M: I’ve had a few scraps of paper that have been following me around over the past couple of days. Some of the questions are more about you than your art practice per se, but it seems a nice way for folk to get to know a bit more about Liz Allen, Artist.
Did you come from an artistic household? Did you make art as a child?
Me: In a way I did come from an artistic household in that my father (though he worked as a Structural Engineer) liked painting and photography. At the weekends he would turn the bathroom at home into a dark room and develop his black and white photos. My sister also likes to paint and encouraged me as a child to draw and paint (she is 9 yrs older than myself) As a child I spent much of my spare time drawing and painting, though when I was 8, my parents bought a piano for my sister to learn to play as she was going to teacher training college. I started having lessons also and took to it quickly. For the next 6 years I think playing the piano took over in precedence to painting at home!
M: Good start!! You must have some lovely childhood photos! What do you think reignited your interest in art after ‘the piano years’ Liz? Did you remember your school art teacher?
Me: Yes, we have boxes of lovely hand printed black and white photos! I’ve been pondering your question, and think my interest in art returned because I stopped piano lessons to concentrate on school work, which included art – my favourite school subject, along with English. My art teacher was a Miss Abraham. I remember overhearing her discussing a painting of mine with the craft teacher briefly, as it was lying on the top of a pile of paintings, saying “I quite like this one in a strange kind of way”..! I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that comment, but didn’t let it put me off!
M: School….Hahahaha! Good for you! I have heard so many similar stories about comments from teachers that have led to deep scars and abandonment of artistic expression. Such a shame. Just a thought….Do you remember the subject painting you made? What was the driver for your applying to go to art college? Which artists’ work inspired you at this time?
Me: The painting was of something that looked like a rubbish dump… Goodness knows where we went to draw that. It wasn’t a pretty subject I remember that.
M: Ha!!!! Art education!! I wonder what it was trying to tell you?! 10/10 for learning resilience Liz.
Me: My sister wanted to go to art college but was directed towards teaching by my father… I wasn’t really academically inclined so as I liked art…. the parents gave in.
A good question would be how I ended up studying painting…
Me: I don’t remember looking at many artists except the usual Impressionists, and had a liking for Alfonse Mucha and Art Nouveau. I was more interested in printed textiles like William Morris and Laura Ashley as I first applied to do Foundation (with the hope of learning textile design) at Ravensbourne but wasn’t accepted onto the course! Then I applied to Croydon College of Art &Design and had the best year of my life!!
M: Ah-ha! That makes sense. What do you think made Croydon such a success for you?
Me: A great crowd, good tutors and lots of enthusiasm for learning new things. I enjoyed the work and did well there. Also it had a good location next to Fairfield Halls, where we would go for coffee in our lunch breaks, and look at any exhibitions going on.
Me: Wish I could’ve stayed there but couldn’t get a full grant for their painting course as it was a Dip A. D. not B.A.
M: Did you have the opportunity to pursue textile design there or did you find your interest following other paths?
Me: Not at all. We had modules of graphic design, sculpture (with Bruce McLean, he was amazingly good fun and a bit scary – I’d never met anyone like him before – or since! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_McLean) metal work and welding (not my favourite), drawing and painting. Painting became my forté, and my tutor, Peter Green (not from Fleetwood Mac) recommended me to apply to Bath.
M: What was the most important thing you learned at Croydon? Did you feel that you changed direction?
Me: The most important thing from Croydon was a basis in drawing and painting, and the stimulation of learning the basics of those other disciplines.
Me: At Bath I was using a technique known as Frottage by Max Ernst of the Surrealist group, whereby rubbings are made, I used the canvas raw, in that way, rubbing textures from underneath, then adding paint on top.
M: That sounds an interesting technique. Have you ever used collage?I also used it on paper and cut up the papers and used as collage.
Me: I made collage of cut out parts from these rubbings, and also used collage when I returned to making my own work again, years later. I developed and taught a technique I called monoprint-collage for quite a few years when I lived in Brighton.
M: Were you encouraged to copy the works of other artists as part of your study? Did you enjoy your time at Bath?
Me: At art college, we were never encouraged to copy the work of other artists, that would’ve been considered a travesty! I’ve never thought of copying any artwork, though I always look at plenty of art to gain inspiration. Bath wasn’t as enjoyable as my time at Croydon. The teaching style was very difficult and indirect, though we were encouraged to analyse every move, which had the effect of killing off any desire to create art in an enjoyable way. Everything had to be justified, in terms of a particular tutor’s set of ideas.
M: It’s interesting that you felt that your time at Bath was spent not doing your ‘own work’ and needing to decode the tutor’s intentions for you. It’s odd that teaching methods are as prone to changes in fashion as the shape of suits!! (It seems that even the masters of innovation needed to follow others…. ‘Despite his father’s love of pigeons and doves, Picasso started painting them in childhood after he learned how to paint them from him. In 1957, Picasso painted ‘The Pigeons’ at his studio on the French Riviera to pay homage to Matisse’s sunny window scenes, which had been painted a year earlier.’) I would be interested to learn more about your technique of making mono print collage. Do you ever make any now?
Me: I hardly ever make collages with monoprints these days. I think quite a lot of people use the technique now. I think I will do a blog just about collage and monoprint sometime, perhaps.
Here are some examples of my monoprint-collage technique:
M: What is the difference between BA and Dip AD? Do you feel that your years of studying at College was the best use of your time? Do you have any ‘nuggets’ of useful information that you learned during that time and would like to share? If you had the opportunity of spending a day with your student self, would you have any advice to give?
Me: The BA is a Bachelor of Art and the Dip AD a diploma in art and design, I think not as academic as the BA, with not as many theses to write. Not sure what else! Probably would’ve been better suited to a Dip AD. Probably would’ve been better to stay at Croydon! I often think the time I spent was “the experience of being at art college”, the main skill I learned was “critical thinking”, which was quite useful, but wasn’t my reason for being there! As I had no other ambition then, it probably was the best use of my time, but who knows…?
Advice would be – just get through the course then paint how you like