Social Realism & the Art of Colin Moss ARCA
Colin Moss was a social realist [who] applied firm draughtsmanship and the forceful vision of European expressionism to the docks and terraces of his native Ipswich. There he drew and painted scenes of ordinary life – men in the pub, women eating sandwiches in the park or bending on doorsteps to pick up milk. “I draw working-class people because they are more interesting than middle-class people,” he said. “I have no political allegiances.”
Ian Collins – The Guardian (January 2006)
Colin Moss, “Over the Garden Fence”, 1947
Colin’s passion for social realism dated back to his student days at the Royal College of Art. His 1936 painting, Hunger Marches, was part of his Diploma show in 1937. Based on the 1936 march to London by the unemployed men of Jarrow, Colin’s painting captures the dignity of the men, stoically walking through the rain in their capes.
Colin Moss, “Hunger Marchers”, 1936
His unconventional decision to paint the men as they were seen from behind, emphasised their upright determination as a body of humanity rather than as a collection of individuals. This was a device which would become something of a trade mark in several of Colin’s future work. Even though it is easy to draw some sort of political message out of his work, Colin never once joined a political organisation. His party neutrality meant that people could view his work as a document of post war life; rather than as party propaganda.
Colin Moss, “Uphill Workers”, 1955
Amongst the artistic community in 1930’s Britain there was an intent to show ordinary people doing ordinary things (often referred to as “kitchen-sink” art) and this fascination with the “everyday” became an essential part of Colin’s artistic drive.
Colin Moss, “London Pub Scene”, 1939
Returning to Ipswich after the war he was struck by how much the town resembled a Coronation Street style northern conurbation with little houses around the middle of the town and enormous pubs. In his own words “It was a very Arnold Bennett kind of town”. Post war Ipswich was one that was gritty and tough with rationing still a feature well into the 50s and the majority of the working men employed in heavy industry. Colin’s hostility to sensationalism, gave his work a much more relatable edge as when people would view his work they could see their own experiences reflected in his work.
For more information about “Window Cleaner” 1955, click here.
Post-war Ipswich’s industrial heritage included names that were widely known in Britain and across the world. Engineering companies such as Ransomes, Sims & Jeffries, Ransomes & Rapier and Cranes exported goods around the globe and employed generations of Ipswich workers. Colin’s 1950 ink and gouache drawing “Ipswich Cyclists” captures three workmates cycling home in the dark from work. One man leans across to chat to his fellow cyclists and the headlamps of the three bikes glow in the gloom. Interestingly, men on bikes appear quite frequently in Colin’s work as this was the main means of transport for workers before mass affordable cars. In fact, during the 50s, Ipswich was supposed to have more bicycles per head of population than any other town in the country!
For more information about “Ipswich Cyclists” 1950, click here.
Long hours working hard in the dust and heat at the Ipswich based Ransomes Sims & Jefferies engineering plant was the way of life for thousands of locals. The sound of the Ransomes’ bull horn would summon the men to the RSJ works, which, until the 1960s was on a vast site around Duke Street and Ipswich Dock. “The Bull” kept time, not only for staff of RSJ, but others all around town, including children in the local schools. Despite the above companies dominating life within the town, nowadays the industrial scene in Ipswich is a shell of what it is with most of the factories themselves being demolished.
As well as the industrial side of life, Colin also drew and painted domestic scenes – a woman hanging out washing or brushing the front step, his mother rolling out pastry. Each image a snapshot of a life from a bygone age but which captivates the eye, and the heart, with its “mundane” humanity.
Colin Moss “The Artist’s Mother Making Pastry” 1962
Colin’s kitchen-sink realism was just one strand of his extraordinarily multi-faceted career but possibly was the work that was closest to Colin Moss the man. And his interest in the lives of ordinary people carried on throughout his career in art. His in interest in the regular meant that he could portray life on the streets without the condescension that so many artists seem to do; and this ultimately makes his work so much more poignant.
