I was born in Bristol in 1947. I was always an obsessive drawer - encouraged by my father who got me copying Leonardo drawings from a very early age. I had very bad eczema and asthma and spent much of my childhood being anointed with or inhaling strange substances, and having my wounds dressed and bandaged. I left school aged sixteen with five O levels and an A level in art - the minimum required to get into art college. I got a job as a filing clerk for the National Assistance Board, (£7 per week), worked on building sites, drove a dumper truck, was deck chair attendant on the beaches in Tenby, drove a Securicor night patrol van with a huge Alsation named Maggie in the back.In 1965 I enrolled on the Pre-Diploma course at the Royal West of England College of Art and went on to do a DipAD in Sculpture and Drawing at Kingston School of Art. I made large ply and fibre-glass abstract sculptures.
1969 – 71. I got a studio in Brentford. Failed to make any work. Smoked a great deal of Marijuana. Worked as a night watchman. At one point I got an ‘overtime’ job escorting the GLC rent collector around Tulse Hill and was shocked by the extreme poverty I saw. I was radicalised.
In 1971 I hitch-hiked alone to Portugal and stayed for two months selling drawings of local places to feed myself. When I returned, broke, I did numerous jobs driving vans, worked in a Croissant bakery in Shepherds Bush and was employed as ‘Portrait Artist’ at the Hammersmith Palais – sitting in the dance hall charging £1 per portrait - made twenty quid one night.1972 -74 I worked in an old factory in Kennington with a bunch of stoned, unemployed sculptors making theatre props and sets for various West End productions and a number for the RSC: Doctor Faustus, Royal Hunt of the Sun, Summerfolk and others.I worked as a ‘Roadie’ at Earls Court Arena, operated a follow-spot at a David Bowie concert and did various jobs in other productions including Pink Floyd (where I shared a joint with the backing singers on stage at the first live performance of ‘Dark Side of the Moon’); Slade; The Sensational Alex Harvey band; the Russian Gymnasts and others.
1974 – 1978 during this short period my mother died, I got married, had two children - and a third born in 1984 - bought a semi derelict house and started teaching sculpture (wood-carving) part-time at Spencer Park comprehensive school.Somehow I also re-started my practice, drawing on large rolls of paper.By this time I had come to feel that the ‘art world’ was a pretentious and mystifying place* and that most art meant nothing to most people**. I decided that my strategy would be to ‘outflank ‘em’ and make work, however anomalous, that reached people emotionally and intellectually and spoke about the gross inequalities between the powerless and powerful.
*I have modified this view somewhat since then.**I haven’t modified that view.
In 1977 I had my first solo show at the Parkway Focus gallery in Camden. It comprised drawings of figures, perceived as either predatory or vulnerable. Beryl Bainbridge bought a small drawing. The show was well received and even got a few reviews.Also that year I showed three drawings in the Cleveland International Drawing biennale and won 4th prize.1978. I showed large drawings in ‘Art for Society’ at the Whitechapel gallery. There was quite a lot of critical interest in the show.Sometime around this time I had a conversation with an influential Marxist historian in which I asked him what the founding principle of a left-wing art practice might be – his reply was that it should express contradiction. I began thinking about how my work might express contradiction through its formal language as well as subject.1979 I showed three large pieces in the Narrative Painting exhibition, Arnolfini, Bristol, and the ICA London. In 1980 I received an Arts Council major award.I began to pick up bits of teaching in art colleges, a day here a day there - what were not then called zero hours contracts. Then I started teaching regularly at the Byam Shaw school of art, where I worked until 1988, eventually running one of the ‘Image’ studios under Wynn Jones.
In 1980 I had a solo exhibition at the AIR gallery London which received positive critical feedback. The same year I had a big solo show at the Herbert city museum and Art gallery in Coventry .In1981 the Arts Council funded a retrospective exhibition of my work at Rochdale art gallery (slightly smaller than the British Museum) and the Ikon gallery Birmingham. William Feaver wrote the catalogue essay. Also in 1981 I did a two month Arts Council funded residency at Maltby colliery in Yorkshire, working underground with the miners for half a shift every day and developing a body of work in an improvised studio on the pit top. The work was shown in a touring exhibition initiated by Bradford City museum and art gallery.From1983 to 1985 I was artist-in-residence in the London borough of Hounslow where I got people together and initiated community projects. I also founded the Small Mansion Arts Centre in a semi-derelict old Regency building in Gunnersbury Park which I ran as a collective for twenty years during which time we initiated about 150 exhibitions and developed a thriving education programme.Other significant exhibitions I showed in during this period were the Nuremberg International Drawing Triennale, the John Moores Liverpool biennale and East International, Norwich.From 1994 until 2001 I was with the Robert Sandleson gallery in Cork Street, London.In 1989 I became head of Painting and was subsequently Professor of Fine Art at The University for the Creative Arts Farnham.
In 1999 I received a Rootstein Hopkins bursary to do research in the United States. Around this time I had a number of Solo London shows including Foster Art 2005, Contemporary Art Projects 2006, and the MPA gallery 2009.
I had many other group shows over this period including ‘One Love’, at the Lowry, Manchester; ‘The Solar Anus’, Henry Peacock gallery, ‘Turbamenti’ Pievo di Cento, Italy; Cokkerfuckingblocked, Jeffrey Charles gallery, ‘Zoo’ art fair London, and Rear View Mirror, Studio 1.1 Shoreditch, London.
What might be described as my epiphany on Tulse Hill has stayed with me and every aspect of my work has been driven by an awareness of the need to struggle for social justice. This has led me to become involved in public projects such as the Battle of Cable Street mural* which I painted with Ray Walker and Desmond Rochfort in 1981-3 and remains a vivid and continuing presence in my life. Since Cable Street I have painted a number of large murals including the Shepherds Bush Peace mural, the TUC Labour History mural in the TUC education centre (in what had been Hornsey school of art) and a mural for UNISON trades union in 2020.
In 2009 I did the Rothko ‘09 painting residency in Daugavpils, Latvia (Rothko’s birthplace).
In 2010 I was consultant to the Commune di Gualdo Tadino in Umbria Italy developing plans for a new ceramics centre*.In 2016 I worked with Clwyd Powys Archeological Trust helping to document abandoned buildings in north Powys. In 2015/16 I worked as artist-in-residence at Tenby museum - a project inspired by my family’s roots in Tenby.
Community projects include working with students from the Bethnal Green Technology College to create a huge multi-cultural banner, and running a series of workshops for pupils at the Globe academy in Bermondsey in 2020 developing images derived from local history.
I continue with what I sometimes call my major sideline of mural painting and have restored a number of the big Keim* London murals, including the Brixton Academy mural and the Cable Street mural in 2011; the Dalston Carnival Peace mural in 2014; and the Nuclear Dawn mural, Brixton in 2021. I will start work on a major new mural in Bermondsey, London in Spring 2022.
My work is in many public collections including the Arts Council, the TUC, the Museum of London, Glasgow People’s Museum, the Jerwood foundation, and the collections of numerous private individuals including Ralph Fiennes, Peter Ackroyd and Beryl Bainbridge.