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Voices of War: UCL in World War I

By Liz Bruchet, on 4 August 2014

Anyone wishing to see Henry Tonks’s death mask on display now has a rare opportunity to do so. With the help of the conservation team from UCL Museums & Collections the delicate mask has been cleaned and prepared for exhibit and it is currently on display as part of a thought-provoking exhibition, Voices of War: UCL in World War I. The exhibition is the result of a collaboration between students of the UCL Institute of Archaeology and the MA in Museum Studies programmes and runs to 5 April 2015 at the A.G. Leventis Gallery, UCL Institute of Archaeology.

Transnational Slade: Ibrahim El-Salahi

By Liz Bruchet, on 17 June 2014

Ibrahim El-Salahi
The third contribution in a series of guest posts by Amna Malik

The Transnational Slade project is interested in the links between past students at the Slade and the impact they went on to have internationally after graduation.

Ibrahim El-Salahi was widely known in the emergence of African modernism in the 1960s but his work has been seen only recently in the UK. His importance is evident in the quote below from Professor Salah Hassan:

El-Salahi’s accomplishments offer profound possibilities for both interrogating and repositioning African modernism in the context of modernity as a universal idea, one in which African history is part and parcel of world history. El-Salahi has been remarkable for his creative and intellectual thought, and his rare body of work, innovative visual vocabulary, and spectacular style have combined to shape African modernism in the visual arts in a powerful way. His contributions, while distinctive and unique, show striking resemblances to those pioneer African modernists such as Skunder Boghossian, Dumile Feni, Ernest Mancoba, Gerard Sokoto, Malangatana Ngwenya, and other important figures whose decade-long journeys have transformed visual art in Africa. Like several of those artists, he has also had his share of an itinerant life, which has significantly molded his career.’ Salah Hassan, ‘Ibrahim El-Salahi and the Making of African and Transnational Modernism’ p11.

Fig1 Ibrahim El-Salahi ‘Portrait of a Woman from Egypt’, (1950-54) Oil on canvas, 31.5 x 38cm Collection Eve El-Salahi

Fig1. Ibrahim El-Salahi
‘Portrait of a Woman from Egypt’, 1950-54
Oil on canvas, 31.5 x 38cm
Collection Eve El-Salahi

El-Salahi came to London from Khartoum to undertake the Diploma course in Fine Art between 1954 and 1957. Born in 1930 in Obdurman, Sudan, El-Salahi was taught by British colonial artists in the School of Design between 1949-51 at Gordon Memorial College, majoring in painting. His initial introduction to western empirical approaches to art can be seen in two portraits Portrait of a Woman From Egypt (fig. 1) and Portrait of a Young Man (fig. 2) both are dated 1950-54, the years prior to his arrival at the Slade. They are confident, vibrant paintings indicating a youthful vitality, but are also clear demonstrations of his ability to master empirical methods. This was a good grounding for his later years at the Slade, where drawing from the life-model was essential to passing exams. In some ways a residue of an academic style of art education that had been eclipsed in Europe and the US by the more experimental approaches inaugurated by the Bauhaus and the rupture of modernism with nineteenth-century academic traditions of art making. However, that academic style had flourished in the emergence of new national art colleges in the 1920s and 1930s in the countries that had been previously subsumed under the old Ottoman empire: Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and in newly emerging independent nation states of Egypt and Lebanon. In that respect, El-Salahi’s knowledge of painting and drawing from the model was not new but a well established set of techniques.

At the Slade this knowledge was furthered by contact with eminent art historians such as E.H Gombrich whose best-selling The Story of Art was the set reading for the students. Gombrich’s lectures were premised on the analysis of perception, how the eye sees and interprets objects in the external world, and how this enters into the practice of Renaissance artists.

