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Kiss & Tell about Plaster Casts

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.”

Inspiration

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

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.

 

Bramford Road, Ipswich – Then and Now

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, Ipswich shops

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.”

Colin Moss Bramford Road at Night

Bramford Road, Ipswich at Night (c 1950)

Orwell Lodge

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 …”.

Colin Moss Window Cleaner

 

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.

Colin Moss Bramford Road 1995

Orwell Lodge, Bramford Lane (1995)

Orwell Lodge, Bramford Road Today

The block of modern flats that now stand at 233 Bramford Road
Photography – Michael Jolly