Issue Number: 112
Maurice Cockrill RA’s tenure as head of the RA Schools has seen a reinvigoration of the UK’s oldest art school. Sam Phillips meets him as he returns to painting full-time
This September Maurice Cockrill RA hangs up his metaphorical mortarboard after seven years of running the Royal Academy Schools. Based in Burlington House, the RA Schools is the country’s oldest art school – alma mater for the great names of British art such as Blake, Constable and Turner. Its fortunes varied during the twentieth century. But, under the guidance of Cockrill, it regained a reputation for attracting the most promising students from across the country and abroad to its three-year postgraduate course that, uniquely in the sector, does not charge tuition fees.
Maurice Cockrill RA, 'Drawing for A Portable Kingdom', 1996 © Maurice Cockrill Cockrill sees the Schools’ financial stability as one of his key achievements as Keeper (the traditional title for the head of the Schools) as he hands over the reins to printmaker Eileen Cooper RA. His master-stroke was the instigation of an annual fundraising dinner and auction. ‘It has proved to be hugely successful,’ he says, with six-figure sums raised each year. ‘It allows the students to have larger bursaries. No-one is ever driven out of the Schools for lack of money.’
Cockrill has also increased the variety of artists who lecture and give tutorials. The teaching programme, he says, ‘has become more intense and more personalised for the students. Whatever a student wants to discuss, there is somebody there who can talk to them about it.’ More RAs have been brought in to lecture, as well as international figures such as the film-maker Wim Wenders and Honorary RA Anselm Kiefer.
Once he has handed back the keys to the Keeper’s designated studio in Burlington House, Cockrill will work from his West Dulwich studio. One of his first tasks is to select works on paper for a Friends Room survey show, a reminder of the range of his output over the past five decades, which has had potent phases of photorealism, semi-figuration and now, pure abstraction.
The gouaches, pastels, drawings, collages and encaustic works on view are not always studies for paintings but can be independent pieces. ‘It’s interesting to view these works together,’ he says. ‘There’s an irregular continuity between them, even though they are so varied. And I’m quite surprised how meaningful a work on paper can be to me, even after ten or 20 years. It can still have presence.’
Maurice Cockrill RA: Works on Paper from Five Decades Sir Hugh Casson Room for Friends 27 Sep–30 Nov
In this extract from her recent writings on 'Edwin Parker', her film about Cy Twombly, Tacita Dean RA pays tribute to the artist, who died in July, aged 83
“I have loved the work of Cy Twombly [Edwin Parker ‘Cy’ Twombly Jr] since the beginning; it touched me immediately and I have never let it go, though I have grown and changed considerably since then. No matter where I encountered it, I was never disappointed. His work has been a constant in my life, but until recently, I had no idea who he was or what he looked like, nor was I inquisitive to know. He came out of another generation, another place, another world altogether. In a way, the maker was as distant to me as Michelangelo. And then I met him.
Cy Twombly Honorary RA © Sankei Shimbun Co Lexington is a small town with a proud history in the southern state of Virginia. Its centre is a lattice of two or three streets surrounded by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century houses, fraternity halls, and, in amongst the handsome trees and tidy grass, a university campus and military academy. It’s an old-fashioned place, small-town and homely, with quirky notices stuck up in shop windows offering treats for pets with a purchase or advice on easy ways to get to Heaven. One of these humble premises Cy Twombly rents as his studio. Behind the blinds in its small storefront window he sits, thinks and works, but mostly he sits, content to watch his neighbours pull up and park, buy cakes or their newspapers next door, and then leave again.
For Cy, painting is pure behaviour and that’s why he doesn’t talk about it. I asked him if he worked in spurts and he replied that he wasn’t ‘nine to five’. He is an artist blessed with pictorial instinct and with a true ability to work beneath his conscious level, and this is rare. Much of his working time is spent getting to this point. There is no preparation, or rather his preparation is sedentary, spent reading and reflecting and being. He doesn’t hide behind
a process, because in a sense, he has no process, only the interaction in the moment, whenever it should occur.
