The Slade School of Art Part IV – Patrick George Interview
“I try to paint a likeness of what I see … In London I paint pictures of people, of things lying around my room and the view out of the window. In the country I go outside and paint the landscape … The pictures take a long time to paint, sometimes several years.”
As far as big names at the Slade School of Art, Patrick George is one of the most under recognized. His work is sensitive and subtle and was for me the great reward of looking for artists in the UK. The art critic Andrew Lamberth quotes Sarah Kent in his catalog for the show A Critic’s Choice “These are not anxious paintings – the artist does not fiddle or worry at his work. They are relaxed, calm and tender rather than obsessive. “ He is considered by those who know his work to be one of the most important painters in the UK of last 50 years. Despite the fact that he is held in such high regard, it is very difficult to see his work or even to find much information on him. I think that, similar to Uglow, Patrick George sees the work as much more important than the promoting it. To illustrate this point when I requested an interview with him, he replied “I am glad you liked my pictures at Browse & Darby. That really is the point rather than answering questions.”
Walnut Tree 23 x 29 inches
(most of the images shown here are oil on board) also note that higher resolution image views can be seen by clicking image.
Patrick George has had a long standing relationship with Browse and Darby and also recently had a show at Cobbold and Judd. He was born on July 23, 1923 in Manchester, England. While a student in prep school, he was taught by Maurice Feild. According to Mr. George, this factored greatly in his artistic development. Feild was closely linked with the Euston School (where William Coldstream taught before teaching at the Slade School of Art) and eventually went on to teach at the Slade as well. After prep school, George went on to study at Edinburgh College of Art (1943-1943). George served during the war and after the war studied under Coldstream at Camberwell School of Art (1946-1949). His teaching started at the Slade School of Art in 1949 and continued for nearly 40 years retiring in 1988 from the position of director. George was a part of creating the Coldstream reports I and II.
IMr. George very graciously agreed to answer a few questions about himself and his work.
Neil Plotkin Can you help us understand your life and career a little and talk about what were the turning points in your career.
I remember the most important one now. At my Prep school, a rather advanced Prep School, we had hobbies days and I joined the painting hobby. Maurice Field was the teacher in charge, he had just left the Slade, this was in the ‘30s. We all painted on cardboard boards with oil paint and used petrol as a medium. I was born in Manchester, an industrial part of England, so I painted the industry; smoking chimneys – light railways – pit head gear and grey cloudy skies. I was not one of the Art set. We were taught English by W.H.Auden and all wrote poetry. In the school Art class we learnt about Le Corbusier, the Impressionists, Cezanne, Van Gogh and Duchamp and I remember a Dada exhibition set up by the boys. I liked the reproductions on the walls but although Cezanne was the fashion, Matisse and Picasso were obviously ‘it’. I liked drawing what I could see but realised that for me Picasso was impossible, in fact I was frightened by Picasso.
A little later, perhaps 1936, William Coldstream was invited to come from London and paint [by] W.H.Auden, whom he knew from London. Now William Coldstream was an artist of repute, an artist who painted portraits and industrial landscapes and St Pancras station and the trains. These were my subjects, likenesses of people and places. At home all Art was judged on whether it was like, or not, Aunts, my sisters, dogs, my parents. So I realised that real Artists could do likenesses and that was it. I could be an Artist after all!
Then came the War and my parents thought I would get over being a painter, but when I survived the War I was not going to listen to any advice so I went to Camberwell, because Coldstream was teaching there.
NP Considering that you studied under one of the great mid 20th century teachers (William Coldstream) and you yourself went on to be extremely influential to several generations of painters, how do you see to the legacy of your teaching and the legacy of your painting? What artists do you feel like carry on the spirit of William Coldstream and the spirit of your work?
PG I have no idea and suspect that no artists are carrying on the legacy of my teaching. The spirit of William Coldstream was one of literalism
NP You and Euan Uglow both studied at the Camberwell School of art with William Coldstream. Initially, it seems that your work was influenced by your mentor but over time both you and Euan Uglow evolved in very different manners. Did you influence each other or consciously work to get away from William Coldstream or did you consciously try to stay true to the teaching of William Coldstream?
PG Uglow and I were no doubt influenced by Coldstream and a great many other artists both living and dead – Uglow by Mantegna and the other Northern Italian artists and myself by Durer and Rubens. It never occurred to us to stay true to the teaching of Coldstream, but because we were friends we obviously influenced each other.
NP As a person who has consistently worked from life over a long period of time, you have seen painting come in and out of favor (and perhaps back in again). how do you see representational painting surviving and remaining vital to the discourse of image making and to the public as a whole? And as an esteemed artist deeply enmeshed in the UK traditions of representational painting, how do you see that tradition evolving?
PG Representational painting in England is not going to stop suddenly now; it changes like clothes change depending on the fashion of the time.
Hickbush the Grove, 20 x 50 inches 1975-1976
NP Based upon the letters about the painting of Hickbush the Grove, I understand that in your earlier paintings, your painting process could go through over 100 sessions in the effort to create one painting. The work that was in your more recent shows gives a sense of a different process – quicker and more open ended. How has your process of painting evolved over time and why?
PG As I view my painting I am amazed how it has stayed so much the same.
NP With your current work, it seems as if you are drawing the paintings in thin washes of color. What role does drawing play in your studio practice? Related to this, these paintings also seem to have qualities of watercolor paintings (in the thin layers of color and the sense that you are drawing in colors). If you find that relevant to your work, could you talk about watercolor painting and its’ relationship to your working process?
PG At the moment the paint, I notice, is a little thicker. Thin paint, paint thinned with turpentine, is easier to change and there is always the belief in the beauty of the white ground.
As with the Euan Uglow article, I want to make it clear that this article is only meant to be my personal interpretations of Patrick George and his work. As stated there is so little information available, and I would love to hear from some of his students or colleagues with any sort of information. If there are any inaccuracies or omissions please contact me directly at Neilplotkin@yahoo.com
Links: There is very little on the web about Mr. George and these are the best I could find. He comes up in the obituaries of many great artists and people in the art world so it seems Mr. George has been very well acquainted with many great artists of the UK.
The best place to see a lot of images (and I would suggest buying catalogs if there are any available) is Browse and Darby’s page on Patrick George
Letters about the painting of Hickbush the Grove.
Paintings in government collections:
This is a really interesting article from the New York Times in 1981 about a show at Yale. It’s a 30 year time capsule about many of the artists in Slade group