From the artist’s sketchbook 1995
“As an artist Colin drew and painted what he saw around him. His work functions not only as great art but also as a valuable social document about what life was like in Ipswich and across the country from the late 1940s until his death in December 2005. His portraits of workers leaving the Ransomes & Rapier factory, prostitutes on street corners, old women walking to the shops, laden with bags are an important part of Moss’s artistic legacy to the town.”
Andrew Clarke – Arts Editor at East Anglian Daily Times
Colin Moss “On the Streets, Then & Now” 1992
Ipswich Art School Gallery, High Street, Ipswich, running till the 30th June.
An engaging mini-retrospective exhibition of the work of Suffolk artist Ken Cuthbert features as part of this year’s Ipswich Art Society annual exhibition (now in its 142nd year).
Back Garden in the Snow, 1972
Ken is a former President of the Society and teacher to many of the Art Society members, including this year’s winner of the Mayor’s Award, David King, whose work “Felixstowe Cranes” shows a shared interest with his teacher in the industrialised landscape.
Dykes, Canals, Rives and Beaches
One of Ken’s earliest memories was of a holiday as a young boy in Thorpeness in 1937 where “at the mere’s edge the water and grass were one. Thus, one of my recurring themes took root, in dykes, canals, rivers and beaches.” Featured in the exhibition are a number of works reflecting this, including a very recent oil “Royal Military Canal, Warehorn” painted in 2018 from an original conté crayon drawing produced in 1957, one of many versions of that drawing reflecting Ken’s fascination with this theme.
Royal Military Canal, Warehorn, 2018
Cor Visser and Dock-End
Working in Ipswich as a government inspector (Weights and Measures), Ken’s formal art training began in the early 1950s when he met Ipswich-based Dutch artist and tutor, Cor Visser. Ipswich Docks was where Cor Visser’s boat and studio were situated and Ken “felt a deep and immediate response” to the romantic dereliction of the Dock End of Ipswich Port. In the 1969 documentary “Painters in the Modern World”, Ken is shown walking through the run-down Dock End amongst “discarded metal, machines that die, to be revived in his imagination.”
“Dock-End Scrapheap” 1959, a large and complicated oil where lines and form come out of the chaos.
Certainly, the heavily industrialised dock area of Ipswich inspired many of Ipswich’s post-war artists, including Colin Moss whose “Ipswich from the New Cut” is owned by Colchester & Ipswich Museums.
For more information, click here.
Painters in the Modern World
Much of the work was (and still is) completed in Ken’s own studio usually from drawings made on the spot, (drawings that are “immaculate and worthy of exhibition” according to gallery owner Denis Taplin). The “Painters in the Modern World” documentary gives a fascinating glimpse of the artist at work.
British Film Institute (BFI) Player “Painters in the Modern World”
For Ken inspiration came not only from the Dock End, but from the wider industrialised landscape in Suffolk and beyond. A number of the works in the exhibition reflect this featuring everything from “tank traps and blockhouses on the Suffolk coast to harbour walls in the South … hard, brutalist shapes set in romantic landscapes.”
Part of the retrospective is devoted to Ken’s recording of the construction of significant buildings in the area such as the maternity block at Ipswich Hospital and a number of drawings detailing the construction of Sizewell A nuclear power station on the Suffolk coast.
Inspiration in Dordogne
In the 1980s Ken, and his wife Mavis, bought a cottage in the Dordogne, captivated by both the colour and the landscape of the area. Colin Moss, then art critic at the EADT, felt the move to France enhanced and intensified Ken’s use of colour, taking his work to a new level. As the owner of one of Ken’s paintings from this period, I wholeheartedly agree! The work, “Prieu Dieu”, enlivens the wall of my sitting room and never fails to delight the eye on even the most downcast day.
