Exhibition explores legacy of Ipswich Art School

THE legacy of Ipswich Art School is being explored by bringing past tutors’ and students’ work together for the first time.

Headlining the new exhibition of painting, drawing and sculpture from influential students and teachers is Maggi Hambling OBE, CBE – whose controversial Aldeburgh beach sculpture The Scallop made headlines of its own this week when it was vandalised for the 12th time in seven years.

Among the art work on show will be the Sudbury born artist’s heron model for the public sculpture in Brixton.

“My time at Ipswich Art School was crucial; the various disciplines of painting, drawing, sculpture and printmaking were strongly instilled in me. Each one continues to play its part in my work,” says Hambling, a student from 1962-64.

She stands silently, puffing contemplatively on a cigarette as she gazes towards the glass ceiling of the atrium inside the gallery. The object of her attention is Aldeburgh engineer Dennis Pegg, who is standing at the top of a ladder making the final adjustments to the fixings of her Brixton Heron.

The large stainless steel sculpture, which is also a weather vane, is the centrepiece of her contribution to the new exhibition celebrating the seminal role Ipswich Art School has played not only in the development of East Anglian art but in contemporary art on a national scale.

She’s quick to point out this is also an exhibition about the present and the future as well. Two galleries are being turned over to both the Suffolk New College and the UCS to show work by students and the current teaching staff.

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“We won’t know what they are going to come up until they arrive here, so it’s very exciting. There’s a sense of continuity. It’s so important that this space isn’t regarded as a museum,” she says.

Satisfied her Brixton Heron has been installed correctly, Mr Pegg is recalled down the ladder and he packs away his engineering tools as she conducts me round the atrium gallery, which welcomes visitors to the venue.

Hambling points out the heron on display is not the full-sized heron, although it is still larger than most weather vanes.

This is only a working maquette created by the Peggs to ensure the full-sized version, which currently sits above the centre of Brixton on top of the imposing Prince and Dex building which dominates the whole area, would actually work.

The heron, she adds, provides a firm link between her contemporary work and her past. The image of the heron used as the template for the sculpture was taken from a print which Maggi had produced in 1993.

This echoed her famous print of the rhino in Ipswich Museum, which she produced while at Ipswich Art School.

“As we go round the room, we go on a tour of work through the years,” Hambling says.

“We start with prints I made here at the Ipswich Art School, there’s a nude, a print of life at Ipswich station, the rhino, a figure from a still life class; then we move on to the print of the heron before we come to my latest large bronze wave. The largest of my small bronzes,” she laughs.

This is followed by two new sea paintings and two recently completed cormorant paintings.

One of her favourite pieces in the exhibition is a bronze of tutor Bernard Reynolds’s head, cocked in that very bird-like way that Maggi remembers looking up at the heron dominating the atrium ceiling.

Her exhibition acts as the welcoming hall to a vast exhibition which celebrates the creativity which was nurtured and tutored at Ipswich Art School.

Ipswich Art School opened on January 10, 1859, at the Assembly Rooms in the town’s Northgate Street. As it attracted more students, more space was needed and the school later moved to the High Street when the new museum was built in 1881; linking the Schools of Science and Art.

In 1934 construction began on the building with its distinctive glass-roofed, octagonal gallery. It was conceived as a place to inspire, transform and educate.

Work by Colin Moss, born in Ipswich in 1914 and who became a senior lecturer at Ipswich Art School in 1947, will be on show. Although now established as a leading East Anglian artist, he was controversial when he first started.

Tom Phillips’s portrait of ex-student Brian Eno will be on display along with that by Norwich born Bernard Reynolds, who moved to Ipswich Art School and was the lecturer of sculpture from 1948 to 1980.

“The Class Of… is a look at the legacy of the Ipswich Art School, founded in 1859 and which went on untill 1997 at the High Street building. During that time many influential people went through its doors - Maggi Hambling, Brian Eno, Tom Phillips, Colin Moss, Lawrence Self and Eduardo Paolozzi to name a few,” says Emma Roodhouse, curator of art at Colchester and Ipswich Museums.

“The exhibition begins to tell the story of those who were connected to the school through the Ipswich art collection and a number of loans.”

The work by tutors and students from Suffolk New College and University Campus Suffolk will be rotated during the exhibition so visitors can see how The Class of... is ever-changing.

The Class of... at Ipswich Art School runs from tomorrow to June 12 at the Ipswich Art School Gallery. For the first time, the UCS Waterfront Gallery and Colchester and Ipswich Museums will join up to show an even bigger Class Of... at the Waterfront where there’ll be a selection of past students work and current tutors on show. It will run from tomorrow to February 27, then from March 10 to April 2.

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