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Colin Moss : Portraits of the Artist

Colin Moss : Portraits of the Artist

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“Colin Moss has always been something of a cultural icon in his native East Anglia. Not only was he one of the nation’s great contemporary artists – his death warranted fulsome obituaries in the national broadsheets – but he was also a passionate teacher.

 

He was senior lecturer in figure drawing at the highly regarded Ipswich Art School for 33 years. Among his students was Maggi Hambling, who opened a major retrospective of his work”.

Andrew Clarke art critic East Anglian Daily Times (2010)

Quote from Maggi Hambling about her teacher the artist Colin Moss alongside Colin Moss's painting The Potato Pickers depicting three figures in a field

 

Social Realism

“He [Colin Moss] shows the unprivileged, indeed underprivileged, members of our society – men and women on the street corner, outside the pubs, marooned on the park bench… Somehow Moss, in his great parade of people and situations is most concerned with the very basic facts of existence – the struggle to survive, to find a degree of comfort, to work, to love, and to discern, hopefully, some light at the end of the tunnel.”

Michael Chase, The Minories Gallery (1983)

The Sweeper and Ipswich Cyclists by Colin Moss showing a man in an overcoat and cap sweeping the street and three men on bicycles leaving work

‘Man Sweeping’ 1958
‘Ipswich Cyclists’ 1950 Colchester & Ipswich Museums

Paintings and drawings by the artist Colin Moss showing working class life in Ipswich Suffolk

L-R : ‘The Mulberry Tree Pub’, ‘Cattle Drovers’, ‘Boy Blue’, ‘Discussing Terms’, ‘The Window Cleaner’ (c1950-1990)

 

Expressionism

“Colin Moss is that rare being – a happy Expressionist … He slashes and whirls his pigment into thick, ecstatic confections; they sing out from the walls, like rich base baritones, drenching everything in a cascade of boisterous colour; palpitating reds – an almost unbelievably skillful range of violet-mauve-purple vein-shattering blues – and vibrant falsetto greens…”

Mervyn Levy, Arts Review, February 1955

A view of Ipswich from the New Cut at the Docks showing boats in the foreground and warehouses in the distance

‘Ipswich from the New Cut’, 1950 Colchester & Ipswich Museums

 

Life Drawing

“An accomplished draughtsman, practitioner and teacher of life drawing since his early training at Plymouth Art School and the Royal College of Art, and master of what he called “the artist’s greatest challenge”

Chloe Bennett – Art Curator, Ipswich Museums (1978 – 1992)

5 life drawing drawings, pastels, oils and watercolours by Colin Moss depicting the female form

L-R ‘Pastel Nude’, ‘Woman on a Red Drape’, ‘Female Nude’, ‘Rolling Nude’, ‘Bathers’ (c1950-1980)

4 life drawing images by Colin Moss in charcoal, red chalk and oil including one "After Studies for the Libyan Sibyl'

L-R ‘Nude in a Mirror’ ‘After Michelangelo – Studies for the Libyan Sibyl‘, ‘Two Nudes’, ‘Seated Male Nude’ (c1980s)

 

War

“I made drawings such as The Guardroom in the immediate post-war years, but then I gradually moved out of the war ethos and it wasn’t until very much later indeed that I suddenly had an inclination to do more of these memories of the war. I found that although it was 30 or 40 years after I remember them quite vividly.”

Colin Moss: Life Observed

Although Colin Moss’s work as a camouflage designer for the Ministry of Home Security is now acclaimed, with watercolours in the Imperial War Museum and Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum, it was his experiences as a soldier on active duty in north Africa and Palestine during WWII that led to the production of some of his most powerful pieces.

Colin Moss Playing Soldiers - four soldiers, crouching on the ground, with their helmets and rifles playing cards

Colin Moss ‘Playing Soldiers’ Colchester & Ipswich Museums: Ipswich Borough Council Collection

Haunting and disturbing images of concentration camp victims behind the wire in pencil, oil and lithograph

Colin Moss ‘Moonlight over the Third Reich’ (1982), linocut, oil, pencil Colchester & Ipswich Museums (linocut) The Ben-Uri Museum, London (oil)

 

Religion & Society

Once his teaching duties at Ipswich Art School were finished for the day, Colin Moss would cross the road to The Arboretum pub for a drink. Very much a “fireplace and floorboard” pub, with little in the way of creature comforts, Colin felt at home amongst the working men and the “down at heel” who drank there and the camaraderie of its rough and ready clientele is reflected in many of these works such as The Last Supper and Carrying the Dead Christ. In 1990, an exhibition of this work entitled ‘Paintings, Religious & Profane’ was held at the Chappel Galleries in Essex. The exhibition received a great deal of media attention, including an interview for BBC News.

Colin Moss's 1950 depiction of The Last Supper shows a brotherhood of working men, bonded in friendship, in a contemporary setting that takes its inspiration from the pubs of post war Britain.

Colin Moss ‘The Last Supper’ 1950

Colin Moss 5 images showing Christ, the Crucifixion, the Loaves and Fishes and the Nativity

L-R ‘After Mantegna: Lamentation over the Dead Christ‘, ‘The Countryside Crucifixion’, ‘Loaves & Fishes’, ‘The Nativity’, ‘Christ on the Cross’ (1947-1997)

 

Flowers

“Retirement in 1979 after 32 years of teaching at the Ipswich School of Art brought Colin greater freedom to paint at a time when he was still at the height of his powers. The 1980s saw him take special pleasure in painting oil studies of his garden and a wonderful series of flowers in vibrant watercolours.”