“Prieu Dieu” 1993, pictured with the artist Ken Cuthbert
Now in his 90th year, Ken Cuthbert continues to paint, exhibit and teach and this mini retrospective exhibition gives a just glimpse of the breadth of his work.
Ken Cuthbert’s retrospective continues at the Ipswich Art School Gallery until June 30th alongside Ipswich Art Society’s annual members’ exhibition. The exhibition features 275 paintings, prints, drawings and sculptures by Members, Friends and the general public, spread over both floors of the gallery.
Cinema in Ipswich
Post war Ipswich had five main cinema buildings, some of which were purpose built, plus several halls and theatres which regularly showed films. Few people owned a television and so The Gaumont in St Helen’s Street (now known as The Regent Theatre) would be packed with people who wanted to be entertained and informed.
As well as the main film, there would be a supporting (or B film) plus a news reel from Pathe News. Smoking was permitted everywhere in the auditorium.
Colin Moss, The Gaumont Cinema Audience, 1948
The cinema goers of Ipswich in person
“This painting records a different kind of absorption: that of a weary, ration-fed audience in silver screen fantasy. Three or four bodies are picked out in profile by the projector’s reflected light, slouching down, expressionless. There’s nothing to say about them, no more than about the out-of-focus crowd behind them. They are self-contained, fixated on the same thing. Captivated in isolation, glued to the screen.” The Junket.
Today in Ipswich, the Regent occupies the site of the Gaumont Cinema and is, instead, a performance arts theatre which hosts a multitude of shows and events each year. It has been recently refurbished and seats up to 1,551 people.
The interior of the Regent today
Talking about this painting to Chloe Bennett in the early 1990s, Colin talked about his influences at this time. “I had come across Daumier’s work in the V&A as a student and I acquired a big illustrated book about him in 1941 … His beer drinkers, smokers and theatre audiences probably had some influence on me … I used to go to the cinema a lot. Of course everybody smoked in cinemas in those days, there was a thick haze of tobacco smoke…” Colin Moss: Life Observed.
Honoré Daumier (1808-1879) was a French painter, caricaturist and draughtsman whose work often reflected upon the social political conditions of 19th century France. Daumier’s caricatures often mocked the social conventions of the French middle class and also the incompetency of the French Government. Daumier contributed to the journal Le Charivari for many years and arguably his most controversial lithograph was his depiction of the French king Louis Phillippe “Gargantua” – for this he was imprisoned for six months. In his later career, Daumier was one of the pioneers of realist subjects which probably explains why Colin was so interested in him.
Honoré Daumier, Gargantua, 1831
“Ipswich was a town of bicycles. In the 1950s it was supposed to have more bicycles and motorcycles per head of population than any other town in the country. There was a wonderful wave of workers coming out of the factories …. They had the Bull, the steam whistle which would tell people the time in Ipswich when they finished the shifts, and we knew they would come surging out until they got to the hill, then they’d get off and push.” Peter Underwood The Ipswich Society.
Colin Moss, Uphill Workers 1955
Colin’s interest in portraying the lives of ordinary people dates back to his student days at the Royal College of Art. His 1936 painting, Hunger Marches, was part of his Diploma show in 1937. “His unconventional decision to paint the men as they were seen from behind emphasised their upright determination as a body of humanity rather than as a collection of individuals. This was a device which would become almost a trade mark in several of Colin’s future paintings and drawings.” Colin Moss: Life Observed (Chloe Bennett).
Colin Moss Hunger Marches 1936
Ipswich’s industrial heritage included names that were widely known. Engineering companies such as Ransomes Sims & Jeffries, Ransomes & Rapier and Cranes exported goods around the world and employed generations of Ipswich workers. Colin’s 1950 ink and gouache drawing “Ipswich Cyclists” captures three workmates cycling home in the dark from work. One man leans across to chat to his fellow cyclists and the headlamps of the three bikes glow in the gloom.
