Biography

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It is fifty years ago this month that I first began to inhabit art schools, a habit that has endured subsequently.

My Foundation year was at Gloucestershire College of Art in Cheltenham. An exciting and overwhelming year, where for two or three days a week we drew from 9am to noon, from 1 to 4pm and from 5 to 6.30pm.

The other days we pursued various skills such as etching, sculpture, and painting. The more senior students’ work was fantastic, the production values were very exacting and strong.
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I loved to go around the Painting studios. Carel Weight was the External Examiner, and most of the painters went on to the Royal College of Art (RCA).

The Film Club was brilliant and I saw quantities of Bergman, Fellini, and Robert Altman films, together with the Sunday matinees at the local cinema of Greta Garbo and Marx Brothers films.
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I blossomed at my Degree Course at Exeter, it was reputed to have a propensity for literature and art. The Head of Painting was Alexander Macneish, known as Mac, who was always pleasant, jovial and enterprising. The studios were in Gandy Street and on St Davids Hill, where I had a 3rd floor studio. Accessed by an outside iron staircase, embedded with Braille, as it had once been rooms for a School for the Blind.

Mac had many contacts in the Fine Art world, so tutors were Aubrey Williams from Guyanna, William Crozier and John Bellany, who gave me the good advice that, if you were not working full out in your twenties and thirties, imagine how limited and pathetic your production would be in your later life. Advice I sincerely took to heart. Devonshire was beautiful with wonderful places to live and gorgeous train journeys to take every day, notably Exeter to Dawlish.
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Following Bellany’s advice I continued to paint for the next two years and work part-time teaching and lecturing Art and Art History. I visited my student friend Stephen Davenport in the West Indies before moving to London, where I saw many glorious collections.

At first I shared Basil Beattie’s (who is my lifelong, closest ally) studio in the East End, before getting a Space Studio in Kings Cross, reputedly Kray territory and now precisely where the British Library is. London is undeniably lovely, but I find it exhausting. After interviews with Professor Peter de Francia at the RCA and at Reading University with Professor Martin Froy and Terry Frost – and being offered places at both – I plumped for Reading and was not disappointed.
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Reading University was terrific, we had studios in individual huts on the London Rd. The University had a host of amazing lectures going on, on the history of ideas, psychology etc. It was an exciting and stimulating environment to be in. I was awarded a University Research Scholarship in my second year which was a big help. Many fellow students remain friends and the External Examiner William Scott had a good supply of reminiscences about living in London with Dylan Thomas.

I came back to Wales in 1975, I had a studio in Chapter and then an AADW studio in the centre of Cardiff. I worked part time (three days a week) on the BA. Fine Art at Newport College of Art where I stayed until 1984. In 1977 I moved to Barry Island, where I had a studio at home, and I continued to split my week painting and teaching.
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For one year, in 1980, I was able to cut down all my teaching and to work full time as a painter. That year I showed 100 drawings at Llantarnam Grange, and the following year 130 works at Newport Museum and Art Gallery. On the back of this I was invited to exhibit in The Arts Council ‘Women Artists of Wales’ show that toured Wales and was curated by Moira Vincentelli.

I moved to Newcastle Upon Tyne in 1984 with my small son Nicholas who was five at the time. I worked then as a Course Leader for the MA in Fine Art, until 1989,when I became Head of Painting at Sunderland University, before returning first as Head of Fine Art, then as Head of the School of Art at Northumbria University and to the continuing rigours of a full time job.

I found work with students to be thought provoking and enjoyable. Throughout this time I always had a studio at home, which was more convenient, however spasmodic and Sunday Painter-ish one had to be. Like many women I was a mother, but I was also a single parent with sole financial responsibility for my child. So I worked hard to keep the job and to stay afloat. I value the art work I produced then, as it was hard won.

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I went as Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Media to Teesside University in 2005, a job I loved until retiring ten years later.

In 2016 I moved (back) to Barry Island, where my studio once again looks over the sea, and I am able to have the luxury of being able to paint or draw every day.

September 2017

All images and content © Gerda Roper 2019
gerda.roper@icloud.com

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