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Artist Peter reflects on student life

May 2013

As artist and alumnus Peter Liddle prepares for a solo retrospective of his work, he talks to Network about his student days.

Peter has spent a lifetime painting and sculpting, as well as teaching life drawing and mentoring many of his students along the way.  Now 73, Peter sees his longevity as an artist and “not selling out or compromising” as his biggest achievement to date.

Peter studied at Nottingham College of Art from 1958 to 1962.  It was during this time that he learned a valuable lesson from the then Principal of the College, Joe Lyons, who told him: “Discipline laddie, you will never be an artist without discipline.”  This was in response to Peter leading fellow students in a protest about the Principal’s enforcing of the accurate spelling of anatomical parts.  It’s discipline, Peter says, that helped him overcome many of the challenges he’s faced throughout his life.

His life drawing and Art History tutor was John Powell, who he credits as being “one of the most influential people in my life”.  From John he developed a love of Renaissance art and art history, and learned the value of classical composition.

It was John who encouraged Peter to drop sculpture and study with the silversmith Geoffrey Knowles Kitson.  It was here that he learned how to manipulate hard materials, a skill that has enabled him to sculpt aged oak and jasper.   “It was only years later that I learned that my favourite sculptors in Florence had been sent to study with silversmiths, so thank you Powell and Kitson,” he added.

When Peter left Nottingham, he promised John that he would pass on what he had taught him.  He said: “During the time I have spent teaching life drawing I’ve been blessed with some brilliant students and have taught them what he taught me – I’ve added nothing.  Teaching has enabled me to keep in touch with many former students and follow their careers, and to call them friends is a blessing and payment in full.”

Peter remembers his time as a student in Nottingham fondly.  At that time, Art and Design was taught in the Waverley building.  He recalled: “I adored the Waverley building.  It smelt and looked like an art college.  I loved the lecture theatre with its epidiascope and used to perform there with the Drama Society.  The studios with tall ceilings and skylights looked like ateliers in Paris.  Everything about that place was romantic, perfect.”

Peter is still in touch with a number of his friends and contemporaries from his student days in Nottingham, including sculptor and designer Keith Albarn and his wife Hazel (nee Dring), who went on to have an equally creative family: painter Jessica and Blur singer Damon.  Painters Geoffrey Roper and Gill Harper, and sculptor Ian Woods, painter David Leverett, Paul and Jenny Boam and the sculptor Christopher Constable were just some of his contemporaries.

Peter said: “I’m glad I had the opportunity to study when I did.  The world has changed since then and it’s much more difficult for young artists to get established now.  Art education has had to adapt and prepare students for a world in which they have to sell themselves, their personality and write concept proposals.”

Peter’s work is inspired by wild nature and the wilderness.  He said: “It’s only by putting myself on the edge that I get inspiration, like climbing down cliffs to hack out marble and jasper.

“My work is hard to produce and always falls short of my expectations.  You cannot improve on nature in all its complexity.  Cézanne talked about how you were up against not only what nature or an object looks like but what it means to you, how you make sense of it.  He called it realisation.  Sometimes I come across a piece I’ve not seen since it was sold and think ‘If only I’d done…’.”

Peter is currently working on a solo retrospective, conceived and orchestrated by some of the many artists Peter has taught over the years, and it will coincide with the publication of his monograph.  For more information visit www.peterliddle.com.