Fig. 2. Ibrahim El-Salahi ‘Portrait of a Young Man’ , 1950-54 Oil on paper, 14 7/8 x 12" Collection of Eve El-Salahi

Fig. 2. Ibrahim El-Salahi
‘Portrait of a Young Man’, 1950-54
Oil on paper, 14 7/8 x 12″
Collection of Eve El-Salahi

In this respect, El-Salahi’s work developed with considerable sophistication evident in the difference between the more linear approach to his early portraits and the abandonment of line in favour of subtle tonal modulations in a work such as Portrait of a Model (1956) (fig 3). The study of light on the face is given much greater attention as to convince the spectator that the work was made with the model seated before the artist. The weightiness of her corporeality and the contingent and transitory shift of light mark it out as a more mature study. El-Salahi’s subsequent move towards calligraphy that would later mark his pioneering development towards African modernism was fostered to some degree by his regular visits to the British Museum.

Fig. 3. Ibrahim El-Salahi  ‘Figure’ (female model), 1956, Slade period Oil on plywood board, 42.5 x 57.5cm,  Collection of Eve El-Salahi

Fig. 3. Ibrahim El-Salahi
‘Figure’ (female model), 1956, Slade period
Oil on plywood board, 42.5 x 57.5cm,
Collection of Eve El-Salahi

In addition to the compulsory courses in anatomy and life drawing supplemented by art historical lectures on perception, the Slade curriculum in the 1950s also included design-based courses in lettering, in which El-Salahi excelled. Important works by him that indicate the transition from an empirical based approach to the world to one that moved increasingly towards abstraction, can be found in a painting like Church on the Hill (1956) (fig 4), a landscape painting composed largely of evenly regulated surfaces of colour, many in different tones of green, with the contrasting pinks of a terracotta or brick surface of buildings. The overall impression is closer to the grid-like structures of early Mondrian paintings but the influence of Cézanne appears to be more evident in the work.

Fig 4. Ibrahim El-Salahi, ‘Church on the Hill’, 1956,  oil on canvas, 19 ¼ x 22 7/8" inches Collection of Eve El-Salahi

Fig 4. Ibrahim El-Salahi, ‘Church on the Hill’, 1956,
oil on canvas, 19 ¼ x 22 7/8″ inches
Collection of Eve El-Salahi

A similar approach can be found in his painting Head (1956)(fig.5), a portrait of an elderly suited man in profile. The careful modulation of tones to denote the capturing of the model in light is pushed further so that the patches of different tones become larger and begin to break up the forms. In some respects, these points of tension between figuration and abstraction can be found in the work of artists like Matisse, Franz Macke and Ludwig Kirchner. In El-Salahi’s paintings the distortions of colour and form are reigned in but we can see indications of the later abstract paintings of the 1960s in the fragmentation of the body and surface patterns and structures that were partly created by his immersion into calligraphy.

Fig. 5. Ibrahim El-Salahi ‘Head’ (1956) Oil on board, 35.5 x 45 cm,  Collection of Eve El-Salahi

Fig. 5. Ibrahim El-Salahi
‘Head’ (1956)
Oil on board, 35.5 x 45 cm,
Collection of Eve El-Salahi

Please tell us if you know any more of El-Salahi’s years while he was at the Slade or his early years as an artist in Khartoum in the 1950s. We’re looking for a variety of material: photographs, stories about him, letters from him if you have them and are willing to share them, any knowledge of exhibition catalogues from his early period of the 1950s or where we might get them? Please do share your memories of him as a teacher and colleague. Comments can be added publicly through the Slade Class Photos website, or write to: slade.enquiries@ucl.ac.uk or Slade Archive Project, Slade School of Fine Art, UCL, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT.

Transnational Slade: Khalid Iqbal

By Liz Bruchet, on 9 June 2014

Khalid Iqbal
The second in a series of guest posts by Amna Malik

The Transnational Slade project is interested in the links between past students at the Slade and the impact they went on to have internationally after graduation.

