Tuesday 15 October 2013

Sir Roy Strong at the V&A

As a friend of the Victoria and Albert Museum, I've attended some amazing talks over the years - Mary Quant, Zaha Hadid, Wayne Hemmingway, Celia Birtwell, Grayson Perry, Rankin, Matthew Williamson - the list goes on. Last night, I went to see Sir Roy Strong.

I don't think Roy Strong is very well known amongst my generation, and I have to admit, I didn't know who he was before we booked the tickets. But we all should, especially living in London and working in the arts.

Last night, Strong talked about his new book, Self-Portrait As A Young Man, in which he relays his childhood memories and what laid the foundations for an incredible career and life.

In a letter to his head of sixth form in 1953, Strong remarked that one day he would like to become Director of somewhere like the National Portrait Gallery, or head of a department at the Victoria and Albert museum - in fact, he went on to supersede these expectations, being Director of the former from 1967-1973, and Director of the latter from 1973-1987 (he was actually the youngest ever Director of them both being only 32 then 38 years old).

Between that letter and the NPG he gained a first class honours degree in History at Queen Mary College, University of London and then later went on to achieve a PhD. Being well-educated in this way means that he is a wonderful speaker. He spoke enthusiastically and gracefully, and with huge amounts of detail when relaying facts or anecdotes.

During the talk, however, he became quite cross when talking about his childhood, saying that despite what critics have said over the years, he did not come from a privileged background;  his father had 5 pounds a week to raise a family of 3 children, and after the war and his brothers' return from evacuation, he said the house was very divided (the two boys hardly recognising their mother, and longing to be back in the country).

Luckily for him, and for us, Strong attended a grammar school filled with kind and inspiring teachers, who he still remembers by name. Seeing his passion and talent, he was taught extra Latin classes, told about shows they saw up in London, and he broke down momentarily when remembering a teacher who, knowing he loved the portraits of Queen Elizabeth I, came up to the library of the British Museum and copied out in long hand the only catalogue in existence, just for him. Now, of course, the library will have Strong's to add to their collection.

You couldn't say that Sir Roy Strong was a modest man, as he remarked often how he changed both museums for the better. He's been hailed as changing museum exhibitions into theatre, which he admits to quite happily.

I agreed with so much of what Strong had to say (except when he was rude about Lowry and Tracey Emin, that wasn't quite right ;) ). He spoke of the photographer being just as important as any other artist, which was the motivation for his defining exhibition of Cecil Beaton's 600 portraits in 1968. He relayed the importance of the arts and education, as well as his sadness at the loss of respect in today's culture. He also talked about luck playing a huge role in life, and how being in the right place at the right time is incredibly important (something I believe in hugely in my early stages in the working world!). The talk stopped just as we were about to get to the good bits, assuming most of the audience already knew it all already. Unfortunately I was the exception here, but so look forward to doing my own research and learning more about Sir Roy.

No comments:

Post a Comment