University of Brighton
View artworksSome of the artworks shown here come from the Aldrich Collection, which was initiated in 1995 by Michael and Sandy Aldrich, and comprises about 200 works of contemporary visual art. The vast majority of these have been produced by students and tutors working at the Faculty of Arts and Architecture at the University of Brighton, as well as at its distinguished institutional precursors in art and design education which go back over 140 years. Since its beginnings in 1859 as the Brighton School of Art, there have been many changes of name and status. These included its re-designation as the Brighton School of Art and Science in the 1870s (when it occupied splendid purpose-built Romanesque-style premises on Grand Parade) its role as a constituent element of the newly-formed Brighton Polytechnic in 1970, and its current standing as the Faculty of Arts and Architecture at the University of Brighton. Throughout this considerable period it not only maintained an important profile as a quality provider of art and design education in Britain but also emerged as a recognised national centre for creativity, innovation and research in the visual and performing arts. The Aldrich Collection has been established with the express intention of reinforcing and further developing such public recognition.
The Aldrich family decided to collect and commission artworks to be donated to the University's registered charity, the Foundation Fund. Through this they sought to establish a collection with a quadripartite function: to foster awareness of the artistic process through exhibitions in public spaces; to promote the University's rich portfolio of courses in arts and design; to encourage community interest in the visual arts; and to underpin Brighton's place as a major centre for artistic creativity. It is envisaged that the Aldrich Collection will evolve and develop through purchase, commission and donation, actions that will be overseen by a Selection Committee. Membership of the latter is formed currently by the celebrated illustrator Professor John Vernon Lord and Sandy Aldrich, soon to be joined by Grace Robertson, a distinguished photographer and honorary graduate of the University. In February 2000, as a means of further enhancing the initiative, the University decided to donate some of its own collected works to the Aldrich Collection.
In its expanded form the latter will also serve as the founding collection for the new Centre for Contemporary Visual Arts that is being established at Grand Parade. It is anticipated that, like the Collection, the Centre will do much to enhance, develop and promote the University's reputation as a centre of creative excellence.
The Collection itself affords an absorbing insight to the changing values in art and design education and cultural production that have unfolded in Brighton since January 1859. It was then that the Brighton School of Art first opened its doors to students in the kitchen of the Royal Pavilion. Its origins were rooted in the increasing economic threat posed by foreign manufacturers who valued design more highly than their British counterparts. It aimed specifically to enable its students 'to compete more successfully with the foreign workman, who, in these days, when the public require some sort of ornament and elegance about the commonest article, in many cases beats the English workman out of the market.' By 1864 it was reported to Parliament that students at the Brighton School were drawn from a wide range of professions, including cabinet-making, carpentry, jewellery, engraving, decorative painting, photography, printing and machine making, as well as from education and commerce.
Many of these discipline areas continue to be reflected in the Brighton curriculum of the early 21st century. Furthermore, just as had been the case with the original Brighton School of Art, the Faculty of Arts and Architecture of today continues to exert a positive purchase on the economic realities of contemporary Britain. Indeed, in the new millennium the 'creative industries' have been seen as an essential ingredient of a New Britain. The fine arts, the crafts, fashion, graphic design and illustration, publishing, architecture, interior design, digital technologies, together with the performing arts and music - all activities embraced by the current Faculty of Arts and Architecture - are also at the root of this 'creative economy. In 1998 the Government estimated that British creative industries' resulted in a total annual turnover of more than £50 billion, or about 4% of the entire Gross Domestic Product.
However, a visual analysis of the Aldrich Collection reveals that creative endeavour at Brighton is - and has always been - about much more than mere economics. It is concerned with the worlds of imagination and invention, the exploration of the personal and idiosyncratic as well as the corporate, the experience of emotional shifts engendered by joyful exuberance, agonising pain and sophisticated refinement, as well as the redefining of aesthetic possibilities and cultural boundaries across the spectrum of artistic activity.
In common with many other well-known British institutions of art and design with origins in the 19th century, Brighton's creative legacy has been heavily weighted in favour of the fine arts. It was noted in the early 20th century that the School of Art had a good record in terms of national prizes and scholarships. However, in the much more recent past, Brighton can boast an equally enviable record in the field, with all the major British prizes in the fine arts having been awarded to its tutors or graduates. Painting tutor Andrzej Jackowski was awarded the John Moores Prize in 1991, former student Rachel Whiteread the Turner Prize in 1993 and Madeleine Strindberg, another painting tutor in the School of Arts and Communication, the Jerwood Painting Prize in 1997.
