As Covid-19 laid waste to plans across the country for art exhibitions, an extensive retrospective of the artists to come out of Newport College of Art was put on hold. In the meantime, much of that work has been collated on a vibrant new new website (created by Cathy Cooper and Rob O’Connor). Here, Neil Carroll introduces the new exhibition looking back at the legacy and influence of Newport College of Art, which for several generations turned out some of the most significant visual artists of the day.
As the class of 1980, we were born in the post-war 1950s and very much formed by growing up in the 1960s and 70s. By nature and nurture, our formative years during those decades were full of absorption and there were important people such as family and teachers who gave us the encouragement and support along the way to be creative and to pursue our dreams. From Hippies to Zippies and Patchouli Oil to Punk Rock. The magical experiences gained amongst a diverse range of tutors and students at Newport College of Art were certainly absorbed and taken on board.
With one to one tuition, tutorials, lectures, critical and historical studies, clubs and societies, our horizons were certainly broadened from under the iconic green dome, and music, literature, travel, theatre, film were all areas we were encouraged to absorb.
The college was of International importance. Josef Koudelka would visit and have his staple diet of mashed potatoes in the refectory; David Hockney and Ian Dury were visiting lecturers; Brian Eno worked with the students on a piece which they performed at the Royal Albert Hall; Bob Dylan attended a college hop; Van Morrison played the grand piano in the hall during college afternoons.
A very special place indeed.
Newport as a city certainly had its influence on shaping our views as young people. The ‘Port’ is a multi-cultural city and we lived in areas that were new to us. The eastern valleys and by great contrast, rural Monmouthshire are both close at hand as are the neighbouring cities of Cardiff and Bristol. The Art College provided a launch pad, the green-domed mothership, from which we zoomed out into a myriad of different directions to get a taste of the real world.
We are a generation that were taught traditional skills creatively, in what was very much an analogue world. Our tutors taught us how to be designers, potters, film-makers, painters, sculptors and then we went out into the world as unique individuals needing to be imaginative, skilled, good researchers, team players and independent thinkers.
It is far from easy to earn a living by working creatively and the qualities of creativity, tenacity, sensitivity and appreciation as well as a toughness and stubbornness of spirit are all very necessary. The willingness to stick at it and find ways to put our creative minds and talents to use. We have had to adapt and re-learn, change direction and transfer our skills into all sorts of other areas and ways to survive.
Our first decades post-college gave us what was a very steep learning curve and the move from analogue to digital in particular, was very challenging as we progressed towards our 30s and 40s. We have all had to come to terms with the digital age which ironically has allowed everyone to become a d.i.y. designer, artist, photographer etc. with the subsequent effect on the livelihoods of some.
The 1980s gave us Pac-Man, M.T.V., Back to the Future, Chernobyl, the Berlin Wall smashed, Spandex and the invention of W.W.W. The 1990s significantly saw the W.W.W. being published, as well as Google and the iMac, eBay, gameboy, Nelson Mandela released, it gave us inflation, the Gulf War, Margaret Thatcher resigned and the Good Friday Agreement was signed. It was the era of Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton, the European Union, the Euro, the channel tunnel and lots, lots more!
We were in our early forties by the year 2000. We are now in our early sixties and busier than we have ever been. It’s clear that a number of us have been, and still are in many cases, caring for our older relatives and also those younger than us, with grandparenthood being a new and delightful role for many.
Picasso said that “the meaning of life is to find your gift, the purpose of life is to give it away”. As time has moved on, we have become resourceful in finding ways to put our creative minds and talents to use, and this has included the passing on of our skills, knowledge and the belief in what we do, to others. The golden thread of influence has seen us receiving with one hand and passing it on to the next generation with the other. I think that between us, we have passed on the qualities that Newport instilled in us to thousands of others and it’s important to be able to bring it all back home too, to where we began at Newport, and I very much hope that the people of Newport especially the youngsters, will gain insights into, and inspiration from, what they see and read in this exhibition.
The initial idea I had was based on how an art school experience enriches lives in so many ways and that we should try and mark the passing of forty years since Derek Butler commissioned Glenn Marshall’s wonderful photo-booth poster advertising our degree show at Newport Museum and Art Gallery in 1980.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to be able to hold this show at Newport, and I would like to thank Newport Council and in particular Mike Lewis, Barbara Bartl, Oliver Blackmore, Sian Iles and Kevin Barry for all of their work on this project.
I wanted this to be as inclusive a project as possible and at its core are a collection of individuals who feature on that original poster. It’s a subjective and personal curation by myself of people who wanted to get involved and who have embraced the idea warmly. It was important to me to have also included the work of some of our tutors, which will give you a very clear indication of the diversity and quality of our educators, the people that have been a very special part of our lives. It’s certainly a diverse cross-section and a wonderful gathering of individuals.
This exposition of their current work and biographies will hopefully give you fascinating insights into how an art education at Newport has influenced and enriched our lives.
You may wish to look deeper and explore the work of the individuals yourselves.
Neil Carroll is an artist and curator of Newport Art College: Forty Years On.
A list of exhibitors at Forty Years On:
Janne Rebecca Read
Jane Stanton Wilson