George Simmons

George Simmons

A discussion between Kaavous Clayton and George Simmons in Felmingham on 12 March 2005. 

Kaavous Clayton: Last time we met you were telling me that the working class couldn't go to art school when you were a boy, could you tell me a bit more about that. 

George Simmons: Is it important? 

KC: It might be relevant. 

GS: Well, it was just after the war and it was very difficult for people like me to have a chance to scribble. 

KC: So you were working class then? 

GS: Yes, I still am. 

KC: So the opportunity to go to art school must have something that was quite special. 

GS: Yes. When I was at school there were only two of us allowed to use paper because of the war, so I guess we were seen as a little bit talented. Mind you, I'd always been drawing at the Castle, you used to be able to get in free. Cotman, Crome and Littleton fascinated me. 

KC: When you went to art school was that seen as a career choice? 

GS: Yes, I was fed up of being a butchers' boy. Afterwards I worked making handbags for two or three years and then started making pottery with Bridgette. 

KC: What are your art works about? 

GS: The ones that I'm showing? 

KC: Yes. 

GS: I suppose the pipe things are like drawings in space. You can walk around them. It took me a long time to get there but suddenly it happened in about ten minutes. I saw the pipes in the back of a shed. 

KC: So the material is the inspiration? 

GS: Yes 

KC: You cover many methods of expression: your paintings are quite figurative whilst the sculptures are more abstract. 

GS: I have trouble painting abstract. I don't use a lot of colour. Pipes are abstract and glazes are abstract. Until a glaze comes out of the kiln nobody's ever seen it before. 

KC: The pipe sculptures surrounding you now are all of women. 

GS: Yes, they're based on Picasso's 'Les Demoiselles d'Avignon'. I was thinking of calling them 'Les Demoiselles de Rouen' after Rouen Road, but I don't know if I've got the guts. 

KC: You saw an early exhibition of Picasso's didn't you? 

GS: Oh yeah, it was in the '50's. That was the first exhibition Picasso had in England because he was ridiculed. I think it was at the Royal Academy. As youngsters we'd seen a lot of reproductions, but coming from the slums of Norwich and seeing it live for the first time, it was like being hit with a hammer. I didn't know where art could go after that. 

KC: Do you think anyone artists could have the same impact today? 

GS: Francis Bacon, although he's gone. I guess Damian Hirst when he first showed his tank pieces. Sitting in North Norfolk you don't really know what's going on in the arts. You only get what the television and papers want to show you. There must be lots of artists with something new to say. 

KC: Are you worried about what people might think about your paintings and sculptures? 

GS: No. When you get to my age you realise that most people only have eyes so they don't bump into lampposts. That's a Henry Moore quote. I think the artist's job is not to worry what people think, it's to stick the work up and try to find someone on the same wavelength. If I worried what people thought I'd still be making handbags or butchering sheep.

George Simmons

George Simmons