Dennis Creffield in conversation Kate Aspinall turned out to be a fascinating talk by Creffield about David Bomberg as a teacher, in which, he shared memories and insights of David Bomberg as a tangible person and powerful teacher.
Creffield began by describing his 15 year old self at ‘Art School’ where he felt that “nothing was going on”. He described the weekly life class (prior to meeting Bomberg) where the tutor would tour the class and make “a drawing of incredible ability” on the side of a student’s work but ‘say nothing”. Of course this left an inexplicable gap in the mind of the15 year old Creffield. Not surprisingly he left art school and applied to the airforce, thankfully he was not accepted.
Still with the ambition of becoming an artist, Creffield met a friend who encouraged him to come along to a session with ‘a real artist’ at a local youth club.
The ‘real artist’ turned out to be Cliff Holden who taught the youths around a ping-pong table. Holden must have recognised something in the young Creffield as he invited the youngster to join the classes that he himself attended, taught by David Bomberg .
It was at this moment in the talk that Creffield recounted the most enlightening and charming tale of his first trip to Bomberg’s tiny flat behind the Albert Hall. Here for the first time he encountered Bomberg who was simultaneously talking and shaving, out of a small bowl. Throughout the hour and a half meeting Creffield’s young self was struck by Bomberg’s inadvertent and continual cutting of his face as he shaved and talked. Bomberg’s involvement with the idea’s and notions left him oblivious to the state of his face which by the end was cut up on one side and covered with shaving lather on the other. This experience obviously left a lasting memory for Creffield. It also gives, great insight into the character of David Bomberg.
During the evening Creffield shared many intimate memories and reflections of his teacher. He was Bomberg’s pupil from 1947-51 at the Borough Polytechnic before he and fellow student, Dorothy Mead went on to the Slade. One poignant moment he recounted, was when Bomberg returned from a trip to Cyprus, having left the students to work alone for some weeks, he spotted a figure painting by Creffield and declared “Creffield you are a painter!”, this exclamation, accompanied by the physical touch of Bomberg’s hand on his shoulder, felt almost like a blessing that gave lasting conviction to the younger artist. Furthermore, Bomberg instilled the idea within his students that, being an artist was an important and privileged thing to do. In the life class he urged discovery of the ‘spirit’ of the pose, looking for definition to clarify the image. At times he suggested his students take on series of works in succession to explore a subject. He encouraged students to make compositions from existing paintings by other artists, in so doing to find different ways of formulating an idea.
“I’m old enough to talk about the past.” Creffield announced. Indeed his observations on his hero’s downfall or and lack of success in later life are perceptive and wise. Bomberg’s career “was the wrong way round” he told us. As early as 1913 he had found success, and had admirers such as Walter Sickert and John Singer Sargent. Bomberg had been taught by Henry Tonks amongst others at the Slade and Creffield described him as first and foremost a draughtsman. Joseph Herman had tried to help Bomberg sell his paintings by sending buyers to his studio but Bomberg wouldn’t sell anything, he felt he couldn’t sell as the buyers talked about the paintings in the wrong way! Somehow Creffield underlined the TRUTH of the man and his work. Bomberg was not bitter and was reluctant to criticise more successful artists and nor did he poison the innocence of his students.
Being lucky enough to attend a talk by Dennis Creffield nearly 30 years ago, during one of Roy Oxlade’s summer schools, I was keen to hear Creffield talk again about his own work. Near the end of the evening Kate Aspinal who had graciously left Creffield to set out on his delivery alone suggested the evening should be brought to a halt but nobody wanted that! Creffield had not presented all yet, so briefly he guided us through a beautiful and moving set of slides of his own work from student days to the current moment which was hugely enlightening.
We all felt part of something really worthwhile a privilege. Many thanks to all involved!