Nick Long

I have always been an Art School boyo, and my life in higher education is little more than an excuse to remain so. I have been lucky enough to visit Art Schools all over the world, and whether they be in Shanghai or the Severn Estuary, they all contain the same kinds of peoples. Those who are reluctant to conform and those who are prepared to take risks.

When I became the head of a visual communication department in a university, it became my job to manage those differences. And when the emails arrived stating, “Your students have {insert wonderfully odd activity here}, please explain what measures you will put in place to ensure this does not reoccur”, I already had a standard response waiting in my draft box. It said, “Being different is their job and my job is to give them the freedom to be so”. Of course, I never sent that email. Instead I apologised profusely and promised they would never do such a thing on a busy high street again {To do something of note, you first have to get noticed. Sīc}.

Perhaps unsurprisingly and rather kindly, we were asked if we would like to create our very own Art School in a land far far away from the main University campus.

In its first week of operation, I heard the unmistakeable blast of The Stooges, ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’. On discovering the source, I found a group of Fine Art students looking up at a visiting lecturer covered in peanut butter. He said he was about to re-create the first ever stage dive {Iggy Pop, Cincinnati, 1970, it’s on YouTube, go watch}. Politic would suggest I should have interrupted and asked if the relevant risk assessment forms had been completed. Instead, as he leapt into the air, I reached up to catch him. Then for good measure, we paraded our man above our heads through every room and corridor in the Art School. I should have retired on the spot, for there would be no finer moment in my Art and Design career.

If I were to try and pinpoint where I formed most of my ideas on what an Art School should look and feel like, Newport would loom large. In my first term, the performance artist Stuart Brisley, invited all to the roof of Clarence Place to perform his latest work. It’s simply too death defying to safely describe here, but suffice to say I knew I was no longer in Kansas {or on Kanvas}. Gillian Clarke {National Poet of Wales 2008-2016} tried to teach me creative writing {sorry Gillian}. Josef Koudelka wandered in to talk about his Prague Spring photographs. And so, on and on and on. In short it was an education filled with highlights that became a memorable exemplar of how osmosis should work in an Art School. Fill it with interesting things and see what happens.

My own work has been mostly collaborative. Six volumes and 130 plus interviews with visual communicators {mostly troublemakers} from around the globe {SBooks 2002-2012, if I’d known how long they would take, I wouldn’t have started}.

More recently I have tried to avoid the fate of much graphic design {tomorrow’s fish and chip wrappers} and produce work for public spaces. There followed a rather lovely quarter mile typographic pavement {Shirley Towers, 2014}, a 50 metre type mural with 45 etched panels {new Spark building, Southampton 2016, note to self, never work with glass again, it breaks}, and a three metre high type monolith {new Sports building, Southampton 2018, I always loved ‘2001, A Space Odyssey’}.

The piece you see here is a collaboration to create a ‘Graphic Score’, a notation musicians can use to improvise a performance. It is six metres long and created from the recorded sounds of an icy walk through Oslo.

I retired from my life in Art Schools a year ago. Do I miss it? Damned right I do. Would I do anything differently? In hindsight, I would have removed my fave vintage Ben Sherman before I caught that chap covered in peanut butter.

Nick Long 2020