Coming back to Lexington in the autumn each year has allowed Cy to return home: home as in local. There is comfort in this and his affection for it is clear. Lexington, with its neoclassical architecture and pride in its history, was instrumental in making the artist in Cy. In the grounds of the Virginia Military Institute, he showed us a monument celebrating the site of a tree. Cy Twombly’s paintings have a universal language but in Lexington, he is a local; he is himself, or at least his American self, and that is why I gave the film its proper name.”
Extract from Book 2 of Seven Books Grey by Tacita Dean (£65, Steidl). Dean’s film Edwin Parker is on show at Twombly and Poussin: Arcadian Painters Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, 020 8693 5254, www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk , until 25 Sep.
Norman Ackroyd RA tells Sam Phillips about his latest public commission
For printmaker Norman Ackroyd RA, an artist who has dedicated his life to depicting the British and Irish coastlines, it was an offer too good to refuse: a commission to travel by boat around the Galápagos Islands and create an artwork in response to the landscape. As Ackroyd says, it was a chance ‘to follow the route of Charles Darwin, but with the eyes of an artist rather than those of a scientist’.
The commission is one of three public art projects for Cambridge University’s Sainsbury Laboratory, the new centre for plant science in the city’s Botanic Garden designed by the architects Stanton Williams. The laboratory is the new home for the university’s herbarium of over one million plant specimens, including some collected by Darwin on the Beagle voyage in the 1830s.
Norman Ackroyd RA in front of his Galápagos series (2011) for the Sainsbury Laboratory, Cambridge Photo © Nigel Luckhurst. Ackroyd’s artistic journey has led to a very public-facing piece: a 10sq m stainless-steel mural, Galápagos, that flanks an outside wall of the Botanic Garden’s café. The mural comprises 40 etched images that are testimony to the diversity of both the Galápagos coastline and its fabled wildlife, as well as the sensitivity of the artist to his surroundings. Headlands, cliffs and rocky outcrops jostle with images of penguins, iguanas, flamingos and rare flora, creating unexpected conjunctions of geological and biological forms.
‘I had this big idea that I would make one image of the Galápagos and try to incorporate everything into it – and then I decided that there was just too much that I couldn’t ignore,’ says Ackroyd. The mural is like ‘a book open on a wall’ with a different image for each page.
He visited the islands in 2009, the bicentenary of Darwin’s birth, and spent two weeks aboard a ship that navigated a similar route to the one taken by the nineteenth-century naturalist. He spent most of his time on deck sketching in pen and watercolour. Brief excursions on the land gave him opportunities to capture flora and fauna in detail. ‘One day we went swimming from a beach and I went right down in the deep water, on my back looking up at the surface, when a giant turtle swam across above me.’
The second phase of the project saw Ackroyd drop anchor in his south London studio and begin etching images from his sketchbook on small zinc panels. His sketches of turtles, however, didn’t make it to the final mural. Seventy possible panels were whittled down to 40, and then replicated on larger stainless-steel plates. He experimented to find the right depth of etch, and he even borrowed a block of the limestone used for the building to make sure the ink would match its tone. Architects Alan Stanton RA and Paul Williams both say they enjoyed working with Ackroyd – playing with cardboard models in their office. Galápagos enriches their architecture and gives a special sense of place to the terrace. And fittingly, the work is as much at one with the natural world as it is with the built environment. Viewed from the garden in autumn, the mural will be framed in a variety of colours by the falling leaves.
Galápagos The Sainsbury Laboratory, University of Cambridge, 01223 761100, www.slcu.cam.ac.uk . Norman Ackroyd: Recent Etchings Zillah Bell Gallery, Thirsk, 01845 522 479, www.zillahbellgallery.co.uk , 19–24 Nov
Courtesy of Sarah Myerscough Fine Art In 2003 Sarah Myerscough spotted the dynamic paintings of Anthony Francis at his degree show in Liverpool. ‘You could recognise his talent,’ she says of the young artist who spills, squeezes and sprays oil paint and silicon directly onto thin plastic sheets, which are then collaged onto canvas. The resulting lush abstracts, such as Untitled, 2011 are on show at Sarah Myerscough Fine Art (020 7495 0069, www.sarahmyerscough.com , 6-29 Oct). The RA Schools alumnus (2004-07) who had his first show with Myerscough in 2009 says: ‘I can lead a different life through paint, a life of abundance and curiosity.
I use paint as a tool, but also as a way of being.’ EC-M