Khalid Iqbal is an important example of the kind of impact Slade students were to play in their countries after studying in London. Often described as a pioneer of realist painting in Pakistan and particularly the landscape tradition, he studied at the Slade from 1952-1954 and returned to Lahore to work alongside Anna Molka Ahmed, a British artist resident in Lahore, who was invited to set up the Department of Fine Art in Punjab University. Iqbal was born in Simla on 23rd June 1929, in Kashmir under the British colonial rule of India. He grew up in Dhera Dun on the foothills of the Himalayas, and during the war was joined by a number of largely European students studying at various English public schools. His arrival in this part of India had been the result of his father’s posting in the Indian Military College. Surrounded by the natural beauty of Kashmir and then the Himalayas that might be thought to determine his subsequent career as a landscape painter, he was nonetheless inspired by a fellow student to embark on his study of art, interrupted by Partition in 1948. The ensuing bloodshed and rioting, particularly in Kashmir, led Iqbal and his family to migrate to Lahore in the Punjab.

Lahore after Partition, however, was a very different place to the cosmopolitan city of culture it had been before 1948. Many of its most vibrant artists, writers and playwrights had left for India, a number of them with Marxist leanings had settled in Bombay. The Punjab as a region had prospered a great deal under British colonial rule, with Lahore as its capital city, its Mughal heritage evident in its organisation as a garden city. By the 1930s it had become the centre for recruitment of Indian officers into the British army. This mixture of cultural and military power gave it a pre-eminence that made it central to the advocates of a Muslim-ruled nation during debates over Independence. However, its cultural eminence was severely diminished in the post-partition years. Khalid Iqbal’s decision to study at the Slade School of Fine Art in 1952 was partly the consequence of the shortage of adequate artists left to teach in Lahore. Attending the Mayo School of Arts between 1947-1948 under the guidance of Sheikh Ahmed, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from FC College in 1949 and gained a Diploma in French from the Oriental College in 1952.

Iqbal’s decision to come to the Slade to study was partly because of the transformed nature of the cultural world of Lahore in the immediate aftermath of Partition. Many artists of his generation in Pakistan studied in Europe in the hope of then returning and reconstructing the cultural life of Lahore, and more widely the newly formed nation. In this respect, their practices and choice of aesthetic approaches were varied but frequently tied to nation building. In Lahore this process led to what came to be known as the Lahore art group, of which Iqbal was a member, a vibrant but short lived group of artists who regularly met and exhibited together in the 1960s. We know from Stephen Chaplin’s recent interview in our Slade Oral Histories archive that Iqbal’s initial plans on arrival at the Slade were to make a close study of Impressionism and explore painting from nature, an aspect of early modernism in the mid to late 19th century that had largely disappeared.

In the early 1950s in Britain residues of the landscape tradition remained in the work of John Piper and Graham Sutherland but was radically altered by the twin influences of Cubism and Surrealism. Those most committed to it had turned to abstraction, famously in the example of Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson, residing in St Ives on the Cornish coast. It was perhaps Iqbal’s good fortune that at the point at which he entered the Slade, its Professor, William Coldstream, was to embark on a lengthy and sustained revision of its teaching and structure, which was to continue well into the 1960s but had only just begun when Iqbal arrived and still privileged an empirical approach to the depiction of the external world. Stephen Chaplin, a former Slade student, and author of the Slade Archive Reader, recalls meeting Iqbal and remembering his seriousness of purpose. In her monograph on Iqbal, Khalid Iqbal, A Pioneer of Modern Realism in Pakistan (2004), the art historian Mussarat Khan explains that Iqbal was very fond of Constable and even made a visit to Dedham and the surrounding areas of Essex, often described as ‘Constable country’. Yet, she argues, despite his concern with landscape painting, and winning the Slade’s annual Steer Landscape prize, he was not inspired to make landscape paintings of the English countryside during his Slade years.

