Gordon House: artist and designer of The White Album
Gordon House, Paint to Print is a brand new exhibition at Broadway Gallery, Letchworth. Muddy meets its curator, Laura Dennis.
Who is Gordon House?
Gordon House was a painter and designer. He was born in Wales in 1932. During the depression, he and his family moved to Letchworth Garden City. Gordon went to Luton and St Albans Schools of Art in 1947. Gordon was unusual because he became both a fine artist and a commercial designer. He was also responsible for reviving screenprinting as a fine art medium. He worked in-house at ICI in Welwyn Garden City as a graphic designer from 1952 until 1959, before moving into freelance work. He died in 2004. He thought of much of his work as ‘public service’, particularly the exhibition catalogues he designed for the Arts Council.
Why are you exhibiting his work now?
Gordon House is a key figure from the 60s art scene and at the moment I feel there is a renewed interest in 1960s British art. This is being reflected by the Robyn Denny exhibitions in Penzance and Newlyn and the Pioneers of Pop exhibition that is currently at the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle. Our exhibition will focus on Gordon’s paintings and prints from the ‘swinging London’ art scene, and will include examples of his graphic design for galleries and musicians, including the typographic design and production of album covers for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The White Album for The Beatles.
What can we expect to see?
We’ve called the exhibition Paint to Print because we are showing the close relationship that Gordon developed between print making and painting. He loved screenprinting. For instance, he made a poster for the Arts Council and then he took out the text, transforming the print into an artwork. He helped to establish the Kelpra print studio by encouraging other artists to use screenprinting in their work. In 1964, the ICA commissioned 24 artists to make screenprints. Gordon designed the catalogue, but his work was also selected for the portfolio, along with artists including Robyn Denny, Sir Peter Blake, David Hockney, Patrick Caulfield and Bridget Riley and Richard Smith.
As a curator, how do you make decisions about what to hang where?
The way you hang work is 50% intuition and 50% logic. You can plan it, but then it can feel different when you are in the gallery space.
How did you become a curator?
I studied History of Art and then I did the Curation course at Norwich Art School. I relocated to Cambridge to take this job at the Broadway Gallery just before it opened, and the first exhibition I curated, the one which opened the gallery, was Richard Smith: Reunion.
Another Letchworth artist?
Richard Smith was born in Letchworth Garden City and he and Gordon House went to primary school together and stayed friends throughout their lives. While I was putting together Richard Smith’s exhibition, I used to speak to him on the phone, by this time he was living in New York. I got to know him quite well, and it was incredibly sad because he was going to fly over to see the exhibition but he died before made the trip Letchworth. It’s poignant that we spent his final days reminiscing about his childhood and hometown.
Do you think that Letchworth Garden City is an inspiring place for artists?
I think it definitely provides inspiration to artists. For our exhibition of Dan Hays’ work earlier this year, he made several new paintings inspired by his visits to Letchworth. I also think that Letchworth is also an important place for nurturing friendships. Gordon and Richard were friends all their life. When I was talking to Richard just before he died he was re-reading Gordon’s autobiography, Tin Pan Valley.
Is being a curator a bit like being a biographer?
Yes, in a way. You do get to know the exhibiting artists and aspects of their lives very well. Although Gordon House died in 2004, I’ve met lots of his family and friends now and so I do feel as if I know him somehow, especially through his work. The same with Richard Smith, whose family I also got to know. Richard was such a friendly and kind man. I remember the first thing he said to me: ‘I’m delighted you want to show my work, but let me tell you about my friend Gordon House. He was a real Letchworthian.’
Gordon House, Paint to Print, until Sun 28 Jan 2018