As has been suggested earlier, the Aldrich Collection provides a vivid insight to changing preoccupations in the visual arts. Although it currently embraces only a modest percentage of the key personalities associated with education in the visual and performing arts in Brighton, it does contain significant exemplars of many of its phases. These range from the work carried out under the highly-structured National Course of Instruction laid down by the Department of Science of Art in the second half of the 19th century, with its preoccupation with drawing from antique casts, anatomical studies and historicist ornamentation, through to works which embrace freedom of expression and aesthetic priorities, as in the work of Alan Davie and Shingo Mori. But fine art has also been practised within the context of corporate projection: Brendan Neiland, tutor and Professor of Painting at Brighton until 1998 when he became Keeper at the Royal Academy Schools, is a recognised exponent of this genre. Amongst a number of such commissions was a series of paintings for Terminal 4 at Heathrow Airport and work at the Eurostar Terminus at Waterloo.
Brighton boasts a significant number of tutors and graduates who have worked in what might be embraced by the term 'crafts'. To date, representation in the Aldrich Collection is dominated by the work of recent graduates. In ceramics these have been drawn from the late 1990s, although for much of the 20th century there have been a number of distinguished designers associated with Brighton. These include the art potter Norah Braden who taught at Brighton in the late 193os, having previously worked with Bernard Leach in St. Ives and Kathleen Pleydell-Bouverie in Coleshill in the 1920s and 30s. Indeed. Leach himself was a Visiting Lecturer in the period shortly before the Second World War. In other areas of craft activity, as in furniture, jewellery and plastics, again the collection features the work of recent graduates. But students have a long history of producing work of high quality. For example, at the celebrated 1925 Exposition des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels in Paris the School of Art was awarded a number of medals across a wide range of categories. There have been strong links with many leading makers in such fields throughout the 20th century including, on either side of the Second World War, silversmiths Dunstan Pruden and Gerald Benney. Both taught at Brighton and were widely recognised in their field, especially the latter who was made a Royal Designer for Industry.
In graphic arts and illustration Brighton has had a very distinguished past as well as a thriving present. Raymond Briggs and Professor John Vernon Lord have had very long-standing connections with Brighton in the later decades of the 20th century, entertaining and absorbing generations with the range of their distinctive illustrative work. Quentin Blake, another highly distinguished illustrator and Royal Designer for Industry, has had close links with Brighton and was made a Fellow of the University of Brighton in 1992. Alongside and before them have been countless well-known exponents in the field, including the prolific poster designer Frederick Herrick and the distinguished wood engraver Clare Leighton who wrote and illustrated many books from the 1930s onwards, as well as designing a number of ranges for Wedgwood. More recently Professor George Hardie has designed across many fields of graphic design, from posters to postage stamps. His work stands alongside that of numerous other celebrated individuals associated with Brighton whose work is widely recognised in the canon of British graphics, whether in terms of individualism or corporate commissions.
Whilst it is clearly impossible in this brief introduction to mention all dimensions of creative work at Brighton, over recent years editorial photography has emerged as a potent force with a number of significant practitioners. Mark Power has emanated as an internationally recognised documentary photographer who has been awarded a number of prestigious prizes and commissions, including his record of the Millennium Dome 1998-2000 which is touring at home and abroad.
A sustained programme of research has yet to be carried out into a comprehensive inventory of makers, creators, designers and performers who have participated in the Brighton experience as students, tutors and visiting lecturers (an important tradition in art and design education). However, it is already clear that such an inventory would provide an exciting encyclopaedia of many of the leading figures in creative practice in Britain, especially since 1945.
A number of key areas of artistic endeavour are yet to be represented in the Aldrich Collection. For example, fashion and textiles has had a distinguished cast of tutors and graduates ranging from the celebrated weaver Ethel Mairet, who taught at Brighton in the 1930s and 40s, through to 1950s student Barbara Hulanicki, founder of Biba fashions in the 1960s, and, more recently, the fashion designer Julien MacDonald. Architectural practice and interior design have occupied an important space in Brighton's creative heritage; video and multimedia work have also featured significantly in recent years. Furthermore, many aspects of the performing arts have emerged as important ingredients of Brighton's artistic repertoire alongside national and international recognition of individuals, such as the dancer Liz Aggis who currently teaches in the School of Arts and Communications. At the beginning of the new millennium, in the context of radically changing practices in collecting and exhibiting the visual arts, it is intended that as the Aldrich Collection further shapes and refines its strategy for acquisition and display this will reflect the broad dimensions of artistic practice at Brighton.
Jonathan M Woodham
Faculty of Arts and Architecture