Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Mr Brew by Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Mr Brew by Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen

Article excerpt

Teen snobbery had the future designer and television presenter turning his nose up at art. But at last he had an epiphany - to the relief of his eccentric mentor

James Brew, my art teacher at Alleyn's School in Dulwich, South London, was an extraordinary character. Anyone would remember him for his rank eccentricity. He looked like Gandalf, as he was very tall and had a lot of uncontrollable grey hair. It's impossible to say how old he was, although in hindsight he probably wasn't much older than I am now.

He was very unteacherish. He didn't care what he wore and he didn't care what he said. He treated us like grown-ups, unlike the other teachers, who could be terribly patronising.

He was foppish, although not camp. I don't think he was gay. In fact, I'm pretty sure he had a string of women. But there was a deliberate ambiguity that he used to foster and that was part of his devil-may-care attitude.

I never really took art seriously. I used to enjoy academic subjects and much preferred art history to the creative side. I'm not sure why, as I was good at art and won quite a lot of awards and prizes. I suppose I was rather snotty about it and quite snobbish. I would think: "Oh yes, what a good drawing, but that's not what art is about."

Yet Mr Brew encouraged me; I think he saw me as his protégé. I remember winning an art prize once, and he invited my mother and me to lunch at his house before we picked up the medal. His home was a crazy magpie's nest of his own work, which I liked very much as it had a mid-century elegance to it.

He was a working artist. Every now and again we would catch him moonlighting at school. We'd find him painting in a remote studio and ask what he was working on. He had a lot of contacts in music and theatre and it would turn out to be the backdrop for a Rolling Stones concert or something.

After my O-levels I had an epiphany. I was about two weeks into the sixth form when I decided to leave and go to art school. …

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