Colin Moss “Sleeping Nude” Charcoal
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Life drawing “the activity or skill of drawing people from life, especially a model in an art class”, as stated simply in the Macmillan Dictionary. And yet its realisation is anything but simple.
Colin Moss’s engagement with life drawing is remarkable and something that can be traced across his entire career. On his retirement from teaching in 1979, Chloe Bennett (then curator for Ipswich Museum and Galleries) said:
“Colin Moss must surely rate as one of the finest exponents of the fully representational nude in post war Britain.”
Consequently, we can explore this by taking a look at it from three different perspectives in his life: as a student, as an artist, and as a teacher.
Colin Moss “Reclining Nude (Pat Moss)” (1974) pen and ink
A little bit of history
Life drawing has always been an important and historic part of an artist’s technical training and has gained a reputation because of this very ‘technicality’. In many ways, it is similar to the study of harmony and counterpoint that musicians undergo or the study of cases and declensions in Latin.
There is a rich and varied history of life drawing, both in its function as an artistic technique and in the interpretation of how it should function. It ranges from Stone Age artists drawing simple male and female figures, to the purely anatomical drawings of Leonardo da Vinci and its use as a plan for Michelangelo’s statues.
Colin Moss – Student Days
Plymouth School of Art
In the early 1930s, Colin Moss started his artistic education at Plymouth School of Art. Here life drawing was an integral part of that education – and intensively taught. The Board of Education drawing exam, which he took in 1933, required extensive knowledge of the “nuts and bolts” of anatomy.
This understanding of how a body is put together, how muscles relate to bones and how posture is underpinned by anatomy, can be seen in countless pieces of his work. In these two drawings (from later on in his career) the women’s reflections in their respective mirrors accurately reflect their pose. A technique that looks simple, but is fiendishly difficult to pull off!
Colin Moss “Washing her Hair” (c1980s) pastel and Colin Moss “Nude in a Mirror” (1997) charcoal
The Royal College of Art
In 1934, Colin Moss successfully applied to the Royal College of Art and started a new stage of his life as a student in pre-war London. Despite his joy at being able to study a subject he loved, like many artists before and since, he gained something of a reputation for being a “difficult” student.
Royal College of Art Year Group 1936 – Colin Moss – seated, second from left
A Difficult Student
In his third year at the College, it was his table tennis as well as his stubborn temperament that got him into trouble with the authorities. Ironically, the incident led to an intensive phase of working in the Life Room which would have a permanent effect on his skills as a draughtsman.
One afternoon, when he should have been in the Life Drawing class, the College Registrar caught Colin playing table tennis.
“He said, “What are you doing playing table tennis?” and I said, “Well I didn’t feel like drawing this afternoon.” He said “What do you mean, you didn’t feel like it, you’ve got to draw!” So I answered “Well I don’t see why you should draw …” and so on. I was very insolent you see.
He said “Now look here. I’m going to look for you in the Life Class from 4 till 6 every afternoon for the rest of the year … and if you’re not there I will expel you!”
So I did go every afternoon and drew, very often I was the only student in the studio sitting and drawing and he always looked in to see if I was there. I got to the end of the year and I had stacks of drawings, and it was marvellous because I could have every pose I wanted, nobody else was there to set the pose.”
Colin Moss: Life Observed
Colin Moss “Standing Nude” (1937) charcoal
Along with the long hours spent in the Life Room, the influence of his contemporaries such as Ruskin Spear and the work of acclaimed contemporary artists, such as Sir Matthew Smith with his sumptuous nudes, discovered during his time at the College, continued to influence and inspire Colin Moss throughout his career.
Colin Moss – The Artist
Colin Moss considered life drawing as the ultimate, indeed greatest, artistic challenge. Mastering life drawing meant mastering proportion and form, understanding how light will cast shade and shadow in some areas and highlight in others, how the model’s muscles will appear when they put their weight on this side or in this pose.
The Influence of Edgar Degas
An admirer of Impressionist painter Edgar Degas since student days, Colin eagerly attended a large exhibition of Degas’s work at the Tate Gallery in 1952. Degas is most widely known for his work depicting dancers but is also celebrated for his drawings and paintings of “women at their toilette”.
“I think I owe an enormous debt to Degas, not only in giving me an immense number of ‘lessons’ in how to draw, but also because he initiated this thing of placing the nude in the bathroom … as opposed to the classical nude which was always put in some historical content in a painting, like Alma-Tadema and people like that.
Degas apparently shocked the public very badly by showing women in their bathrooms doing what you do in a bathroom! His technical style, his manner of drawing, I thought was wonderful and I’ve not doubt that some of my drawings may show that admiration and an attempt to give tribute to his brilliant handling of his materials.”
