Colin Moss “Half and Half” (1951) Pastel
Throughout his entire career, Colin Moss’s mastery of observational drawing was the bedrock for much of his artistic output. Schooled in the 1930s, at a time when observational drawing was the cornerstone of art education, his training at Plymouth Art School and The Royal College of Art profoundly influenced his long career in art.
However, during the “swinging 60s”, this once central part of the curriculum was marginalised and quickly assumed a subsidiary role in how art was taught in this country. In today’s blog, we trace how observational drawing came to prominence in the UK and then lost its place in the cultural revolution of the 1960s.
In the UK, Slade School of Art Professor Henry Tonks was instrumental in shaping the way that students were taught. Under his long tenure (1892-1930), students had to draw constantly throughout their early years and were given regular lectures in perspective, for example, and regularly went to museums to make copies.
Colin Moss – “Museum Study – Cockerel” c1932
The art historian Jacob Willer argues that Tonks’ emphasis on observation and drawing was a legacy of the Pre-Raphaelite and Aesthetic movements of the early to mid 19th century that, in turn, drew on the traditions of the early Renaissance.
Royal College of Art
Similar ideas also ran through The Royal College of Art, which was founded in 1837 as the Government School of Design. At the RCA, the approach differed from the Slade, which was established to train fine artists. The RCA offered students a thorough grounding in drawing from using plaster casts of natural forms, ornamental designs and fragments of architecture and sculpture above life drawing.
Although by Colin Moss’s time, the RCA did as much life drawing as students at the Slade, close observation through anatomical casts remained an integral a part of the curriculum as it had in the College’s foundation a hundred years before.
Royal College of Art interior showing plaster casts of classical sculptures dated 1910
© Victoria & Albert Museum
Board of Education Drawing Exam
In order to qualify for entry into the RCA, Colin Moss had to pass the Board of Education drawing exam in the early 1930s. This tested students on their ability to draw from memory subjects chosen by the examiner such as a skeleton and muscle figure across seven different categories including as antique drawing and measured perspective. Colin Moss later said that this drawing exam was
“a wonderful sort of basic grammar, nobody would ever consider doing any of those things in an art school now of course… but I maintain that it gave a grasp of drawing which was the basis of everything I’ve ever done since.”
Colin Moss: Life Observed
Anatomical Casts on a Battlefield
It was this grounding that enabled Colin Moss to compose drawings such as “Anatomical Casts on a Battlefield” – a drawing that:
“could only have been done by someone of Colin’s generation, who had been rigorously trained within the disciplined 1930s art school tradition with its emphasis on learning the musculature and skeletal features of the human figure by heart.”
Chloe Bennet, Colin Moss: Life Observed
Colin Moss “Anatomical Casts on a Battlefield” (1978) Pencil
Colchester and Ipswich Museums Collections
Battlefields and Surrealism
“I was doing a project on anatomy with my students and these somewhat damaged casts were all that we had…I had to do a lot of drawings of these casts in teaching these kids to draw.
When the project was finished I was fascinated, I found I quite liked drawing these casts very carefully and precisely in pencil, so I started to draw the left hand figure, and then thought, that’s interesting I’ll make another one.
I drew this figure, which would got its head knocked off, but the head was still around so I put it on the ground in front of it. By a strange coincidence, a student brought in a book which was full of photographs of the 1914-18 war.
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 a concrete idea in my mind, it grew as the thing developed.”
Colin Moss: Life Observed
The disciplined environment that Colin Moss spent his formative years in, started to disappear in the post war period, as new ideologies spread rapidly throughout art education.
Henry Tonks, the man who did so much to emphasize close observation through anatomical casts and life drawing, commented that even in the 1930s the demands for change to the curriculum were strong. When describing the approach of a modern student, he said that they
“saw that no great power of drawing was necessary to produce a picture of ideas, so they made the plunge – perhaps plunge is too violent a word, they sidled into art.”
Colin Moss was committed to the values of Tonks throughout his career but started to find himself at odds with the prevailing mood of students and fellow practitioners. The academic training that he had received was seen to be somewhat restrictive by students who wanted to develop their own interpretations.
Colin Moss – Sketch for self-portrait “Inward Looking” (1966) Watercolour
Jacob Willier’s view is that this was the result of a change in attitude and ideology from the 1930s through to the 1960s that saw:
“art becoming more of a matter of taking a stand and making a novel statement and less a matter of making a good picture to the best of the painter’s knowledge and ability.”
Ipswich Art School in the 1960s
This pressure for change led to the creation of the new Diploma in Art and Design, which was introduced across art schools during the 1960s. At the Ipswich Art School where Colin Moss was senior lecturer, Roy Ascott was appointed to lead the School’s implementation of the new diploma and he appointed a team of new lecturers to assist in this task.
Colin Moss with a group of students and tutors in The Octagon, Ipswich Art School, 1960
Photograph courtesy of the East Anglian Daily Times
One such person was Stephen Willats, whose studio was next to Colin Moss’s. He expected to find an “ageing reactionary entrenched in tradition” he discovered the “breadth and depth of Colin’s vision and intellect.”
Indeed Colin “might have been a master draughtsman of the old school but he did accept the radical, if not mind blowing, ideas… when art schools universally were becoming more informal and free expression was the vogue.”
Despite the changes that occurred within art and art education, Colin Moss’s disciplined training in close observation as provided by anatomical casts and life drawing endowed him with the firmest of foundations. It enabled him to approach every piece of work secure in the knowledge that he could depict the human figure in its true form and apply his own creativity and expression on top of that foundation layer.
Colin Moss “On the Streets, Then and Now” (1992) Pencil
To see how Colin Moss actually used this in his drawing, and how his style evolved over his long career, head over to our Instagram page to view some of his best work.
Colin Moss “Sleeping Nude” Charcoal
Reading Time: 6 minutes
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
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
The Arboretum Pub – Then and Now
“The one I used all through my working career was the Arboretum, opposite the art school… that was the pub which all the people who worked there used. In those days, pubs weren’t like they are now … the best food you could get in a pub was a pork pie and a packet of crisps!”
Colin Moss: Life Observed
The Arboretum Bar, 1950 (1981)
All of Life is Here
The clientele of the Arboretum in Ipswich, Suffolk was a mix of different characters. An opera singer who used to sing for the pub during the evening. Ipswich Art School lecturers and working men. And Ipswich character “Jock the Tramp”. Jock would normally either be wearing all his clothes at once or would have them around his waist. Regardless of this, he would always have a piece of string instead of a belt to hold his trousers up.
Many of the art school staff would go straight to the Arboretum during lunch or after the day had ended. Colin’s order would always be a glass of sweet white wine. When going to the pub, the staff would try and avoid the gaze of the Head of the Art School whose office overlooked the pub’s entrance.
In the 1950s the Arboretum was rather short on comfort. Every time the landlord (one Leslie Ward according to Suffolk CAMRA) would bring a bag of coal in for the “tortoise stove”, the whole pub would cheer as it was frequently quite cold!
Dating back to Victorian times, the Arboretum pub has been a part of Ipswich life for well over 150 years. It “was named after the arboretum that was designed in 1851 as a place of quiet recreation in nearby Christchurch Park” (Susan Gardiner “Ipswich Pubs”). Renamed as “The Arbor House” in 2016, it has a growing reputation as an excellent gastropub.
The Arbor House today