Now recognised as one of the most significant British artists of the 20th century, David Bomberg was also a teacher, whose radical approach inspired a generation of artists. This exhibition examines Bomberg’s teaching practice in his own work and that of five artists who studied under him: Dennis Creffield, Cliff Holden, Edna Mann, Dorothy Mead and Miles Richmond – and includes a rich array of archive material and first-hand accounts.
As a young student at the Slade, Bomberg achieved early success, recognised as a talent at the vanguard of modern ideas. However, his experience of the First World War provoked a change in his outlook and a move towards a style that prioritised humanity and organic forms. After struggling to make a living as an artist he sought to teach out of financial necessity, however, in teaching, he found a space to give voice to his philosophy.
During his time at Borough Polytechnic, from 1946 to 1953, he carved a role for himself as an outsider and a maverick; a unique artist teacher who ignored convention, curriculums and examinations. Bomberg insisted that students use instinct rather than intellect – the aim was to liberate the mind from literal depictions and to regain an insight into the world by removing all barriers between artist and subject. This approach ran counter to the dry academic learning of the day, and was both revolutionary and subversive.
Borough Polytechnic was itself something of an outsider, and not part of the art school establishment; a little on the side-lines, a little out of the way, and therefore a good setting for alternative thinking to flourish. Today, when education systems are constricted by constant testing and assessment, the excitement conjured at Bomberg’s evening-class bolthole in south London, can be palpably felt. Bomberg’s insistence on the development of the individual vision of the artist continued to have profound influence on his students, who included such figures as Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff and Gustav Metzger, and can still be viewed as a radical counterpoint to artistic teaching practice, even now.