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Research part III

My Manifesto of Painting (my research) lies outside our word-based education. The best and most distinct aspect of my university is that it’s a specialist arts university, run by artists for artists. This means that staff and technicians have empathy for students and the educational struggle that art and design courses face. In many non-specialist universities, image and making have been reduced to silence by squeezing everything into words. Words dominate universities because education is the domain of the written word.

My Manifesto of Painting (my research) lies outside this word culture. My studio practice and quest have been made possible because the discipline of painting is championed at Arts University Plymouth. This is a rarity. Over the last 30 years, Fine Art courses have actively discouraged painting. Painting has been closed down, censured or neglected, with less and less tutors with the technical knowledge and experience to teach it as a discipline. This has the knock-on effect of a shortage of secondary school teachers with the skills to teach the GCSE and A level courses. There’s a disconnect between the A Level syllabus and the universities. How has this gulf between the two been allowed to develop?

My recent painting Nemesis is part of my Manifesto of Painting. The title comes from the Greek word ‘nemein’ which means to give what is due. I’m still reflecting on the writings of Emanuel Levinas about ‘the other’, about kindness or perhaps a bolder word, love. My response is about coming in a different spirit, in humility, to serve others. This is my personal approach. I am on the road with my fellow students, sharing, being generous with my knowledge, helping each person to find their way, to be able to express themselves with the right medium for them. As teachers we do not have all the answers, but we have some, and we are constantly learning, changing and moving ahead.

As a painter and teacher who passionately believes in painting as a language and a way of life, I see the continued assault upon painting akin to the assassination of a living language like Cornish or Welsh.

My painting Nemesis is not about retribution, but rather, humility as an agent of sombre beauty. The servant king who washes feet is an inversion of roles, a slowing down of power that is needed as education becomes more and more monetised.

T. S. Eliot speaks of the importance of Jessie Weston’s book From Ritual to Romance in The Waste Land. The character who comes to save the waste land is questioning. Actions count, not a silent mute gaze which achieves nothing. It is action that saves the waste land and the Fisher king, because they are bound together.

In my painting, the doors are open. Do we choose to see these doors, to enter them and encourage others to enter? The doors are not mute – they speak and act.

In an age of ardent inclusivity where we celebrate difference, how can this suppression of painting be allowed to happen in universities and art colleges up and down the UK. Painting loses its power when it is subjugated to words. It is a language in its own right and should not be judged by words and word outputs. I showed my triptych The Death of Socrates, at the international debate on life drawing this year at Arts University Plymouth. Taught in the ‘70s and ‘80s, I am the  Socrates generation who believe in life drawing. I had a life time of teaching at The Byam Shaw School of Art, the Slade School of Fine Art, and the Royal Drawing School in London before teaching in Bristol from 2005. I learnt and taught the discipline of looking. I stood in the world-class studios at Arts University Plymouth before a packed audience of students saying, ‘You are the Platos of the future. Do you want this discipline to remain in education? If yes, then use it, be changed by it, own it, and become it for the next generation.’

I use colour to ask questions, pure beautiful questions, not in words or papers or books, but in paintings – this is where I search, discuss, and present my answers, in the language that I know best. To sum up, this is a straight-forward, yet complex language, ‘other’. Painting and drawing are a human language, outside of words, a visual poetry to stand on, because it is pure and holy, and ‘other’.