Colin Moss: Life Observed
Colin Moss “Bathing” (c1970s) Charcoal
Colin Moss “Woman washing her Hair” (c1970s) Charcoal
Colin Moss was a master draughtsman of the “old school”, which venerated learning the musculature and skeletal features of the human figure by heart, and he could also easily turn his attention to drawing a precise representation of the human form or painting an earthy and sensual female nude, using a dizzying variety of styles and mediums.
Colin Moss “Giant Figurescape” (1980s) Acrylic on canvas
Colin Moss “Reclining Nude (Pat Moss)” 1970s Coloured inks & wash
Colin Moss “Early Riser” (1964) Woodcut
Colin Moss “Anatomical Casts on a Battlefield” (1978) Pencil
Colin Moss “Mrs B” (1960) Pastel
In his eighties, Colin Moss was still producing a wide range of work depicting the human form. Age neither dimmed his eye nor crippled his hands as the intensive training of his youth stood in him in good stead for an artistic career spanning over 65 years.
Colin Moss at work in his studio in 1997 aged 83 (Photo credit: EADT)
Colin Moss – Art Teacher
Colin Moss joined Ipswich Art School in 1947 having been demobbed from the Army following his war service, first as a camoufleur and then as a captain in the Life Guards. He remained at Ipswich Art School until his retirement in 1979 and his influence was felt across generations of artists.
“But the point is that I think he was one of the most inspiring people, and I wish that we had had him more of the time… Drawing is the basis of all my work and everything I do, and it could very well have come from those early days”.
Ipswich Art School 1962-64
Some of the most moving statements about Colin as an artist/teacher come from those students who talk about Colin’s enthusiasm for life drawing and its impact on their own work.
Interview with award winning ceramicist Annie Turner, Loewe Craft Prize Finalist 2019 (and former Colin Moss student)
And some have that same formative inspiration from life drawing that Colin had when he was a student and which he continued to explore over the years, like Bev Parish in a lovely comment from a previous blog:
“I’m still drawing, still painting and still looking – fifty years after my art school days – due in no small part to Colin Moss.”
Bev Parish – former student
Heather Ling – former student NDD Life Painting Course
Watercolour from one of Colin Moss’s sketchbooks, showing Colin sketching in a life drawing class with a student looking on
Significant too are the numerous statements about discipline in his classes, more for seriousness of purpose rather than behavioural control. Maggi Hambling talks of him being “concise, clear, disciplined (ex-army of course)” or Richard Pinkney summing it up nicely with “just by his sheer presence and seriousness of attitude you were very quickly aware that art was no trivial pursuit, it was actually a very serious business”.
And despite being a teacher with a considerable artistic pedigree, Colin Moss was happy to be inspired in turn by the work his students produced.
In 2011, Ipswich Art School Gallery staged “The Class Of…” an artistic school reunion of those who spent many creative years toiling away in Ipswich Art School. Among the highlights of the exhibition was Colin’s drawing of a former student’s sculpture.
“Colin was so inspired by Ray Exworth’s sculpture that he wanted to do a life drawing of the piece.”
Emma Roodhouse, Collections & Learning Curator (Art)
(L) Sculptor Ray Exworth – Photo Credit Jem Southam Photographs Ray’s Sheds: The Hidden Work of Ray Exworth
(R) Ray Exworth’s sculpture alongside a charcoal drawing of the sculpture by his tutor Colin Moss Photo credit EADT
Colin Moss and a life of Life Drawing
Anyone browsing through a collection of Colin Moss’s life drawings cannot fail to notice the sheer variety of work that was produced. The idea of a circle of life drawing influencing Colin and then Colin influencing his students can be transplanted onto his artistic work: starting with the simple idea of life drawing, moving to the complexity and astonishing array of technical feats evident in the works, and returning to the same simplicity: whether it be the historic documentation of his social realist works, or the admiration and persistent desire to understand the female form in art.
Colin Moss “Reclining Nude” (1978) charcoal on canvas
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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)
“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)
L-R : ‘The Mulberry Tree Pub’, ‘Cattle Drovers’, ‘Boy Blue’, ‘Discussing Terms’, ‘The Window Cleaner’ (c1950-1990)
“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
“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)
L-R ‘Pastel Nude’, ‘Woman on a Red Drape’, ‘Female Nude’, ‘Rolling Nude’, ‘Bathers’ (c1950-1980)
“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.
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 ‘The Last Supper’ 1950
“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’ 1986
“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.
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.
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 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.