On graduation Iqbal returned to Lahore and began painting the outskirts of the city and the wider rural areas of the Punjab. We know from the vast literature on landscape painting that it is often associated with the sovereignty of vision. Indeed, the canonical examples of landscape painting in Britain have been viewed as important ways in which national identity was constructed. Yet, they are also images of private estates owned by an aristocratic elite and Iqbal’s decision to inaugurate a landscape tradition of the Punjab might be understood as a subtle reversion of that relationship of power, under the newly established state of Pakistan. To embark on a picturing of the rural parts of the country was also to authorise the new ruling elite yet his landscape paintings rarely include portraits of owners. If anything they are either empty or hint at the reconstruction of newly established buildings. There is no hint of the Mughal heritage of Lahore whilst his portrait paintings appear to be either artist-friends or ordinary people in traditional dress.

It might be useful to remember that during colonial rule the Mayo School of Arts was a school for technical draughtsmanship that trained its students to create templates of industrial and architectural design. In the immediate post-war period it emerged as a place to study the miniature tradition that is modelled on a master/apprentice form of learning. The empiricism of the English painterly tradition continued in William Coldstream’s own paintings was perhaps an opportunity for Iqbal to inaugurate a democracy of vision, whereby the optical impressions created on the artist’s eye was the basis from which his creativity might emerge, rather than one that was based on pre-existing models that subsumed the processes of seeing and making sense of the world. It is this latter, democratic vision, drawn in part from Coldstream’s example, that continues to flourish in Iqbal’s images of the Punjab.

Please tell us if you know any more of Iqbal’s years while he was at the Slade or his early years as a Lecturer at Punjab University in the 1950s. We’re looking for photographs, recollections or stories about Iqbal, letters from him if you have them and are willing to share them, and any knowledge of exhibition catalogues from his early period of the 1950s or where we might get them. Please do share your memories of him as a teacher, colleague, friend. Comments can be added publicly through the Slade Class Photos website, or you may write to: slade.enquiries@ucl.ac.uk or Slade Archive Project, Slade School of Fine Art, UCL, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT.

Transnational Slade

By Liz Bruchet, on 3 June 2014

Transnational Slade: Mapping the diaspora of an art school
The first in a series of guest blog posts by Amna Malik

The Transnational Slade project is interested in the links between past students at the Slade and the impact they went on to have internationally after graduation. More specifically we are trying to find out how art school education has affected or impacted on the history of art in different parts of the world.

The initial aim of this project is to explore this impact of art education by examining who was at the Slade, specifically during the 1950s. This decade is important because it was a pivotal decade of change between Britain and its former colonial territories, specifically in the widening of the Commonwealth and the diminishing of the empire. It’s an era when modernism began to enter the work of artists who would play a more visible role in the Independence movements of their countries in South Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Perhaps because of the complex social and historical changes that were underway during the 1950s the art of this decade outside of France, Italy and the US remains under-examined. The presence in London of major artists of modernism created in different parts of the world has not been fully explored, perhaps because of the tendency for art history to be directed by nationalist narratives.

Within British art history we know of familiar movements such as the Bloomsbury Group, the Camden Town Group, the Euston Road School, and after the Second World War the rise of the Independent Group in the 1950s, followed by what was once seen, as British variants on artistic styles, US movements, such as post-painterly abstraction, Pop and land art. We are all aware of the contributions of Moore, Bacon, Sutherland and Hepworth to modernism. In recent years our knowledge of modern and postmodern artists from Britain has widened, including the presence of artists of the African and Asian diaspora, some of them gathered together in Rasheed Araeen’s exhibition The Other Story (1989). The Slade’s position within this history of twentieth century art has tended to arise in the context of Wyndham Lewis and the Vorticists, from 1914 onwards. It is largely examined as a backdrop to the rising stars of figurative painting in the 1950s: Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff, Lucien Freud and later Ewan Uglow.

