Angus Henry Chronicles Part 1 Oils | Part 2 Sgraffito
This is the first of a series of interviews done with my father Angus Henry. The series was first published in 2008 for the art site grandinferno.net as a feature for their contemporary art audience, it briefly detailed his history and experiences being raised in an artistically inclined family and shows some examples of his formal education in the classical graphic art disciplines of the era.
Angus Henry was born in 1934 in Uddingston, Scotland to Bill and Maud Henry. Bill being an artist himself and also a theatre producer and Maude being one of Britains leading ladies of the theatre of the day, my father found himself growing up in a creative environment.
Educated at the prestigious Hamilton Academy during his younger years he received a hard, intensive and thorough education before continuing on to the Glasgow School of Art from 1951 to 1955 graduating with a 4 year Diploma in Graphic Art (honours equivalent).
From this Angus went on to Jordanhill and West of Scotland Teachers College for the Secondary Graduate Teacher's Certificate to impart his art knowledge to others.
The first 2 years at art school were generalist art studies, which by todays educational standards would be considered quite intensive. Studies included drawing, painting, sculpture, modelling, architecture, history of costume, history of design, history of art, life drawing, silversmithing & jewellery, bookbinding, weaving etc.
The last two years were specialised in areas relevant to the qualification. Angus did Commercial and Graphic as it was the only one which required a high level pass in both design and craft skills AND in fine arts (I.e. drawing and painting); the course consisted of life drawing (compulsory all through art school), lettering, auto-lithography, hand type-setting, flat-bed printing, and all aspects of basic advertising and promotional design involving fine hand lettering, posters, labels, book jackets, advertisements, magazine illustrations, scraperboard, screen printing, linocutting, material montage, etc.
In this, the first installment of my father's work I have chosen 3 of his earliest oil paintings, created at the age of 17. This brief interview highlights some of the main points of interest behind these paintings.
Were these done as projects? If so what was the aim? What techniques or equipment were you required to use to accomplish the project?
Angus Henry: All three were just course work; the male model was an oil painting done in life class; the other two were still life set pieces done as homework; all in oils. We worked VERY long hours compared to Uni students. Classes from 9 am till about 5 pm and often evenings as well, besides assignments to be done at home. (Plus an hour each way on the bus every day.)
How long roughly would you have spent on each of these (if you can remember)?
Angus Henry: Anywhere between 3 and 8 hours roughly - the wee one with the bottle would have been the quickest. As they were done when I was 17 or 18 my memory is not too fresh!
Do you like working with oils for painting? If so why?
Angus Henry: I did - but I haven't painted for years. I liked it for the strength of colour and wide physical variety obtainable, from thin oil washes to thick impasto.
In your opinion are there any pro's or con's when working with oils?
Angus Henry: It is messy, with linseed oil and turpentine to mix with the paint (my old palette which hasn't been used for almost half a century still smells strongly of them. Very slow drying, unless you overdid the turpentine, in which case the work would dry out and start cracking in a few years. Since acrylics came in most effects achievable in oils are approximately achievable in acrylics and they are cleaner and faster drying.
You cannot get the same play of tint and light that you can with watercolour, but watercolour is a medium which depends almost entirely on a personal technique. My father did a lot of it, a few of my sketches are in it but I was never very enthusiastic. Gouache or poster paints (water based but solid colour, and not thick 3D like heavy oils or acrylic) are what most of our presentation design work was done in and I think the habit and training stuck, because it is the obvious choice for design projects like badges posters, etc.
Are there any insights into your early years of art that might be of interest to the casual observer?
Angus Henry: Can't think of anything as I am not either famous or a practising artist. I evidently had enough promise for Marc Chagall to ask my parents when I was about 10 to let me go and grow up with him and his wife in his studio in the south of France, but my parents said "no, finish your formal education first". Not being a bohemian by nature I think they were right.