By Allen Packwood
CHURCHILL ART BLOOMS IN LONDON
The afternoon of September 16th witnessed a remarkable occasion. Boris Johnson, the colourful and frequently controversial mayor of London, arrived on his bicycle at the Churchill War Rooms, stepped inside, and proceeded to announce the winners of the inaugural Pentland Churchill Design Competition.
The contest was the brainchild of Morice Mendoza, a trustee of The Churchill Centre (UK), who was keen to find a vehicle for getting today’s students to think about Sir Winston and what he means for their generation. The idea was taken up by fellow trustee Stephen Rubin and his team at The Pentland Group, a leading brand management and retail firm, including Chief Designer Katie Greenyer. Her brief challenged British art college students to “explore the extraordinary story of Churchill’s life and impact on the 20th century and articulate your vision of his continuing relevance to the contemporary scene” in an original work of art, design or fashion.
The Arts Thread website (www.artsthread.com) provided an excellent vehicle for reaching students. Out of 156 entries, eight finalists were selected. The finalists gathered with members of the Churchill family and press photographers to await the Mayor Johnson’s pronouncement. (He pointed out that he was not one of the judges and was simply delivering the verdict!)
The eight leading works are a testament to British creativity. They vary from a Churchill shoe to a tapestry to a silkscreen print, and are built around different facets and aspects of Churchill, from the Boer War to his books, from the famous Karsh photograph to a graphic rendering: “The Many Hats of Winston Churchill.” The latter was by Nick Jameson, the overall winner (opposite and in colour with other winners on our back cover).
Mr. Jameson’s creation prompted the Mayor to recall that Churchill had also worn a builder’s hat, a cowboy hat and a native American hat, and so almost qualified as a one-man YMCA video—an allusion that will be lost on those who are not connoisseurs of disco music.
As some advanced Churchillians noticed, not all the quotations or facts incorporated into these pieces are accurate. To my mind—and clearly to the judges—that was outweighed by the passion, innovation and research that went into producing them.
What would Churchill have thought of all this? He famously dismissed the infamous Sutherland portrait as “a remarkable example of modern art.” But in 1953 he said: “The arts are essential to any complete national life. The nation owes it to itself to sustain and encourage them” and “without tradition art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation it is a corpse. Innovation of course involves experiment.”
As to our participants we have his famous admonition to youth in his autobiography, My Early Life:
Twenty to twenty-five! These are the years! Don’t be content with things as they are. “The earth is yours and the fulness thereof.” Enter upon your inheritance, accept your responsibilities….Don’t take No for an answer. Never submit to failure. Do not be fobbed off with mere personal success or acceptance. You will make all kinds of mistakes; but as long as you are generous and true, and also fierce, you cannot hurt the world or even seriously distress her. She was made to be wooed and won by youth. She has lived and thrived only by repeated subjugations.
All involved should be proud of the result. Mayor Johnson, who himself is writing a book about Churchill, said the competition will run again in 2014 but that next time it will be international. The brief will be to capture the essence of Sir Winston’s unique style and personality. I believe we may have opened the floodgates.
Mr. Packwood is Director of the Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge, and Executive Director of The Churchill Centre (UK).
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