Transnational Slade, as the name indicates, brings to light the presence in London of artists from numerous parts of the world:  Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Pakistan, Sudan, India, Bangladesh, China, Thailand, South Africa, Canada, Tanzania, Ethiopia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Guyana and Vietnam, to name only a few. While some of these artists have subsequently become well known – for instance Sam Ntiro, Khalid Iqbal, Ibrahim El-Salahi and Skunder Boghossian – all became central to the development of modernism in their countries. The work of other artists has received less attention and is yet to be recognised. We are interested in finding out more about these artists.

Two case studies have been compiled of contrasting artists: Khalid Iqbal is well known in Pakistan as a teacher and pioneer of landscape painting in the realist tradition; we know less about his period of study at the Slade. If you studied with him or knew someone who did, please tell us more. Ibrahim El-Salahi was the subject of a touring retrospective curated by Professor Salah Hassan that came to London’s Tate Modern in summer 2013. Whilst Iqbal’s engagement with the empirical tradition of British art was fundamental to his subsequent career, for El-Salahi it proved to be a starting point for a different direction. As Sudan and other African countries moved towards independence in the 1960s, his work changed in direction, away from painting from the model towards an abstract language influenced by Arabic calligraphy and African tribal sculpture.

These artists have been chosen because they offer contrasting positions in relation to the European canon. Iqbal adapted the empirical realist techniques he learnt at the Slade to depict the outskirts of Lahore in an era of national renewal. His interest in this empirical approach can perhaps be seen as an example of the way modernism adapted and changed in different local contexts. In his case it seems to have been a rejection of the tradition of miniature painting native to Lahore. In this respect, it can also be seen as a rejection of the Mughal styles of art favoured by the British Raj. El-Salahi’s early formation as an artist was in the empirical tradition of drawing and painting from the model, which he continued at the Slade, but radically departed from in subsequent years. Both artists have been highly influential to the development of modernism in their respective countries. They are indicative of the transformative nature of modernism in the twentieth century, as artists responded to local conditions and situations of art making in different parts of the world.

By making Slade class photographs available online we hope that Transnational Slade, through your contributions, will further our, currently, largely Eurocentric knowledge of art history, the place of art under the umbrella of the Commonwealth, and the place of art in the history of national Independence movements. These are just a selection of artists we have come across in our archives who were students at the Slade during the 1950s: Ibrahim El-Salahi A.M. El Din Guneid and Baghdadi Bastawi from Sudan, Sam Joseph Ntiro from Tanganyika (now Tanzania), Arthur Albert Adams and Mary Chappe Sutton from South Africa, Yu Tseng, Chien-Ying Chang, C.W. Fei and Deh-ta Hsiung, from China, Krishna Gosajeni from Thailand, Sinclair Healy from Canada, Jamila Zafar, Khalid Iqbal and Anwar Shemza from Pakistan, Kamalendu Roy, Ameena Ahmed and Kalpathi Ganapathy Subramanyam from India, Jack Cripper and Desmond Digby and James Robson Cowan, otherwise known as Roy Cowan from New Zealand, Warrington Colescott from the US, Surya Antonius from Jordan, Koesoema Affandi from Indonesia, Batil T. Patwa from Kenya, Menhat Allah Helmy from Egypt, Van-my or Phan-Van-My Phan from Vietnam, Skunder Boghossian from Ethiopia, Kim Lim from Singapore.

We’re also looking for a variety of material about these individuals: photographs, stories of your impressions of them, letters from them during their years in London if you have them and are willing to share them, any knowledge of exhibition catalogues or information on where we might get them. Please share with us your memories of these artists as teachers, colleagues, friends. Comments can be added publicly through the Slade Class Photos website, or you may write to: slade.enquiries@ucl.ac.uk or Slade Archive Project, Slade School of Fine Art, UCL, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT.

