Sunday, 14 March 2004

The Horsecroft controversy

Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst are only the latest in a long line of artists whose work has not been appreciated - or even understood - by the public.
There was a notable argument in the sixties about the work of the late Godfrey Horsecroft. By the time of his death in 2001, of course, he had become a respected conventional artist, but in those days he had attracted much opprobrium by his contempt for the art world and his refusal to conform in any way to its conventions. Some of the discussion was carried on in the correspondence pages of the now defunct magazine
Art-Horizons, from which these letters are reprinted by permission of the publishers:

Sir, I feel you should give me, as one of the modern artists pilloried in your columns recently, an opportunity to reply.
Of course there is a lunatic fringe to our profession. The lay public’s contempt for the man who produces pictures by riding a bicycle over dollops of paint, and sells them at a hundred guineas a time, is understandable. Personally, I must confess to a sneaking admiration for his acumen, if not for his artistic integrity, but I would not attempt to justify his methods. Cycling and painting are quite separate means of self-expression and their combination is both incongruous and indecorous.
It is unfortunate that this sort of thing leads many people to believe that any means of producing pictures which is not basically the same as that practised by, say, Rubens, is a fraud and a matter for contumely or mirth. It is doubly unfortunate for artists such as myself who, daring to use a medium both new and exciting, have been tarred with the same brush as the charlatans who seek only notoriety.
My own method of creating pictures – the attaching of large, irregularly shaped pieces of newspaper by means of special resins to sheets of anodised aluminium - is, I believe, a very real advance in the techniques of pictorial representation. My experiments with it have shown that it permits, in a way that no other medium does, the expression of psychiatric tones as opposed to mere visual ones.
My Paranoia Recumbent for example, a study in the chiaroscuro of the subconscious, would be completely meaningless in oils or watercolours, but in pieces of newspaper on aluminium it captures the very essence of the subject.
Alas, I am not one of those who profit by their originality. To maintain myself I have been forced to devote a large proportion of my time to menial and ill-paid work, the influence of which may in the long run destroy my very will to create.
But I do not despair. The vituperation and neglect I and the bulk of my fellow modern artists suffer was also the lot of Van Gogh. Now, every suburban villa has its view of Arles. In fifty years’ time, perhaps – who knows? - my own Nature Morte Schizoide will be as popular. In the meantime, we can only bow to the scorn of the multitude, and await the judgment of posterity.
Yours, etc
Godfrey Horsecroft
Dear Sir, Mr Horsecroft must be mad if he imagines that the public in fifty years time are going to take him to their hearts as they have Van Gogh.
His letter does not really tell us enough about his method to enable us to judge it properly. These pieces of newspaper that he sticks on to the aluminium, for example. Are they all from different papers or does he, as I suspect, use only the sports pages of the Daily Mirror? And is the aluminium completely covered or does some of it show through? Above all, is not the use of special resins merely an affectation when ordinary glue would serve just as well?
It would be unfair to call Mr Horsecroft a charlatan without a better acquaintance with his work, but I cannot help feeling that his motives in trying to foist it on the public are, to say the least, questionable.
Yours faithfully
Arthur N Ruttmold
Dear Sir, Godfrey Horsecroft has generously permitted me to reply on his behalf to the unkind letter from a Mr Ruttmold which you published last week.
Anyone who has sat at the feet of Mr Horsecroft for twelve years, as I have, knows he is not a man to use special resins where ordinary glue would do the job. Has Mr Ruttmold ever tried sticking pieces of newspaper on to aluminium? I can assure him that it is not so easy as it sounds.
As for the gibe about using only the sports pages of the Daily Mirror, Mr Ruttmold might be interested to know that in his latest work, Libido with Mandoline, Horsecroft has used pieces of no less than forty-one provincial weeklies as well as short extracts from all the national dailies. Besides disposing of Mr Ruttmold’s insinuations, this, I think, is a complete answer to the charge of superficiality so often levelled at Horsecroft’s work.
Yours faithfully
Fuchsia Burlap
Dear Sir, I see that a lot of people are writing about these pictures made of newspaper stuck on aluminium.
My husband brought one home that Mr Horsecroft had given him for decorating his house, and ever since then our friends have been saying how nice it is and asking where they could get one like it. It is called Autumn Neuroses and my husband says it is the best picture he has ever seen, though you can’t read what it says on some of the pieces of newspaper because the stuff they are stuck on with has come through and stained them a sort of brown colour.
Yours faithfully
A. E. Crimstance (Mrs)
The Editor writes:
No further space, unfortunately, can be allotted to the Horsecroft controversy, which has caused as much furore among art-lovers as the violent disagreements a few years back about Wilbert Longbottom’s ceramics.
Note: Mr Horsecroft has asked us to thank all our readers who sent him bundles of old newspapers and pieces of aluminium, and to say that he now has sufficient to last for several years.

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