Frank Martin

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The Independent Online

All the early successes of St Martin's sculpture in the late Fifties and early Sixties were achieved against a background of lack of official status to the courses under Frank Martin's aegis, writes Alan Gouk [further to the obituary by Sir Anthony Caro, 11 February]. This gave him the freedom to risk employing unorthodox characters.

Frank always had a mischievous twinkle in his eye. He saw the art world as a bit of a game, if not a charade, and enjoyed subverting the homilies of his leading staff. Hence he was very supportive of students who would not or could not accept prevailing values. The likes of Bruce McLean, Gerard Hemsworth, John Hilliard, Ian Spencer, Peter Hide, Richard Long, Gilbert and George, Hamish Fulton and many others, all rebels in different ways, gained an early boost to their careers through his active help and encouragement. It was all for the greater good of St Martin's sculpture, which he adopted as a personal crusade, though he knew little about art-world politics.

He was equally loyal to part-time staff whom he recruited on word of mouth recommendation from unusual backgrounds. Alexander Trocchi had run the Sculpture Forums before me. I was a fledgling painter and came direct from the British Council Fine Arts Department with no teaching experience and little knowledge of sculpture. Jeremy Moon, another painter, had run the Advanced Sculpture course before I did. Richard La Trobe Bateman was a furniture designer - he later left to set up a highly successful business. Will Alsop, the now celebrated architect, was much less well known when Frank Martin discovered him. All these were given their head to teach, often for the first time.

The department's first real difficulties began when Frank was obliged to seek official status for his courses, especially when the new Diploma in Art and Design, with its new academic emphasis, came along. How would it be possible to protect aspects of the older St Martin's - the object-making side, the metalworking and welding department, and the ability to continue to attract students without necessarily the "correct" academic background, as had happened with the Advanced Course, where most of the innovations of the Sixties had occurred?

A consensus of senior staff, chaired by William Tucker, arrived at the idea of a split course, A and B. The A would attempt a quasi-tabula rasa, experimental, behavioural approach to learning, and what has since become known as a "conceptual" approach to the ideas and processes of art-making. The B course would be for students who wanted to continue to make sculpture rooted in the history and practice of object-making, broadly under Tucker's rubric classification of carving, modelling and construction.

This somewhat ominous division between heart and head (as some might see it) has echoed on down to art schools as we find them today, has caused bitter acrimony in some schools, and has had enormous repercussions for the art world.

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