Stephen Chaplin interview

By Liz Bruchet, on 27 February 2014

As part of his research into the Slade history, Stephen Chaplin had the foresight to undertake a series of audio interviews with former Slade staff and students in the early 1990s. Over the past few months we’ve been selecting highlights from those interviews and publishing them online through SoundCloud. But now the tables have turned and the interviewer has become the subject of the interview. Excerpts from an oral history recording undertaking with Chaplin in 2013 have just been added to the growing collection on SoundCloud, and provide rich evidence of his contribution to the ‘biography’ of the school’s archive. He reminisces about his entrance interview in 1952; the teaching staff’s interpretation of the so-called ‘Euston Road School’ orthodoxy; encountering Bernard Cohen painting as a young student; art history teaching at the Slade in the 1950s; working with Lawrence Gowing; and tells the story of how he came to be charged with the task of ‘sorting out’ the Slade archive. Listen to the clips here.

Stephen Chaplin working on the Slade archive, c. 1992

Stephen Chaplin working on the Slade archive, 1992.

David Leverett on printmaking c. 1970s

By Liz Bruchet, on 9 January 2014

Inspired by the success of the recent Slade Print Fair, we’ve added more oral history clips on SoundCloud.  Artist and former Slade tutor David Leverett reflects on printmaking at the Slade in the 1970s and the compelling paradigm shifts at work in the teaching of printmaking. Listen here.

Slade print fair

By Liz Bruchet, on 21 November 2013

Next week the Slade will host the inaugural Slade Print Fair.

The event will not only celebrate the Slade’s rich & varied printmaking culture, it will also raise much needed scholarship funds through the sale of prints and multiples by Slade alumni, staff and current students – the list of names is impressive indeed!

To mark the occasion, we’ve added some excerpts from an interview with Bartolomeu dos Santos to our growing list of highlights from the Slade oral history collection. Dos Santos (1931-2008) was a student at the Slade from 1956-1958 where he became enthralled by the possibilities of printmaking. He joined the staff in 1961, becoming Head of Printmaking and eventually, in 1994, Professor of Fine Art. In these excerpts he talks candidly (and complete with Portuguese accent) about his early days as a student at the Slade in the mid-1950s.

There will also be a Slade Archive Project display on site for the run of the print fair so if you’re in London do come by. It’s a great opportunity to see some of the intriguing items from the archive and to contribute to the new class photos crowdsourcing project.

28-30 November 2013
Slade Research Centre
, Woburn Square, 
 London
 WC1H 0AB

Crowdsourcing the Slade class photos

By Liz Bruchet, on 28 October 2013

Today we launch our new online resource which brings to life some of the most requested items from the archive – the Slade class photos.

The Slade has a fascinating, but currently incomplete, collection of annual class photographs dating from 1931. The black and white panoramic images reflect the school’s rich history, capturing the likeness of Slade students and faculty through the decades. We’re asking former staff and students, scholars and members of the public to help us complete the collection and identify the sitters through a new website designed by UCL Centre for Digital Humanities.

We’ve already listed all of those who appear in this photograph from 1953, including William Coldstream, Lucien Freud, Henry Moore, Sam Ntiro, and Paula Rego. Can you help us identify other faces captured through the years?

SLADE_1953_C

The feedback provided by visitors to the site will result in a dynamic archive and research resource, giving us an opportunity to compare crowdsourcing platforms and begin to trace the impact of Slade alumni around the world.

Visit the new website here.

This project is a collaboration between UCL Centre for Digital Humanities and the Slade School of Fine Art, as part of the Slade Archive Project.

Slade oral history

By Liz Bruchet, on 15 October 2013

Thanks to funding from the Andor Charitable Trust we have been able to digitize a rich collection of oral history interviews made by Stephen Chaplin in the 1990s as part of his research on the history of the Slade. The recordings include conversations with Bernard Cohen, Stanley Jones, Olga Lehmann and Barto dos Santos, along with other former Slade staff and students. Chaplin aimed to interview a cross-section of people – not only the most prominent and senior figures. Even William Coldstream’s secretary, Margaret Bennett, was interviewed.