Chloe Bennett – Art Curator, Ipswich Museums (1978 – 1992)

Colin Moss 'Irises in a Landscape' vibrant watercolour of yellow and purple irises

Colin Moss ‘Irises in a Landscape’ 1986

 

Self Portraits

“I was very much obsessed with Rembrandt … the fact that he did so many self-portraits from being very young influenced me in the same direction”.

Colin Moss: Life Observed

Art News & Review (now known as ArtReview) began publishing artists’ self-portraits on its front pages in 1949. There was usually a short biography alongside the self-portrait, often written by a friend of the artist. Colin’s was featured on 18th August 1956. In 1982 the Tate Gallery Archive acquired 122 of these original self-portraits, including Colin’s ink & brush self-portrait from the August 1956 edition.

Black and white self portrait of the artist Colin Moss in a roll neck sweater

Colin Moss ‘Colin Moss in a Roll Neck’ 1960

 

“I have always thought of him as the supreme strong man among Suffolk painters. In this he is a constant expressionist, observing and committing swiftly to paper the essentials of a subject.”

Bernard Reynolds – Sculptor

 

Colin Moss Biography – Bonhams London

Colin Moss was born at 28 Cemetery Road, Ipswich and spent his formative years there. The family moved to Plymouth in 1921, following the death of his father in action during World War One. It was in Devon that he first became absorbed in fine art and drawing, and he attended Plymouth Art School from 1930-1934. A scholarship to study at The Royal College of Art followed, seeing him graduate in 1938. As his style developed, his influences included Degas, Van Gogh and the German Expressionists.

At the outbreak of World War Two Colin was working for the Camouflage Unit of the Air Ministry. Together with one hundred and fifty other artists he was tasked with disguising factories and power stations. After two years he received his papers and joined the Life Guards, spending the remainder of his war in the Middle East. Although never an official war artist he sketched prolifically and was keen to document his experiences; a number of his pictures from this period are represented in The Imperial War Museum. Colin continued to revisit War as a theme in his work throughout his career.

Colin Moss The Big Tower Camouflaged and Camouflage Schemes in Progress

L-R ‘The Big Tower Camouflaged’, Art.IWM ART LD 3025, ‘Water Camouflage’ Art.IWM ART LD 3027, ‘A Camouflage Scheme in Progress’ Art.IWM ART LD 3028 (1943)

 

Life in Civvy Street saw a return to his Ipswich roots when, in 1947, Colin accepted a post as Senior Lecturer at Ipswich Art School. He was to occupy this position until his retirement in 1979. In the interim years, and long after his retirement, he was increasingly recognised as a leading figure in the Regional Art scene. In 1980 he was elected Chairman of Ipswich Art Society and later became President, a position occupied by many great East Anglian artists before him, including Edward Seago, Alfred Munnings and Anna Airy.

Colin’s decision to pursue a dual career as artist and teacher perhaps illustrates the difficulties facing many professional artists. Though his painting career was never sidelined, there was inevitably some compromise as a result of the financial stability that teaching proffered. When teaching, his army background manifested itself in his disciplined and orderly classes. This approach, together with his firm belief in the importance of sound draughtsmanship and keen observation, influenced a generation of students, including Maggi Hambling and Brian Eno.

Interview with award winning ceramicist Annie Turner, Loewe Craft Prize Finalist 2019 (and former Colin Moss student) at Cavaliero Finn

Interview with award winning ceramicist Annie Turner, Loewe Craft Prize Finalist 2019 Cavaliero Finn

 

He also taught by example, with his own work everpresent in the studio alongside that of his students, and would seek opportunities for his own work between classes. In his painting career he was a reluctant self-promoter, however initial forays into the London art scene in the 1950s saw some critical acclaim with representation through The Kensington Art Gallery and later The Zwemmer and Prospect Galleries. He shared exhibitions with the likes of John Bratby, Patrick Heron, Kyffin Williams and John Minton. In 1954, and again in 1956, he took time-off from teaching to concentrate fully on painting, his 1950s social-realism paintings culminating in his ‘big pictures’ of working men and women produced at the height of his artistic powers, as exemplified in the present collection.

Colin Moss three social realism images depicting life in 1950s Ipswich

L-R ‘Man with a Drill’, ‘Over the Garden Fence’, ‘Two Workmen’ ‘The Cattle Drovers’ (1947-1960)

 

His work is represented in many national collections : The British Museum, The Tate Archive Collection, Norwich Castle Museum, the Ben Uri Art Gallery, Leamington Spa Art Gallery, Nottingham Art Gallery and The Colchester and Ipswich Museums

 

Social Realism & the Art of Colin Moss ARCA

Social Realism & the Art of Colin Moss ARCA

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 marches 1936

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!

Colin Moss Ipswich cyclists 1950

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 Society – Ken Cuthbert at 90  

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.

Ipswich cinema through the lens of an artist

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, 1948Colin 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

Colin’s influences

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.

 

Ipswich – A Town of Bicycles

“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 1955Colin 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 1936Colin 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 1950Colin 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.

Ipswich Fore HamletDavid 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 Fore Hamlet from the bottom of Bishops Hill Photography Michael Jolly

Find more about Colin Moss on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/pg/ColinWMoss/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1638294312868616

Ipswich Cattle Market: Then and Now

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 )

Cattle Drovers

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 1956Colin 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 Marches 1936 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.