Colin Moss Ipswich Cyclists 1950
The picture of the cyclists below was taken in the late 1940s at the bottom of Bishops Hill with Fore Hamlet in the background. Round the corner from the sprawling Ransomes Sims and Jefferies plant, a loud steam-powered horn, known to the people of Ipswich as “The Bull”, would summon people to work.
David Kindred, Ipswich Fore Hamlet
Today the area around Bishops Hill and Fore Hamlet is largely unrecognisable. The road was widened in the 1960s to make way for four wheeled traffic, rather than two wheeled, and new buildings have sprung up on both sides of the road.
Fore Hamlet from the bottom of Bishops Hill Photography Michael Jolly
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For many years, Tuesday was market day in Ipswich. The thriving livestock market saw cattle, sheep and pigs being auctioned. The streets surrounding the market area thronged with people and the numerous pubs in the area (now all closed) did a roaring trade on market day.
The Tithe gift sale at the Ipswich Cattle Market (photo by David Kindred )
The men who worked with the livestock had a tough job. The work was hard and the conditions often unpleasant. Colin’s 1956 pastel “Cattle Drovers” depicts two cattle drovers whose job it was to drive the livestock down Princes Street, from the railhead near Princes Street bridge, towards the livestock market in Portman Road.
Colin Moss “Cattle Drovers” 1956
“Lots of people in the period after the war, and who’d been in National Service, wore clothes they’d got in the army as uniform because clothing was rationed. One of them is wearing an ex-army greatcoat. A lot of people used to wear these gumboots with socks that came over the top of them. These men are quite typical of working men at that time. No man went about bareheaded in the street”. Colin Moss: Life Observed
From Jarrow to Ipswich
Twenty years earlier, whilst a young student at the Royal College of Art, Colin had seen the Jarrow Hunger Marchers as they walked through London. His 1936 painting “Hunger Marchers” was the first of many images he produced throughout his long career depicting ordinary men and women. “I like to draw working-class people because they are more interesting than middle-class people”. Colin Moss: Life Observed
Colin Moss “Hunger Marchers” 1936
The End of the Cattle Market
The cattle market was part of Ipswich’s history for centuries. Its location changed several times over the years as the town expanded. In 1856 the cattle market moved to its final site on (what was then) the town marshes, the area which is now between Portman Road and Princes Street. The last livestock market was held in the town in January 1985.
The docks area of Ipswich has been used for trade for well over a 1000 years. When Colin started teaching at the Ipswich Art School in the late 1940s, the dock had yet to transform into the stylish waterfront we see today. The commercial landscape, with its wharves and warehouses, proved to be a source of inspiration for both Colin and his students.
“I used to think the Docks were the best thing about Ipswich. I used to take a lot of sketching classes of students down to the Docks, and in those days they were far more free and easy about where you could go there.” Colin Moss: Life Observed.
Colin Moss “Ipswich from the New Cut” (1950)
Yeast and Sugar Beet
Judy Foster, one of Colin’s students between 1955 and 1959, was similarly impressed. She particularly remembers “a peculiar kind of smell from the Docks, the yeast … the maltings and the sugar beet which wafted one way or another, depending on the direction of the wind.”
Colin Moss “Ipswich Docks” (c1950-55)
A European Sensibility
“What made Colin special was that he brought a European sensibility to local art. He studied with Oskar Kokoschka in Salzburg, Austria and absorbed his very colourful view of the world. When he returned to Suffolk, he produced a series of local landscapes including views of Ipswich Docks which he executed in a very strong, vibrant style. The local people hated it – he painted these pictures in strong pinks and purples, not all the colours he was seeing – but this was the influence of Oskar Kokoschka.” Tony Coe – John Russell Gallery, Ipswich
The Waterfront Today
Over the past two decades, Ipswich’s waterfront has been transformed. Now a stylish area of restaurants, shops and apartments, and with a thriving marina, buildings from the waterfront’s rich maritime past, sit alongside developments from the new.
Ipswich Waterfront today – photography Michael Jolly