Turps Art School was founded in 2012 as a medium-specific art school providing year-long studio and distance learning programmes for painters. So far, more than 80 artists have participated in the studio programme, with many more signing up for one-off Turps Surgeries.

One of the programmes offered by the school is the Turps Correspondence Course, an online learning platform for painters which includes one-to-one mentoring over the course of a year.

Three artists who met on the course – plus one non-Turps painter Sandra Beccarelli – have collaborated on a new exhibition, ‘Beating Time: A conversation between painting and poetry’, which opens at ARB, Cambridge, on 17 January 2020.

Here, Alison Critchlow, who is based in Cumbria, Miranda Boulton, from Cambridge, and Cornwall-based Una D’Aragona discuss the impact of the course, how it benefits artists based in rural areas, and whether it offers a suitable alternative to traditional art education institutions.

How did you first become involved with the Turps Correspondence course?
Alison Critchlow It was quite simple really. Someone lent me a copy of the Turps Magazine back in 2014. She was a painter friend and I mentioned I had been thinking about going back to art school and doing a postgraduate course. I couldn’t really find a way of making ends meat and also going back to college.
There was a double spread in the middle of the magazine of paintings by people on the correspondence course. I Googled it and saw it was exactly what I wanted – critical input without having to spend hours at a college.

Miranda Boulton I had just had my second baby and was at a point where I needed some input into my work. Just like Alison, I couldn’t get away from the house to do an MA, but the correspondence course offered a fantastic way of doing it all virtually and still have deadlines and critical input. I’d read Turps Magazine for years and actually started the first year they did the course in 2012. It was quite an experimental that year.

Una D’Aragona I used to go to the library at Falmouth University, which is where I graduated from. I saw the course advertised in Turps Magazine and thought it looked quite interesting, mainly because it was really focused on painting and its position in contemporary art today. I really wanted more critical input on the ins and outs of us painterly people. I wasn’t in a fixed place for a while, so it suited me.

How is the course structured?
AC Each student is given an online portfolio and you have to upload images of a certain number of paintings by a certain date. Only you and your mentor can access this. You also upload a piece of writing which explains what the works are about. After a couple of weeks you receive feedback from them and the conversation starts there.

MB Half way through, you get input from different mentors, which is really interesting. It shakes it up a bit. The students also set up a Facebook group for people to share work, which has an almost group crit feel.

This might be the future of art education. It makes it more of a level playing field where anyone who has access to a computer can take part.

What role has it played in the development of your practice?
AC For me it’s had a massive impact. Although I had been practicing since I graduated from art college in the early 90s, I live quite rurally. I wanted to shake things up a bit. I did a couple of years, from 2014-16, then had a year just doing my own thing and letting it all sink in. I then did another year after that. It was a seismic shift for me.

It’s simple, but it really cuts to the chase. Being able to share with your peers gives you real clarity, and it has really fed into my thinking.

UD Painting and art in general is a never ending learning process. I never feel like I am finished with learning or expanding my practice, and I don’t think artists should feel ashamed to say they need more nurturing.

Turps does a great job of recreating the buzz of being part of a physical network for people who live more remotely. You could be anywhere on the planet and somehow they link you into this wider network. Also, the mentors are fellow painters so are actually interested in your practice!

MB I’m actually thinking of doing it again in a year or two as I’m at a point where I need more input. Whether it be via mentoring or crit, you never feel like you have been left alone.

How did the course lead to the ‘Beating Time’ exhibition at ARB?
MB I had been working for two years with the contemporary poet Kaddy Benyon on the project ‘A Painter and a Poet’ which explored reciprocal female friendship and creativity. It focused on the corresponding relationship between Winifred Nicholson and her poet friend Kathleen Raine.

Meanwhile, Alison had been painting in Dove Cottage garden and from the Wordsworth Trust Collection in Grasmere, exploring Wordsworth’s creative process and concepts.

AC We realised there was a lot of shared territory and started to discuss putting together a painting and poetry show. We were looking for other people who fitted with our ideas, and Una’s name came up. She makes work that is a contemporary re-imagining of classical painting featuring the earliest archetypal narratives of Ovid and Greek myth.

MB I met Sandra Beccarelli at the Amy Sillman show at Camden Arts Centre and we had this amazing chat about poetry and art – and she was in. The titles of some of her works can seem like the beginning of an unfinished or minimal poem, to be completed by the painting itself.

Do you hope to continue the collaboration in the future?
UD We are looking for other venues to tour the exhibition and are quite excited for where it might go. We plan on this being an ongoing conversation.

Beating Time: A conversation between painting and poetry’ is at ARB, Cambridge, 17 January – 22 Fabruary 2020. www.arbart.crassh.cam.ac.uk/beating-time/

For more information on Turps Art School visit: www.turpsbanana.com/art-school

1. Miranda Boulton, Outside In, oil on board, 80x100cm, 2018.
2. Una d’Aragona, Eu and The Bull.
3. Alison Critchlow, Flight, oil on canvas, 30x24cm.

More on a-n.co.uk:

Alternative art education: Turps Art School

Alternative art education resources including a profile of  School of the Damned and a guide to choosing a programme that’s right for you

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