I received a surprise email yesterday from an old student friend of Vernon’s, someone I’ve never heard from before. I’ll share some of it here to keep it in the Vernon-archives. It’s pretty funny.
I hope that you don’t mind me writing to you, but I recently did a google search on a few people that I used to know and discovered the sad news regarding Vernon. It’s bought back a number of memories which I hope will be of interest.
He and I first met in 1986 when we both started the painting degree at Gloucestershire College of Art. I spotted him immediately as he and I were the only people dressed entirely in black – a rarity in those days as the standard indie kid uniform was jeans, plaid shirt, and Dr Marten shoes. At a later date I remember purchasing a pair of 1960’s style suede boots, only to turn up to the studio and find Vernon had bought exactly the same ones. I don’t know who was more embarrassed. Probably me, now, thinking about how ridiculous they almost certainly looked.
In our second year, I and a couple of students who had left the year before but were still living in the area decided to put on an exhibition of our work, and I asked Vernon if he wanted to be part of it. At the time, he was painting flat grey canvases with small pasted on pieces of text; I was doing large charcoal nightmarish German Expressionist type drawings. The other two were Adam – a very talented sculptor who used toys and household items to create Fetisch-like creatures; and Simon, who painted large abstract canvasses a la Robert Motherwell and Sam Francis. A nice mix of work, I think. It was held at the Stroud Subscription Rooms, and was called ‘Batchelors of Unsavoury Art’ – a play on ‘Batchelors Savoury Rice’ – a terrible pun which, to my eternal shame, I came up with.
He and I produced the show catalogue together – a statement by each artist, plus some drawings. He typed it all up on his wonky typewriter, I formatted and xeroxed it, and we spent hours collating and folding it. The front cover was a joint effort, and the back was by Vernon: a picture of DuChamp’s ‘Fountain’ with the text – “He took a fountain and named it urinal”. I had a copy until a few years ago but, alas, I can no longer find it. Perhaps he kept his? What I do still have is our 1989 degree show catalogue. If you don’t have a copy, let me know and I’ll scan you a copy of Vernon’s photo.
By our third year, we shared a studio with two others – Bruce and Eric. Vernon and I shared a love of the same music, which I would describe as the sound of a crushed car being dragged over pebbles by epileptic horses. Whenever we put a record on, Eric would roll his eyes and stick his headphones in. Bruce would tut loudly and then start to endlessly complain. Bruce was a photorealistic artist who seemed to spend an eternity painting a rubber plant. Vernon and I got revenge for his – as we saw it – unreasonable whining by turning the plant container around so that he had to spend an age attempting to get it back in the exact place. When we tired of this we picked two of the leaves off and glued them back on at different angles.
About three times, we went to see bands in London. We stayed with our exhibition mate Adam, who was by now a postgrad student at the Royal Academy (his tutor was Eduardo Paolozzi). He took us to his studio, which was accessed from a back entrance and through a large room used for preparing art for display. I recall dozens of paintings laid out on the floor, and us having to step over them to get to Adam’s workspace – it was a collection of Caravaggios. Also on that trip, I bought along a book of crosswords (we used to do them together in the studio). Late at night, we lay in our sleeping bags, propped on our elbows like kids, giggling away as we attempted to fill puzzles in with as many offensive words as we could make fit.
Both Vernon and I had an active dislike of the college tutors, who were more interested in drinking in the student bar and chasing after the prettier girls. We quite often ended up in arguments with them, both separately and together. On one occasion, we were given an exercise: paint an object, accurately reproducing the colour and tone. Most people chose a predictable assortment of things – a piece of fruit; a vase, and so on. Vernon painted a cornflakes box flat grey, and then painted his canvass the same. The tutor was annoyed and attempted to humiliate Vernon by saying he hadn’t reproduced the colour correctly, at which point Vernon pulled out the can of house paint he’d used to do both objects. We really weren’t popular.
I’m trying to recall further detail regarding Vernon’s art. Now, there would be oceans of photographic evidence, but back then it would have meant carrying a camera around. These days, there are so many media devices that if you pick up a piece of fruit it takes a picture of you. I’m pretty sure that all his canvases were flat greys and done with cans of house paint. The typography thing is interesting because I remember him adding text to pretty much everything – sometimes cut from newspapers; sometimes done on an old typewriter. All his canvases were fairly small – ranging in size from paperback book to A3. Album sleeve would be the most prevalent.
You are welcome to have the degree show catalogue if you send me your address. I think you will appreciate it more than I do.
As a parting note: Vernon once asked me why I was at art college. When I asked what he meant, he referenced the fact that I’d also got into Cambridge University to study English (which possibly strikes you as absurd, given my atrocious grammar and spelling). There was a general consensus at the time that most art students were dimwits incapable of facing the correct way on a toilet. I gave some perfunctory, stuttering answer. I then asked him why he was at art college, to which he laughed and said he had no idea. Which, I told him made him the perfect art student.
Allison here: I’ve added a picture that Vernon made, adding some of his own font samples. He would have made this when we were still in England, I think. But it seems much in line with the what his friend described from art school days.