LG: You studied at the Slate School in London for your undergraduate degree with R.B. Kitaj and Euan Uglow as a teachers. What was that like? How much of their teaching influences your work today?
BK: I went to UCLA first and that is where I met Kitaj who was a visiting professor teaching drawing. He didn’t teach at the Slade when I was there. He was rather terrifying at first. I was used to life drawing classes where there would be warm up loose gesture drawings and then the “long“ drawings of maybe twenty minutes. In his classes, the first drawing would last at least the entire session, or over several class sessions. He was a very intense teacher, concerned with really looking at what was in front of you. We became close personally and he said that if I wanted to be an artist, then I needed to go to an art academy, and London was the place to go. I spent part of a summer with him in London staying at David Hockney’s place. I applied to the Slade with a portfolio of drawings and was accepted. I would have to say that Kitaj was one of the most influential people in my life and we continued our friendship until his death.
The 4 years at the Slade, coming from LA, was a bit like landing on the moon. The city itself, so impressive, and so old compared with LA (which I love as well), the English accents, English life, English people, the amazing museums, the underground (I had never been on a subway) and no Santa Monica beach. The class I was part of had 12 students who would stay together for the 4 years. Entirely different from UCLA, which had thousands of students. My first day at the Slade was with the painter Patrick George who had us draw straight lines without rulers precise lengths in a large, rather gloomy skylit studio where in Augustus John’s time they used to draw live horses. I wondered what in the world I had gotten myself into. The other first year teachers were more conceptual in their approach, and more baffling. Like having to draw an entire interior on the side of a small chocolate, or making, as Bernard Cohen had us do, a drawing using orange juice. Stuart Brisley, a conceptual artist had us work in even more unconventional ways.
During the subsequent years, we were allowed to take what courses we liked along with our independent studio work and art history at the Courtauld Institute. It was a mixture of classical and more contemporary teaching. I tended towards the more classical approach, taking classes with Sir William Coldstream (who came to the first class of a 3 week session saying that “he would teach us how to paint a Euston Road School painting as if we were making an omelette”, Patrick George, and Euan Euglow who was also a very exacting teacher. My first experience with his class was drawing a bed spring for 3 weeks. I was trained in the The Euston Road School of painting and drawing, which uses measurement at every second of observation. Everything is measured against an initial measurement, say the distance from the precise corner of the eye to the precise corner of an ear. You would use a red x to mark the measurements, which would be done over and over again using the thin handle of the brush, or a pencil sliding a finger up or down, or at times, callipers for measure. The set ups would be for at least 3 weeks and the students’ as well as the models’ positions were marked extensively in tape. This was to try and keep what you were seeing in place as everything came from the one initial measurement. Some of the students set up string or wire grids in front of their field of vision. The technique in measuring was “this is to that and that is to this….”. No focus on making an object, or what it was. It was an observation of the relative distance between all aspects, tone to tone, color to color that built up the image. It was painstaking and almost meditative, but never actually boring. It is a way of drawing and looking that I have incorporated to this day. A way of forcing a slowing down of looking and responding.
While at the Slade, I also took a course with Frank Auerbach who was equally exacting, but in an entirely different way. By the end of the 3 weeks session, my one drawing looked like a torn up rag of paper from constant erasing. At one point in my drawing late on, Auerbach came by and said, “Now this is going well!, let’s have it off” and promptly erased my drawing.
A printmaking technician, painter and friend at the Slade, Roy Osborne introduced me to color theory with Seurat being center stage (SEURAT AND THE SCIENCE OF PAINTING, by William Innes). He has just published another book, Books on Colour 1495-2015. History and Bibliography, Roy Osbourne. I did hundreds of color studies from life by using graph paper and recording what I saw in small spots of color. I also would weave canvases using webbing to have physical squares of colors. Landscapes, interiors, still lives, and models as motifs. I would often work on the same view, but in changing times of day and light.
While at the Slade, I was accepted to Yale’s Summer program at Norfolk. I arrived there from London about 10:00 at night, the studios were already abuzz with students stretching their canvases. I was jet lagged and I think very much in shock. The first group critique was the afternoon of the first day, in contrast to the Slade where there were never group critiques that I can recall. I had a grid watercolor that had maybe 30 squares of color from a landscape I was observing, while other students had several paintings. It was an art boot camp. But what I also found was that there were instructors there who appreciated my way of working (Louis Finkelstein, Arnie Bittleman and Philip Guston who visited for a day). I have friends to this day from that Norfolk summer.
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