Magazine article The Spectator

'Art Is Messy ...'

Magazine article The Spectator

'Art Is Messy ...'

Article excerpt

Suffolk is, of course, Constable country. He, however, didn't have to go to art school there; he went to the Royal Academy Schools in London. For those who do study art today in Suffolk - and who knows what young Constables may yet rise from the valley of the Stour - a clarion call has just been sounded.

On 26 October, the internationally renowned artist Maggi Hambling - one of Suffolk's most famous daughters - after days of soul-searching, felt compelled to decline an honorary degree from Suffolk College, which is part of the University of East Anglia. Her reason for so doing was not bohemian bloody-mindedness but concern for the future of Ipswich Art School, where she herself studied in the early 1960s. This courageous gesture was made in front of almost 1,000 guests at Suffolk College's annual graduation ceremony, in the presence of the highest officials of the University, and it was greeted with a roar of support from the audience.

Hambling's protest is against the closure of the purpose-built art school in Ipswich High Street, and the relegation of the art department to two carpeted rooms elsewhere which look suspiciously like offices. The original art school building is now apparently on the market, and the students are expected to study and learn the great arts of painting and sculpture in a couple of constraining and uncongenial rooms. For Hambling, and for all who care about the future of art education in Britain, this is an outrage.

`Art is messy, art is experimental, art is pushing the boundaries,' she said in a subsequent interview published in the East Anglian Daily Times. 'I have to say, as I looked around these two rooms, I was deeply shocked. There was even carpet on the floor. Carpet! Can you believe that? I expected to see plaster splattered everywhere; paint splashed about. But it was so neat, so pristine. You can't create art in there.'

Hambling attributes much of her own success as an artist to the years she spent at the beginning of her career at Ipswich. 'I am convinced that my Oscar Wilde statue, the public work that was unveiled at St Martin-in-the-Fields, opposite Charing Cross, last year, started its life inside me at Ipswich Art School. The same goes for my portraits that hang in the National Portrait Gallery and the Tate. …

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