ART SCHOOL YEARS
Born in Hampstead in 1931. Second son of the poet Robert Armstrong.
Parents separated in 1936. My brother and I were brought up in West London by our mother. At 15 I enrolled at Chelsea Art School, my contemporaries included Liz Frink, Bob Clatworthy, Tony Wishall, Joe Tilson, Len Deighton - before he turned to writing spy thrillers, he was an accomplished draughtsman - Gilbert & George and Donald Hamilton Frazer: some of these were at St. Martins where I spent time socialising.
I was awarded the Christopher Head Scholarship in 1948/9 for my draughtsmanship but failed to get into the RCA the following year. At the time of submission, I was hospitalised, having taken a tumble down the school's lift shaft from the third floor to the basement. It earned me notoriety - I'd be pointed out as the boy who fell down the lift shaft and lived! By way of recuperation, I earned some money at the 1951 Festival of Britain to fund a hitchhiking trip to the Rhine and Switzerland and back, arriving in my new lederhosen at the Central School for a further 4 years study
I was at Chelsea for 4 years and then at the Central School for a further 4 years. Of the whole galaxy of teachers at both schools who included Henry Moore, Bernard Meadows, Ceri Richards, Prunella Clough, Robert Medley, William Roberts, Mervyn Peake and David Bomberg ... few managed to impart their wisdom to me. Robert Medley gave me Benvenuto Cellini's autobiography while I was in hospital to suggest I should have greater self belief, perhaps! Fred Brill, who took over the Headship at Chelsea on Williamson's retirement taught me to draw without a thick black line around everything - the vogue for that came after I'd given up doing it!
At the Central, the sculptor Robert Adams was helpful - he was a delightful man. And also Denis Williams, a Guyanese painter, who shared a studio with Francis Bacon. He would have been the best man at my wedding had he not overslept on the day.
I gave up art school in 1954, got married and found a job in advertising. I was taken on by a Fleet Street agency who were working on the launch of American Evangelist Billy Graham at Wembley Arena. For the next 30 odd years I worked for a number of leading London agencies and art directed many notable campaigns in the press and TV.
Whilst employed in advertising, I was commissioned to do a commemorative bust of Winston Churchill. He was cast in silver and in bronze and in ceramic. It didn't prove a great success for the sponsors - being dubbed in the national press as "this year's worst investment". But, for all that, it did lead to my doing a collection of caricature mugs for the National Vinters charity of their Patrons, Prince Philip and Charles etc etc. and also a tankard for Whitbread in celebration of the Queen's Jubilee.
Much of the production was with a Midland pottery which continued over the next 4 years - by then it had become more trouble than it was worth. However, I was satisfied by then that I was an accomplished animalier - my classier pieces were being sold through Debenhams and Fortnum & Mason.
My advertising career folded in the mid '80s. Since then, I have worked for English Heritage as a guide at Chiswick House, at the Queen's Gallery for the George III collection and for the past 20 seasons a guide at Syon House for the Duke of Northumberland.
Only recently, I've been redirecting my creative energy to put together a series of photomontages and wooden structures. They are of modest size. I have been much taken with Robert Rauschenberg's earlier work but, no doubt, there are many other influences present.