'Imagination will take you everywhere'
Bonfire night started with a bang when Anthony Green’s world renowned paintings exploded into the spotlight once more in the Michael Heseltine Gallery at Chenderit School. The man himself exuded enthusiasm, warmth and charm, similar to the atmosphere he creates in his vivid narrative paintings. However the magic well and truly begins when he speaks to you; it’s a flow of eloquent words delivered with passion and bursting with excitement. The first thing I notice when interviewing Anthony Green is how utterly down to earth he is, despite his eminence in the art world. He has achieved success on a grand scale; from being elected Royal Academician, being appointed trustee of the Royal Academy and being elected to the New English Art Club, to name but a few. These amazing feats cement his status as one of the UK’s most distinguished artists, with thousands of visitors to galleries around the world and respect from the leading figures in the art industry.
Anthony Green’s support of our school gallery has been invaluable; it was Green who became the first artist to show his work here when it was opened in 2004. He was eager to display his admiration for the school, saying; “If you go to a secondary school like Chenderit, then you are going to get a fantastic general education, and with art as a specialist subject – that’s terrific!” I was interested to hear what advice he has for young students who want to take art at university given the current economic climate and rising higher education fees, his reply; “You can never get too much education”, however he did bring up the fact that most artists don’t earn a lot of money, saying, “Just because Damien Hirst is driving around in a Rolls Royce, doesn’t mean all artists are – most of them take the bus.”
Unbelievably, Anthony Green didn’t think he was particularly talented at art when he was younger; however at school he knew he was “Quite good”. Green was 12 years old when he was first taught by the famous Welsh landscape artist Kuffin Williams at Highgate School in North London. Williams taught the young Green for “Four very formative years” until he left school at 16, during this time Williams had a huge influence on Green; this sparked his artistic flair that is continuing to develop to this day.
It was Kuffin that convinced Green’s parents that their son going to art school wasn’t “The end of the world”. Green’s parents wanted him to become a brain surgeon, so they thought that if their son wanted to become an artist he was going to be “Promiscuous, drunk, do drugs, and never get out of bed”. Fortunately this never happened and Green spent four years at the Slade School of Art before he was offered the very respectable job of Kuffin’s assistant, so for seven years he was the assistant art master at Highgate School – he had virtually come full circle. Green describes this time as being “Lovely” and it’s obvious that he enjoys teaching; he taught everyone, “From little boys to great, big, hulking sixth formers.”
But what inspires such a talented artist? His answer is simple: “Love”. Green describes the dilemma that hit him in 1960 after he left art school, “I didn’t know what artist I wanted to be, I could be Picasso, or Damien Hirst, or Tracey Emin. So I came up with a question; what am I really interested in? And the answer was; I had fallen in love with this girl – so basically I was a young man in love and I thought I ought to be painting about that.” And that is exactly what he did. The first few paintings of his future wife were very raw, but Green says that once you’ve got the reason for being an artist, then you can start refining your work and it becomes a journey through your life.
Green is keen to point out that he never got up in the morning and thought; “What art shall I create today?” he simply got up and thought; “I’m telling a story about me, and my life.” This is how he creates such personal and emotive paintings: art is his life and life is his art. Green says “Everyday that happened I was a day older and it was a different story. As I’ve gone through life, the story has evolved, so there is always something fresh to add to the mix.” Almost all of Green’s paintings in his current exhibition portray his wife, daughter, himself and his early married life, as “That is what I care most about in the world”. Green explains that “Art about art tends to be sterile; it’s an intellectual game. Whereas painting something you are passionately in love with is a spiritual game.” That is how Green’s art started and to his amazement it’s gone on for 50 years.
I am intrigued to know what gives Green the most satisfaction: finishing a piece of artwork, exhibiting his artwork or selling a piece of art work. He tells me that being an artist that people want to come to see gives him a terrific sense of satisfaction, but “ Obviously if someone wants to take one home then it means you can pay the gas bill.” Green describes it as “Vanity; if people like your work then you can go to bed at night and think; gosh, the world’s quite a nice place.” He does go on to say that sometimes when people don’t like your work you can feel a bit abandoned, but he considers himself very fortunate as people have liked his work over the years.
Green sold his first painting for £12.50, which he thought was “The most wonderful thing that had ever happened.” Although he has sold many paintings since, he still gets excited when someone wants to buy one as it means they don’t want to escape from the art gallery; they actually want to have the painting in their lives, he views this as “the ultimate kind of compliment.” Green enthusiastically shows me over to some paintings and begins to explain the message that each of them conveys; one of my favourites is a painting depicting his fantasy of winning the Tour de France, it was his “School boy dream.” His active imagination is one of the main ingredients in his paintings and it’s clear for all to see.
My encounter with Green is rapidly drawing to a close; more and more people are surging into the gallery, eagerly absorbing his breathtaking creations and awaiting with baited breath for his speech (which is as articulate and humorous as I expected). However we finish on an inspiring note, Green concludes, “We all have dreams and artists make them tangible; they are either musicians, or poets, or sculptors, or novelists, but they make their dreams come true. Other people make their dreams come true by completing amazing feats, like walking across the world. We all dream dreams and sometimes we’re lucky enough to make those dreams come true.” Anthony Green is certainly living his dream.