Ephraim J. Goodenough is an Artist.
A Conceptual Artist.
As to whether Ephraim J. Goodenough is a good Conceptual Artist is a question for another time. Surfice to say for now that Ephraim J. Goodenough is a Conceptual Artist. He is 20 and lives in London where he shares a delapidated flat in Stoke Newington with the four members of band the Rialtos.
Ephraim J. Goodenough’s schooling was unremarkable. He went to St Saviours, a Northern Catholic Co-Ed Comprehensive full of insecure hyperactive adolescents where he was systematically bullied by students and teachers alike. He was tall (over six foot) Wore National Health prescription glasses, had a pudden bowl haircut, and a tatty uniform whose seams he always appeared to be threatening to bust out of.
A sort of latter day Oliver Hardy.
It was at St. Saviour’s that he picked up his nickname ‘Effy’ (There were a few other names he was called, some of which he answered to, but they are best left forgotten) And it was here that he developed his love of Art. He was bloody hopeless at it of course, but the Art rooms provided some sort of sanctuary far from the madding crowd of nutters, half-wits and head-the-balls who spent each break and lunch time searching for Effy and others like him.
It wasn’t that Effy was lonely; he just didn’t have any friends. So he would spend all his spare time in the Art studios finishing off work or just doodling. His teacher was an old tomato known as Mr. Thomas, who as he said, might be a dab hand at the ‘smudge with the sludge’ (as he called painting) but that didn’t neccesarliy make him a good teacher. Effy and his fellow classmates knew this wasn’t false modesty. Old Thomas had been at the school for years. He bored the kids and they bored him. The story is that back in the day he was brilliant, but not now. A Shrivelled husk, all his get up and go got up and gone. All taught out. But he was an okay sort of bloke who more to the point didn’t seem to mind Effy’s company at these times.
St. Saviours is also where Effy fell in love.
With the female Art teacher Miss Clitheroe (or ‘Miss Clit’ as she was affectionately known by students.) She was a scatterbrained brunette, in her first teaching job. Effy was deeply smitten. For reasons best known to herself, one school summer camp during a trip to the beach, she flashed her ‘Lady Garden’ whilst making adjustments to her bikini bottom in the line of sight of a group of Sixth Form lads. Effy was the only one who saw it. Of course nobody believed him when he told them. He was convinced it was for his benefit, but for his tormentors it became just another stick to beat him with. It is more likely that as Miss Clitheroe seemed to have eyes only for Mike Fitzpatrick (and so the rumour went, his brother Steve) that they were her intended targets.
After secondary school, Effy somehow managed to blag his way onto a degree course in Fine Art. He was given two ‘E’s by the Admissions Tutor after interview: which just goes to show how bad the drug scene was in Higher Education, even then.
There his lack of ability was seized upon as a fresh and unpretentious approach to Art making. His cack-handedness was effectively nurtured. He certainly wasn’t taught anything about making Art; or making better Art.
The Fine Art department, originally the King George V School of Fine Art was housed in a building to the south east of the university quadrangle, I say ‘housed’, in fact it was partly housed; namely the Library, gallery, workshops and studios, in this imposing 1923 structure with its bronze statue of King George V installed in the niche above the Queen’s Road entrance, wrought iron gates and tower with a double-arched gateway. The rest (offices, more workshops and studios) were to be found in a Modernist white cube, tacked on to the original building.
The first years were ‘taught ‘(and I use the term loosely here) together in a large warehouse of a studio in the new block. They were a strange bunch: a disparate crew of potential artists-in-the-making, all at different stages in their understanding of Art, what it was, what it might be, and how they might fit in to the ‘big picture’. (All issues Effy had to say, the Fine Art course of the time singularly failed to confront, but then what did he know?)
Effy found himself as lonely here as he had been in school. He lacked the confidence to bask in the glow (a result of the heady mixture of wonderment, envy and hate) given off by his fellow artists.
In the foundation year at the end of every project there was a ‘Crit’ during which every student’s work was veiwed in turn and evaluated. Comments were passed by students and staff. One of the first they were set was entitled something like ‘Object and Environment’ and was clearly an attempt to elicit responses from the students to the likes of Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Ready Mades’ which aside from using materials in an innovative way – in a sense to represent themselves, had started to (apparently) ask all sorts of awkward questions of the received aesthetic script that was Modernism.
Effy had gone ‘skip-hunting’ a popular activity for Art students at the time, when they couldn’t think of anything better to do or had no money to buy materials (in Effy’s case both) Ostensibly it was validated as a search for new Art media and Effy had, by the end of the project amassed a sizable rubbish tip in his work space. From this rubbish tip he had reclaimed some multicore telecommunication cable He was half-heartedly making some diorama thing with figures made from the stripped wire which was supposed to say something about the experience of entering and leaving a building. It wasn’t finished, and even with the addition of some drawings hastily rattled out the previous evening, it didn’t look like two week’s work.
So the ‘crit’ began, the tutors picking away at sketchbooks and notepads like vultures round a carcass. They were lead by the first year Foundation Course leader William Panter. Panter was a well known Art critic for a national newspaper. He had a broad forehead behind which was a shock of salt and pepper curls, with which he favoured wooly crew necked jumpers and elephant cords, not forgetting a bushy moustache. Finally they got to Effy’s workspace. His hands were sweating his stomach had dropped like a stone. Ignoring the wire figures, Panter squatted down like a North American Indian (hence his nickname amongst the First Years ‘The Great White Chief.’ And after gazing at the pile of rubbish, finally spoke
‘But it’s beautiful’
he cooed in front of the collection of detritus. He held a cigarette between the first joints of his very straight first and index fingers took a long drag and exhaled blinking his right eye where smoke had gone in. (When he did this he looked for all the world like the actor James Finlayson, probably best remembered as the villain in Laurel and Hardy films.)
‘Don’t you think?’
The tutors looked at one another.
‘I agree’ said Phylidda Laidlaw, Tutor in Sculpture and 3D Studies. ‘It is powerful statement of intent. I am interested in the way it sits in the space. Where does it begin? Where does it end?
Gavin Dobson (Painting and Mixed Media) looked harrassed
‘But there’s no paint’
‘Gavin dear it is so clear that you are still clinging to the last vestiges of Modernism and letting that cloud your critical faculties’announced Fabian Gravy (Lens based imagery)
‘But one of the greatest painters in the world, Picasso said ‘Beauty must be convulsive or cease to be’’ interjected Panter. ‘He would have loved the vision of this piece and its use of found objects’
‘Ah typical. Picasso. If ever there was an artist that illustrated the Modernist preoccupation with a patriarchal sensibilty and obssession with aesthetics’ countered Gravy.
‘But there’s no paint’ repeated Dobson.
‘But.. . it’s just a pile of rubbish. ’ Piped up one of the students, a red-headed girl wearing overalls and Monkey Boots.
‘Ahha!’ said Panter, suddenly animated. ‘It would just be a pile of rubbish if it was out there’ He nodded his head in the direction of one of the studio windows and the car park beyond.
‘But it’s not. It’s in here.’
‘Err, yeah so… ?’
‘The context has changed. It has become something else’
‘Aye a pile of shite’ said the Monkey Boot girl loconically. Her name was Ruby.
‘When is an artwork not an artwork?’ Mused Panter taking another long drag of his cigarette.
‘When it’s a pile of shite’ muttered Ruby under her breath.
© Andy Daly 2016