pond RN(Retired). I would not mention this inconsequential story but for the fact that his son was quite famous at the time. His real name was Paul Pond but he will be better known as Paul Jones, the singer with the pop group Manfred Mann. Whether his father was entirely happy with his son’s notoriety (as he probably saw it) I do not know. As Paul Pond he had been an undergraduate at Jesus College Oxford, but he left to pursue a pop career without taking his degree. Having been born again as a Christian he has perhaps in a way reverted to his younger self. I don’t suppose many people remember the group Manfred Mann, but they big back in the 60s. Paul Jones still works as a musician and broadcaster.

JOSEPH MASON

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

joemasonspage@gmail.com

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