‘Be Magnificent. Walthamstow School of Art 1957–1967’
William Morris Gallery
9 June 2017 – 10 September 2017
Private View: Thursday 8 June, 7 – 9.30 pm
Admission Free

The William Morris Gallery in partnership with arts agency Create will present a new exhibition that reveals the history of the Walthamstow School of Art, which cultivated some of the most influential creative talent of the 1950s and 1960s. Thanks to support from National Lottery players, ‘Be Magnificent. Walthamstow School of Art 1957–1967’ will present original work created by students and tutors during their time at the School, as well as personal testimony, photographs and archival material, film, music and ephemera from the period. Made possible by a grant of £84,300 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), the exhibition will include works by leading names in art, fashion, music and film who studied and taught at the School including Pop Artists Sir Peter Blake (b.1932) and Derek Boshier (b.1937), musician Ian Dury (1942–2000), filmmakers Ken Russell (1927–2011) and Peter Greenaway CBE (b.1942), and fashion designers Celia Birtwell CBE (b.1941), Marion Foale (b.1939) and Sally Tuffin (b.1938).

Featuring a diverse range of works spanning the mediums of photography, painting, music, fashion design and film, the works in the exhibition will be contextualised within the framework of the School, capturing the energy, excitement and dynamism of the young artists, teachers and designers at Walthamstow School of Art from 1957–1967. Exhibition highlights will include Sir Peter Blake’s 1961 Self Portrait with Badges on loan from the Tate collection, which was painted the same year he started teaching at Walthamstow School of Art. The Tate will also lend Cardinal (1966) by Derek Hirst (1930–2006) who taught in the Painting Department of the School from 1958 to 1967. Also on display are early works on loan by the artists themselves including prints by Bill Jacklin RA (b.1943) and Derek Boshier; paintings by Ken Howard RA (b.1932), Fred Cuming RA (b.1930) and Olwyn Bowey RA (1936).

Bringing together the early work of these seminal artists and designers for the first time, the exhibition will show how artistic innovation was the result of access to free universal education. During this radical era at the School, students were encouraged to pursue a broader range of studies and the liberal approach by tutors, most of whom were practicing artists, led to a culture of collaboration across disciplines that stimulated tutors and students alike to experiment with their creative imagination. Many of the participating artists have cited their time at the School as playing a key role in their later artistic development. Sally Tuffin, who met collaborators Marion Foale and Jimmy Wedge at Walthamstow School of Art, said: “It was an extraordinary time to be part of it”.

Musician Ian Dury is said to have found his spiritual home at Walthamstow under the tutelage of Sir Peter Blake who taught at the school between 1961 and 1964. Dury and Blake formed a life-long friendship, collaborating at several points in their careers. In 1979 Blake designed the promotional poster for the Ian Dury & The Blockheads single ‘Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 3’ and in 1984 Dury immortalised Blake in The Blockheads song ‘Peter the Painter’. Blake said of his time at Walthamstow School of Art: “If I did anything of value as a teacher, it was opening a door to something”.

These years at the School represent an important period of major change in the teaching and assessment of art and design, where debates about admission as well as theory versus practice, were pushed to the foreground. The subsequent professionalisation of art schools eventually led to the closure of many local art colleges, including Walthamstow School of Art when it merged with what is now the University of East London in the 1980s.

Accompanying the exhibition, Create, the London-based arts agency behind Open School East, will run a two-week experimental art school on the site of the former School, now Waltham Forest College. Alumni and former tutors including Keith Albarn (b.1939), Terry Day (b.1940) and Laurie Lewis (b.1944) will return to teach classes and explore the legacy of the school alongside contemporary artists including Jeremy Deller (b.1966), Marcus Coates (1968) and Kathrin Bohm (1969).

Hadrian Garrard, Director, Create said: “This was a golden age for British art schools. This project celebrates the legacy this has left but also shines a light on how increasingly difficult it is for young people today to receive an arts education and pursue a career in the arts. This was a generation where people from all kinds of backgrounds had opportunities to follow their interests, passions and creativity which under this government are just not there any more.”

Chris Robbins, Leader of Waltham Forest Council, which owns and manages the Gallery said: “This promises to be an insightful exhibition, building on the Gallery’s programme of socially engaged displays that reflect Morris’s legacy as an activist and artist who campaigned for art education for all.”

‘Be Magnificent. Walthamstow School of Art 1957–1967’ will be accompanied by ‘Setting the Scene: Walthamstow in the Sixties’, an exhibition at nearby Vestry House Museum that will explore the social and cultural climate of Waltham Forest in the 1960s.

‘Be Magnificent. Walthamstow School of Art 1957–1967’
William Morris Gallery
9 June 2017 – 10 September 2017
Private View: Thursday 8 June, 7 – 9.30 pm
Admission Free

For PRESS Information and images please contact:
Blaise Marshall | Rees & Company
blaise@reesandco.com | +44 (0)20 3137 8776 | + 44 (0) 77 84 277 603

‘Be Magnificent. Walthamstow School of Art 1957–1967’ is supported by funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The exhibition title is drawn from the famous Ian Dury quote: “There are a couple of ways to avoid death, one is to be magnificent”. The exhibition will coincide with the E17 Art Trail, an artist led project, which takes place once a year within the Waltham Forest.

William Morris Gallery
Forest Road, London E17 4PP
Wednesday to Sunday, 10am – 5pm; admission free
www.wmgallery.org.uk

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