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
When Colin Moss was training at the Royal College of Art in the 1920s, drawing was an integral part of his education – and intensively taught. His Board of Education Drawing Examination was, in his words, ‘very difficult indeed’. One test involved drawing a figure in action as a skeleton and a muscle figure, showing all the bones and muscles. He also had to do a life drawing from memory.
It’s entirely possible that his study included drawing plaster casts, which had some advantages over drawing from life. Shadows, for example, were still present, but the white plaster made it easier to recognise them and to experiment with tones. Which may be why Colin was using them at the Ipswich Art School in 1978. By then exercises like this had rather fallen out of fashion.
“I was doing a project on anatomy with my students and the somewhat damaged casts were all we had… I had to do a lot of drawing of these casts in teaching these kids to draw.”
Colin completed the project, but became fascinated by the casts themselves. The head of one had broken off, so he put it near the figure, on the ground, and started drawing it. At which point one of his students brought in a book full of photographs taken during the First World War. And inspiration struck.
“I looked at them and thought ‘What an amazing piece of surrealism to put these casts into the battlefield…’ You can see the shells exploding in the air and so on, and it all came together as a complete idea. I didn’t set out with the concrete idea in my mind, it grew as the thing developed.’
Colin Moss “Anatomical Casts on a Battlefield” 1978 Pencil 76.5 cm x 56 cm
Colchester & Ipswich Museums
Restoring the art school’s plaster casts
As part of the ongoing Kiss & Tell exhibition, Ipswich Museums and Galleries have restored two of the old Ipswich Art School’s plaster casts – the Bruges Madonna (pictured below) and Michelangelo’s Taddei Tondo. The conservation process for the Madonna began with a series of photographs to record the state of the cast before restoration. The work involved cleaning the surface, replacing essential missing parts, repainting the piece and then waxing it.
The restorers used melamine sponges, warm distilled water and conservation grade mild detergent to clean the cast. As expected, this revealed a considerable amount of detail, but there had also been much damage over time. After sealing any open edges with a solution of PVA glue in water, they used dental wax to control the plaster fills, modelling them using coarse sandpaper and then smoothing them with flexi grit paper before finishing with Polyfilla. After sealing the casts with the PVA/water solution they painted it with chalk paint, allowing the plaster to breathe, and finished it with a final coat of wax. You can read a detailed account of the process here.
Kiss & Tell at Christchurch Mansion
The exhibition itself is devoted to works of art showing the human body in its natural state and in movement. With Auguste Rodin’s iconic The Kiss as the star attraction, it also includes works by Suffolk sculptors including Thomas Woolner, RA (a founder member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood who was born in Hadleigh) and Maggi Hambling CBE, who trained under Colin at the Ipswich School of Art.
One of Colin’s paintings – ‘Standing Nude’ (1969) – is on display alongside works by artists such as Constable, Blake and Picasso.
The exhibition, reviewed here continues until 28 April 2019
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.
Bramford Road, Ipswich – Then and Now
An Arnold Bennett Kind of Town
When Colin returned to Ipswich in 1947, he found a town still recovering from the effects of the war. “In those days I always felt that it was like a town from the north that had somehow slipped down a couple of hundred miles and got here! It was a very Arnold Bennett kind of town.” Colin Moss: Life Observed.
Bramford Road in the early 1950s (Photo David Kindred)
During those early years in Ipswich, Colin often felt very lonely and isolated “because I was divorced when I came out of the army … and Ipswich is not a town where you make friends easily.”
Bramford Road, Ipswich at Night (c 1950)
Colin found lodgings at Orwell Lodge, 233 Bramford Road, on the corner of Tower Mill Road, opposite the Bramford Road post office. He shared the house with Miss Jolly, the landlady, and her two unmarried brothers. “I had my own lounge and bedroom, and lived there for about thirteen years, by which time I was gradually getting integrated into Ipswich society, but not with much ease.”
Bramford Road marked an unhappy period in Colin’s life. It did though prove to be a wonderful source of inspiration for many drawings and paintings. As Andrew Clarke (Arts Editor of the East Anglian Daily Times) commented in an article in 2010, “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 …”.
Bramford Road Today
In the mid-1990s, after a gap of more than 30 years, Colin decided to go back and visit Orwell Lodge. The house was now derelict and in a sad state of disrepair, as his painting below shows. The week after Colin had returned to Orwell Lodge, the house was sold. The house was then quickly demolished and replaced with a modern, three-storey block of flats.
Orwell Lodge, Bramford Lane (1995)
The block of modern flats that now stand at 233 Bramford Road
Photography – Michael Jolly