This week I'm introducing you to my mother, Juliette McCullough, who happens to have a long history as an artist and is an enormous influence on who I am as an artist too. I've grown up with her artwork and relate to a great many of her works which are as familiar to me as a loved family member so it is for me very interesting to interview my own mother because her own artistic practice helps ground my practice in more than just imagery but also in music, words, people and places. It is her teaching practices, techniques and shared knowledge that I find my own footing as an artist in this world.
Here is part 1 of a 2 part interview with Juliette McCullough.
Enjoy & stay tuned next Friday for part 2:
Franceska: When did you know for sure that this was your life’s journey?
Juliette: From my earliest memories I was driven by this passion to dance and draw, and it was when I was rejected by the Royal Academy of Dance at the grand old age of 10 years old, (the only way into a dancing career at that time), that I had the first inkling that the visual arts was going to be my life.
The real decision came at the age of 19 when I found out that the experience of making marks was more important to me than my success or failure at it. This was a real coming to terms with the limitations of what seemed to be my artistic potential at that time, and, the realization that the process of visual discovery and expression was more important to me than anyone else’s opinion of what I produced. I think I came into this power only when I was at my most unsuccessful in producing or showing my images
Franceska: Where did you study, who were your teachers?
Juliette: I studied at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts, the Byam Shaw School of Drawing & Painting, and the Royal Academy of Arts in London, England as well as one year at
der Akademie der bildenden künste in Munich, Germany.
The teachers I really appreciated at Camberwell were Joe Dixon and Theo Mendez who both taught fabric printing. My earliest experience of design and drawing came through those teachers and they were great. Also at Camberwell, Anthony Eyton, Raphael Maklouf, Henry Inlander, Euan Uglow, Anthony Fry and for art history the inspiring, Michael Podro. They were all important in my development.
However, I consider the Byam Shaw School to have been the place where I leaned the most. It was then run by Maurice de Sausmarez and his brilliant team of teachers; they were the ones who really taught me to ‘see’. At the Royal Academy my most influential tutors were Roderic Barrett and Peter Greenham.
I was so fortunate in that my whole adult education was free. I had to win scholarships which I had to work very hard for; I was the recipient of two Major County Awards and other smaller scholarships, so I benefited from opportunities that no students have today.
All the teachers I’ve listed here were committed to offering the best in art education that was possible at that time. They were paramount in preparing me for the life I have today.
I also could have studied with Frank Auerbach but I was so conscious of my own undeveloped artistic self and his already considerable fame that I somehow thought I would be overwhelmed by the experience; a decision that I sometimes now regret.
However, the culture in the first two years of Camberwell today would give the #MeToo movement a heyday. My respected professors did not fall into that group fortunately.
Franceska: What was it like being a young woman studying art in London in the 60’s and 70’s?
Juliette: Some of my male contemporaries were happy to tell us that women could never succeed in art because art history proved to us that there were no women artists (it is only recently that women have begun to be included). The whole idea that a woman could succeed in the arts was thought impossible. One of my teachers told me, “Why don’t you go home and bake cakes.” It was such experiences that fired my determination to succeed against all odds.
For the first two years we enjoyed one day a week working in the London galleries and museums. Art history lectures were often given in front of the actual images, and teachers would sometimes just remove the class to the British Museum for example. In those days the museums were often almost empty….there were far fewer tourists, and we felt that the art world was there just for us! The vestiges of the second world war were still in evidence around the city, and I remember drawing on a bomb site. Architectural studies were often conducted sitting on cold London pavements looking up at ancient facades. We got to know and draw all the oldest churches. At that time they all seemed to be very quiet uninhabited places steeped in history, with Southwark Cathedral being one of my favourites.
Franceska: Compared to today’s young artists, what opportunities were there for you to get into the public eye?
Juliette: Luckily I don’t think we had to seek celebrity in the same way that young artists do today. For right or wrong it was accepted that life was going to be hard and that success in one’s craft was not the same as commercial success. There was a belief that early commercial success was detrimental to the development of the young artist. Opportunities to exhibit came through our schools, but being in the heart of London, even those exhibitions were open to large informed audiences. Of course there was no internet, or Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Reputation was built through word of mouth.
Franceska: What successes as a young artist did you have?
Juliette: The first time my paintings gained any recognition was from a small prize at the Byam Shaw School. The Royal Academy of Arts gave us many opportunities to compete for exhibition opportunities in the main galleries during that time. Initially I had a lot of rejections until my last year when I won a silver medal for life painting and sold a painting to the artist, Francis Bacon.
Franceska: What was that experience like, selling to a famous artist like Francis Bacon?
Juliette: One of my tutors told me that Francis Bacon had been in the galleries and liked my painting. The following day, he came down to the studios to meet me, unbelievably I was away teaching on that morning “so I missed my chance with one of the Lords of this life”. When I returned, my friends who were in the studio with him, told me about the encounter and relayed to me that he had said, “This girl is a painter”. Apparently Bacon asked what I was like, to which one of my tutors replied, “she is a feminine little thing”. This seemed to me at the time yet another little reminder of how we as women were not taken as seriously as we would have liked to have been.
This was the 1970’s and I was making figurative paintings at a time when it was very unfashionable. I felt as if I was swimming in the dark and didn’t know which way was up, so Francis Bacon’s words gave me hope that I might somehow be on the right track after all. It helped me come to the awareness that the only road for me was to follow my own intuition regardless of the fashions of the day. Apart from this I knew that this experience would not bring me any further opportunity, and indeed it has not. The act of making meaningful images remains the most difficult process I know, regardless of what might be considered successes, it is still always an intense struggle to pull the images out from my boots!
Franceska: Thank you for answering this first series of questions and I look forward to part 2 next Friday in which we will delve further into your life as an artist and learn about your current artistic practice.
Juliette's artist website: www.juliettemccullough.com
Juliette's instagram: @Juliette_McCullough
Juliette's Facebook Page: @PainterOnTheEdgeOfMystery
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My name is Franceska McCullough and I'm the owner and artist of Toothpickmoon. I'm interested in blogging about art materials, art events and conducting artist interviews.
*Disclosure: The links I'm using on this blog will only ever relate to the products I myself use in my own practice.