Art as a subject was mostly absent throughout my formal schooling, but happily my informal self-education in art picked up in 1959, when I started at a new school. This had a large Art Room at the top a newly built block of classrooms and Science labs. The new Art Room had inherited a set of old art books which boys could enjoy, as the room was left unlocked in our free time. We could also experiment with art materials left out for us by the art master, John Davie ARCA, whom we witnessed shifting style from lyrical figurative painter to American-influenced abstract expressionist. I was also lucky that, through the kindness of my Uncle George Lee and my mother’s friend, Monique Khalgui, I was able to stay in London from December 1961, enabling me to visit the Tate Gallery in the school holidays. My surviving drawings display varied responses to Rodin, Henry Moore and Francis Bacon.
Although I had left my Prep School in North Wales, I continued to enjoy both help and encouragement from the kindly parents of a fellow pupil friend, Andrew Fraser. Dr Douglas Fraser gave me an illustrated life of van Gogh, from whom I learned the expressive and symbolic potential of trees as a motif. Mrs Margaret Fraser made me a wonderful canvas portfolio, with a piece of hardboard and clips to steady a sheet of paper, a stout zip and a shoulder strap. At the time, I wore this portfolio like a badge wherever I went.
My mother also contributed to this informal art education. Though absent, she sent me some books which stimulated my interest in Art Theory: a US College freshman textbook on art appreciation, called ‘Learning to Look’, a Dictionary of Modern Painters, and the Metropolitan Museum set of ten art Portfolios.
The themes which emerged in my art from all these influences included portraits, trees, human figures, Abstraction, Dadaism and Surrealism.
In 1963, the art master John Davie sent me to the Slade for an interview with the admissions tutor. I was advised that I could try to apply to the Slade in a year’s time, though I was advised to take an academic degree first. I had saved the allowance provided for me by the mission, enabling me to buy a return ticket to Niger, West Africa, where my mother had continued as a missionary, after my father’s death in 1960. It was my aim to stay with her and prepare the portfolio for my Slade application, which, in the end, I never attempted.