PLEASE ALLOW ME TO INTRODUCE MYSELF,

I’M A MAN OF CLAY AND GLAZE

PUSHED MUD AROUND FOR SEVENTY YEARS

OR TWENTY FIVE THOUSAND DAYS.

Robin Hopper is a man of many parts, mostly worn out, rusty or dysfunctional, due to a lifetime of excesses! He started working with clay at the age of three and is still doing it over 70 years later. His lengthy, peripatetic career as a mudpusher has included side trips into working as a Professional Actor, Stage Designer, Property Maker, Stage Manager, Stage Carpenter, Grocer, Greengrocer, Jazz Musician, Teapot, Wine and Beer-Bottle, Trumpet, Trombone and Bugle Player, European Travel Guide, Founder of Several Clay/Art/Craft Organizations, Alchemist, Geologist, Primatologist, Linguist, Ornithologist, Botanist, Ceramic Historian, Educator, Author, Garden Designer, Lecturer on Japanese Garden Design, Laborer and Star of Stage, Screen and Potter’s Wheel!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

OFF TO ART SCHOOL 1955






I WAS SIXTEEN WHEN I STARTED STUDIES AT CROYDON COLLEGE OF ART, A SMALL COLLEGE IN SOUTH LONDON.  THE FIRST YEAR OF FOUNDATION STUDIES, WHERE ONE DID A LITTLE OF EVERYTHING, WAS DESIGNED TO PREPARE ONE FOR DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS IN ART. THERE WERE NO CERAMIC COURSES AS THAT PROGRAM WAS BEING RELOCATED TO ANOTHER VENUE IN ANOTHER PART OF TOWN. AT THE END OF THE YEAR IT WAS RECOMMENDED THAT, IN SECOND YEAR, I GO INTO DRAWING, PAINTING AND PRINTMAKING. JUST BEFORE CLOSING FOR THE SUMMER THERE WAS A SALE OF UNCLAIMED BISQUE WARE FROM THE POTTERY STUDIO. I BOUGHT A FEW PIECES FOR A FEW PENNIES AND, NOT KNOWING ANYTHING MUCH ABOUT WHAT WAS INVOLVED, WENT TO A SMALL, SIX-PERSON, PRODUCTION POTTERY TO SEE IF I COULD GET A GLAZE PUT ON THEM. WHILE I WAS THERE, I THOUGHT IT LOOKED LIKE AN INTERESTING PLACE TO WORK, SO I ASKED THE OWNER IF THERE WAS ANY POSSIBILITY OF A SUMMER JOB. HE SAID HE COULD EMPLOY ME BUT WOULDN’T BE ABLE TO PAY ME. I ASKED WHAT THE JOB MIGHT ENTAIL AND WAS TOLD “WEDGING”. I HAD NO IDEA WHAT THAT WAS, BUT TOLD THE OWNER I COULD DO IT. SO I SPENT THREE MONTHS, FIVE DAYS A WEEK,  WEDGING AND PREPARING THOUSANDS OF POUNDS OF CLAY FOR THE THROWERS IN THE WORKSHOP. MY PAYMENT WAS ZILCH IN CASH, BUT DAILY THROWING LESSONS WITH THREE OF THE BEST THROWERS AROUND FOR A WHOLE SUMMER.  I LEARNT MANY TIPS AND TRICKS THAT HAVE BEEN  WELL USED EVER SINCE. BY THE END OF SUMMER, I WAS TOTALLY HOOKED.

LIFE DRAWING AND PAINTING WERE HELD IN THIS WONDERFUL CONSERVATORY OF AN OLD MID-VICTORIAN MANSION AT THE TOP OF A PARK



POTTERY, PRINTMAKING, SCULPTURE AND THEATER DESIGN WERE HELD IN THIS BUILDING, ONCE THE HOME OF GEORGE CRUIKSHANK, ONE OF  CHARLES DICKENS’ BEST KNOWN ILLUSTRATORS.

