Friday, 31 October 2014
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Teaching David Bowie

During his time as head of Bromley Technical High School art department in the 1960s, Owen Frampton not only taught design luminaries such as Brian Grimwood  and Aziz Cami, but also music legend David Bowie.

Here, we publish an extract from the draft copy of Owen Frampton’s book Our Way: the Autobiography of a Teacher of Art & Design (The Frampton Papers), written in the mid 1970s, in which he reminisces about teaching Bowie and Grimwood. It was hoped Grimwood would be designing the book cover, but the book is yet to be published.

Owen Frampton

Owen Frampton

With all good wines there are some years when the vintage surpasses itself. An event to be appreciated and remembered by the connoisseur. It might seem a trifle ludicrous to use such an analogy when referring to schoolboys, but I am sure every teacher reminisces from time to time about particular years when either one, or a group of pupils, make them memorable.

Whatever the necessary ingredients are to produce vintage school years, they must have been mixed in exactly the right proportions during the period of 1960-66.

Of course there will always be little snippets of surprise news which can enhance the story. Like the occasion recently when, idly glancing through a copy of the Kodak Professional News, I noticed a photograph of a familiar face. I read the very complimentary article relating to the success of Colin Peacock as a professional photographer. Colin left me for Art School in 1963.

Then of course, there was David Jones and his friend George Underwood. David was quite unpredictable. He was completely misunderstood by most of my teaching colleagues, but in those days, cults were unfashionable and David, by the age of 14, was already a cult figure. At this period in my teaching career, I was thoroughly used to very individualistic pupils and was rarely surprised by anything that occurred. Even when David varied the colour of his hair or cropped it short, or plucked his eyebrows, I accepted his actions as a means of projecting his personality, and of that he had plenty! I did however experience a sense of relief when I obtained employment for both him and George Underwood in advertising studios and at the time I thought that probably it would be the last I would hear of either of them.

David Bowie

Source: Thuany Gabriela

David Bowie

George did remain in the field of art. Only recently I picked up a copy of HG Wells’ War of the Worlds, the cover design of which had been designed by him. I enjoyed the subtlety of the design which in all probability would not be obvious to most readers of the book. It was a painting of a street along which huge mechanical monsters were moving, the street is part of Bromley Market in which HG Wells once lived. I am also aware of his designs for a couple of album sleeves and the jacket of a book written about his friend David. You see, David Jones who was, became David Bowie who is! It is not too difficult for me to keep in touch with this ex-pupil’s exploits.

Recently when I was sorting out some portfolios of past pupils’ work, I came across one piece in particular which demonstrated that even at 15 years of age Brian Grimwood was producing work of a very distinctive style. I remember him as friendly person, always bright and effervescent. He was not what one would call an academic student, and it was obvious that the trials and tribulations of further education would not suit him at all. However, having settled him into an advertising studio as a trainee artist, I hoped he would find his niche.

From time to time I heard news of him and twice during the next ten years we did actually meet at gathering of friends. He was just the same as I remembered him, always bubbling over with enthusiasm.  He was still moving form one job to another, but always insisting that one day it was all going to happen for him. The ‘happening’ has been only too obvious to me during the past couple of years. It seemed that every newspaper, magazine or even obscure periodical I picked up, contained one or more of Brian’s illustrations.

Radio Times cover from 1983, illustrated by Brian Grimwood

Radio Times cover from 1983, illustrated by Brian Grimwood

His style of presentation is so unique as to be instantly recognisable and quoting from a recently published profile on him and his work in Graphics World:

‘While Brian himself is happy to admit that the has never had to struggle hard to reach his present position as the best-known illustrator in Britain, his determination  to get that level of success led him to thinking harder than most just what the job of illustrating requires and which were the attributes he could best develop to take him there faster.’

I doubt the veracity of his remark that Brian has never had to struggle hard. I am aware of how hard he has worked, but admittedly , his usual cheery nature would not permit him to worry for long.

In spite of his success as an illustrator of international repute, he is just as exuberant as every and seems quite overwhelmed by all the fuss that is being made of him.

An exhibition of Brian Grimwood’s work is being held at Work Gallery, 10a Acton Street, London WC1, from 14 September-3 November (read our preview here). David Bowie will be subject of an exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London next year.

Readers' comments (2)

  • I think Owen may also have taught Hanif Kureishi, the author.

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  • I was a student of Owen Framton, he was a fantastic teacher who I will always remember ver inspirational

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