Interview with Glenis Cheesman, 17th August 2020

Glenis Cheesman, “Evening Classes at Hilderstone (with Christopher’s Demonstrations)”, early 1970s

“I first met Chris in 1971. I’d been to teacher training college and done art but never had any drawing lessons, so I signed up for drawing lessons at the Adult Ed. The man who was running them was actually an art teacher from the local grammar school. He said, ‘You really need to go and see this man.’ So he referred me to Chris, who was teaching at Margate Art School at the time and running art classes in the evenings. So I didn’t go to the art school other than for evening classes. I then went to his classes in the evenings until he died.

I initially went to life drawing classes once a week, but he would then invite people into his portrait classes if he thought that there was a model that interested them. Although I was an adult–in my twenties–by the time I got to him, I quickly learned that I didn’t really know very much about drawing! I could draw a little bit. But he worked on that. He just had this huge enthusiasm for getting people to draw and to paint.

When you were a part of his class he tried to involve you, more or less, in his life. There would be invitations to go out painting at weekends, or to join other drawing classes. I still draw. Many years later, I’m still doing life drawing. But what I know when I’m drawing is that the teaching I got from him underpins all of my drawing. I haven’t had a teacher like him since, other than maybe Matthew, his son. Which is why I asked if you’d asked Matthew, because Matthew took his lessons over when his father died, in the same venue.

He [Chris] didn’t actually teach you to draw: he taught you to see. To appreciate what you were actually looking at. He didn’t seem to care very much what you used to draw with. That didn’t seem to be important to him. What was important was actually getting out that joy of looking and trying to record that on paper.”

“His paintings were really well composed. He just had an eye. I think that’s a hard skill to teach. But he might suggest that you look at something in a different way, or notice something that you perhaps hadn’t noticed, be it a shape, a colour, the positioning, or something. I guess his drawings were precise, but they were also free. They weren’t precise like architectural drawing, but he had as much detail in his drawing as an architect would have. But it had a freedom, a looseness and a joy that you wouldn’t necessarily see in
other, very precise drawings.”

Glenis Cheesman, “Evening Classes at Hilderstone (with Christopher’s Demonstrations)”, early 1970s

“He was highly articulate. He could easily explain what he was talking about. He would also–whilst he was talking to you–if, for example, he was trying to teach you to draw a wrist, a hand, if he could see you were struggling with that, he would draw on the corner of your paper. But he’d talk about the anatomy that sits under the skin. Under what you could see. He’d talk about the anatomy of the body, and the muscles, and in that way I learned anatomy and human biology, without knowing… without having proper lessons in that. So the other thing that I have now, because of his teaching, is an understanding of how the body works, how the skeleton… the muscles work to produce the shapes that they produce. So I thought that was a really clever way of teaching. That’s probably from his formal education, from art school, bringing it… but in a very informal way.”

“The other thing I remember, from going to his house - which was as warm and welcoming as he was - was that he had his old pallets on the walls in the cellar, almost as if they were also works of art. I remember those. I mean, I said the cellar, I know it’s where the wine was kept! He made his own wine as well. And he used to invite us back after class to his house for wine and cheese on toast.”

“If you went to the pub, he sat drawing the people around him all the time. […] He talked to you about what he found interesting in that person’s face, or the way they were sitting, or whatever. He’d talk about his work to you and try and get you to draw it as well, give you a piece of paper and a pencil. […] It might not be about features of the face. It could be just about the way light fell on the face, the shadow. It could be… it could be whatever took his attention, really.”

© The Christopher Alexander Archive 2020. All rights reserved.