WHEN I RETURNED TO COLLEGE IN THE FALL, I STARTED IN PAINTING.  I WAS PHYSICALLY NAUSEATED BY THE COMBINED SMELLS OF OIL PAINT AND TURPENTINE, AND IT WAS BEFORE ACRYLIC PAINTS WERE IN COMMON USE, SO I TRANSFERRED TO CERAMICS - A MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN. EACH SUMMER AFTER THE FIRST ONE I SPENT 3 MONTHS HITCH - HIKING ALL OVER EUROPE TO DO FURTHER CERAMIC STUDIES IN THE MAJOR MUSEUMS AND GENERALLY GET TO KNOW MY WAY AROUND IN DIFFERENT COUNTRIES, USING DIFFERENT
LANGUAGES.   

ONE EXTRA SPECIAL THING ABOUT THIS COLLEGE WAS THAT IT HAD A GREAT REPUTATION AS A SCHOOL FOR STAGE DESIGN, SOMETHING I HAD BEEN INTERESTED IN THROUGHOUT MY HIGH SCHOOL YEARS.  I HAD BEEN TRAINED AS A CHILD AND ADOLESCENT ACTOR AND IT WAS A DECISION BETWEEN THEATER AND ART THAT LIE IN THE FUTURE. THE COLLEGE HAD A GROUP OF ACTORS WHO PLAYED THE PARTS IN THE PLAYS THAT WERE BEING DESIGNED. I BECAME ONE OF THEM FOR THE WHOLE TIME I WAS IN COLLEGE. I ALSO AUDITED ALL THEATER-RELATED COURSES THAT WERE OFFERED, LEARNING ABOUT SCENIC AND COSTUME DESIGN, SCENE-PAINTING AND CONSTRUCTION, LIGHTING AND PROPERTY MAKING. ONE NEVER KNEW WHEN THESE SKILLS MIGHT BE USEFUL. IN MY LAST TWO YEARS OF COLLEGE I WORKED BACKSTAGE IN THE LOCAL PROFESSIONAL COMPANY AND PLAYING THE ODD SMALL ACTING ROLES. I WAS INVITED TO AUDITION FOR THE BRITISH PREMIERE OF A WELL-KNOWN AMERICAN PLAY, “INHERIT THE WIND”, GOT THE PART AND WAS APPEARING IN LONDON’S “WEST END” AT THE SAME TIME AS DOING MY NATIONAL DIPLOMA IN DESIGN (LIKE AN MFA). MY LIFE HAS ALWAYS BEEN CHAOTICALLY LAYERED. THE “WEST END” IS LONDON’S EQUIVALENT TO NEW YORK’S “BROADWAY”.



 THIS IS ME IN THE LONDON PRODUCTION OF "INHERIT THE WIND", 1961. AGE 21.

AFTER GRADUATION, I STAYED IN THE THEATER BUSINESS WORKING ON SEVERAL PLAYS AS AN ACTOR AND STAGE MANAGER. I DIDN’T STAY AN ACTOR FOR LONG AS WITH A YOUNG FAMILY I NEEDED A REGULAR INCOME. EVEN WELL-KNOWN ACTORS ARE USUALLY ONLY EMPLOYED FOR THREE OR FOUR MONTHS PER YEAR. WITH ALL THE BACKSTAGE SKILLS I HAD DEVELOPED, I COULD BE EMPLOYED FULL-TIME AND MAKE A GOOD INCOME IN THE PROCESS. 
A LIFE PATTERN EMERGED WITH THEATER FROM NOVEMBER TO MARCH, THEN TWO MONTHS PROP-MAKING, FOLLOWED BY FOUR MONTHS OF SUMMER AS A EUROPEAN TRAVEL GUIDE. THEN MORE PROP-MAKING UNTIL BACK INTO THEATER IN NOVEMBER. FIVE YEARS OF THIS REGIME AND I HAD SAVED ENOUGH MONEY FOR MY FIRST HOUSE AND STUDIO.  I COULD NOW GET BACK TO CLAY.  I DROPPED THE THEATER AND TRAVEL WORK, TOOK ON A LITTLE PART-TIME TEACHING AND DEVELOPED MY STUDIO, SELLING MY WORK IN GALLERIES THROUGHOUT THE SOUTHERN HALF OF ENGLAND.


            WHEEL-THROWN BIRD SCULPTURE





TOMORROW

A LOOK AT CLAY WORK DONE WHILE IN COLLEGE AND INFLUENCES BEHIND IT.

2 comments:

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    Bruce Bent II

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