Our three project interns, Patrick Sykes, Neelam Choudhry and Sadie Hough, have produced summaries of the recordings and selected excerpts for streaming on the Slade Archive Project SoundCloud profile.

The first in a series of highlights from this collection is an interview with Slade alumna and renowned artist, illustrator and theatre designer, Olga Lehmann (1912-2001). Lehmann studied at the Slade in the early 1930s under the tutelage of Henry Tonks and Randolph Schwabe, and specialised in theatrical design under Vladimir Polunin. She quickly acquired a reputation for her work as a muralist, portrait painter and costume designer and her illustrations were regularly featured in Radio Times.

Lehmann’s oral history recording with Stephen Chaplin was conducted in 1992. She provides a lively account of her time at the Slade, reflects on the bohemian world of Fitzrovia, on being a young female artist prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, and on studying and socialising with some of the notable figures of her era. She speaks candidly about their words of advice, the dynamics between the tutors and students, the daily rituals at the school – and of the privilege of being admitted to the life drawing room.

In the weeks to come we’ll be featuring more of these highlights from this Slade oral history collection. Stay tuned!

An earlier Slade archive project

By Liz Bruchet, on 14 October 2013

‘The papers had been taken from Room 8 and lodged on the floor of the room at the east of the Slade. I remember looking at them in dismay, making a drawing of the heap of boxes, discarded portable typewriter and [a] sculptured head never collected by a student. Their shelves had been removed from the Office, most of the books and pamphlets had gone to the College Library, and personal records were under the main stairs …

There were also collections of photographs, personal depositions, but no artwork at all. I began to ask for material from old students to augment the holdings. Shelving was bought and an order made among the disintegrating boxes. I asked Ian [Tregarthen Jenkin] to come to see. Did my order in any way replicate his former, working order? He took a quick look, smiled; said ‘You’re doing a great job!’, and left. At that point I realised that an archivist is there to make decisions: no one else much minds what happens, apart from obtaining a quick answer to their question.’ (Stephen Chaplin, Slade Archive Reader, UCL Special Collections MS ADD 400, p. 14)

Stephen Chaplin 1992

From 1990-97, scholar and former Slade student Stephen Chaplin undertook an ambitious project to rescue the Slade archives. Chaplin began to catalogue and re-house the collection of documents, photographs and objects, which up to that point had been dispersed in unsorted boxes in back corners of offices, studio spaces and family archives. On the advice of Jean Spencer, then Tutor to the Students & Slade Secretary, he also set out to ‘computerise’ these archive records – though the limitations of the early electronic catalogue systems would prove to cause as many challenges as solutions.

As a retired art historian and Slade alumnus (1952-55), Chaplin also used oral history as a way of capturing the everyday experiences of those at the Slade. He conducted audio interviews and sought contributions to the archive from alumni and their families in the form of letters, memoirs, photographs and other documentation. He faithfully answered scholars’ research queries and noted and logged the who, what, where and when of as much Slade history as he could gather. During these years, he kept a personal diary to document his observations of ‘the daily life of the school as seen though the marginal vision of an archivist’.

With funding from the Leverhulme Trust and ongoing support from UCL Library and UCL Art Museum (then known as the Strang Print Room), Chaplin’s work provided an invaluable foundation on which to build a framework for the Slade’s growing archive. But technological challenges and finite resources limited his ambitions. The computer system crashed at a key moment and some of the index was lost. It was too early for the internet to be of much help in drawing the networks of connections between living and written history, and the mass of information gathered could not be encompassed in publishable form without significant editorial support. Chaplin’s contribution rests in large part as an unpublished manuscript and archive index that he called ‘the Slade Archive Reader’, now housed in UCL Special Collections [MS ADD 400]. The document provides an invaluable overview of the archive, functioning as both a finding aid and a summary of the first century of the school’s history.