THE Peter Fuller PROJECT
"Art; I believe, help thou mine unbelief" - Peter Fuller
April 28th 2015, marked a quarter century since my father, the intense, unique and deeply troubled art critic Peter Fuller passed away in a car accident in 1990, below is my tribute to him and my growing research for a film based on his journals. As part of the extensive research I am undertaking for this project, I'm publishing some of my findings here and on my blog. Developing this project has had a deep affect on me, challenged my personal beliefs as well forming a relationship with the father I never had. This January I'll be taking a trip back to London to get into the archive at the TATE and scour his journals for what really went on. In the meantime here's what I've found so far:
As I was only three when he died, going through it is like being at the centre of an unsolvable mystery, because no amount of digging will give me the experience of meeting him physically, though as he suggests in the last essay he wrote before he died The Journey I get to meet him in spirit in his writings, and as I've spent the majority of my life in pursuit of what is broadly termed 'Method Acting' I get to meet him deeper still through my own creation.
He made many sacrifices to his personal, inner and physical being for what he believed so adamantly to be the most vital aspect of human life, art. The secular spiritual movement I was born into and continue to practice in my adult life. When discussing the artist Eric Gill in his book Images Of God Peter quotes him as saying "The artist is not a special kind of man, but every man is a special kind of artist". He believed that the best artists in the world have faith, any faith as long as it is strong and expressed in their work through their humanity. Peter devoted himself to art criticism with an intensity that rivaled the predecessors he wrote so vehemently about and to this day remains broadly uncontested. By the time of his death aged 42, he had written 15 seminal books on art and founded the popular magazine Modern Painters, which today is one of the most widely read art magazines in the world. Modern Painters recently gave me the opportunity to write a feature on my experience developing the screenplay:
Peter died in a car accident 1990, I was in the car, as was my mother Stephanie Burns she survived but my baby brother Gabriel did not. With a broken hip my mother pulled from the broken wreckage and saved my life. I personally happen to agree with Ivana Chubbuck when she said "Discovering and understanding your personal pain is an inherent part of the acting process... Aristotle defined the struggle of the individual to win as the essence of all drama. Overcoming and winning against all the hurdles and conflicts of life is what makes dynamic people". Or the painter Enrique Martinez Celaya "Your strength as an artist does not have to come from your best qualities or gifts. An artist can rise from a deficiency within himself."
"[Fuller] believed that the explanation for all human activity could be found only in the personal history of the human being. This was art-historical Darwinism. It was one of his great strengths." - Waldemar Januszczak
I first announced this project at the Peter Fuller Memorial Lecture at TATE Britain aged 19 in 2006, as I suggested at the time I knew full well I was not yet ready to undertake the huge scope of this project and the depth of my father's work. Though soon after this I went to study Classical Theatre at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and through my journey as an actor and all the struggles, self education and adventure that entails, I built up an understanding of the depths of his arguments and psychoanalytic journals. Throughout the various Theatre and Film roles I have taken on, they may have been somewhere unconsciously guided by the prospect of one day doing this movie, but nothing too conscious, just wanting to do interesting roles. Since wrapping on Road To The Well, a quirky thriller in which I play a philosophy phd dropout wrapped up in a murder, preparing for the role I studied some existentialism and was able to some degree adapt it to my performance. This gave me the confidence to move forward full on into research and development on this project, I've been working on the The Peter Fuller Project at least in part everyday. Though I'm still working on a variety of projects, most recently playing an artist in the lead role of Paint It Red, the occupation of the character was actually a complete coincidence.
Aside from the avant-gaurde and conceptual art which still leaves many museum goers confounded when they enter a room filled with random, grotesque objects or empty boxes under the guise of a philosophical explanation, the other thing that really got Peter going with Pop art, the leader of the pack being Andy Warhol;
"Warhol offers only a superficial vision of the material world, and the 'glimpses' of heaven and hell are no more revealing than those we can derive from plastic madonnas and two-dollar religious trinkets. The emptiness in his work was never even an analogue for that contemplative emptiness and silence which mystics have long associated with the abnegation of the self and the enrichment of the soul. Rather, it reproduces the pornographic vacuity of a Jimmy Swaggart, or a Las Vegas Crematorium. Cheap nothingness, an oblivion of kitsch." - Peter Fuller on Andy Warhol
There were a number of controversial philosophical stances my father took. In a move that completely rocked the art world turning from Modernism to the British Tradition, my father did a complete 180 on all of his philosophical beliefs, the one thing that he maintained an undying allegiance to was real art. The extent of his tenacity as a socialist critic in the 60s and 70s was completely counterbalanced by the spiritual crusade he traveled in the 80s up until his passing. In the clip to the left the notorious art socialist critic Waldemar Januszczak debates Peter about the exhibition "The Last Romantics" held at the TATE in 1990 and the surrounding ideas.
The first film I wrote, produced and acted in about the art world was in 2008, a short called Possession(s) for ABC Australia. You'll notice in the trailer Ways Of Seeing's unconscious influence. My character undergoes a disillusion with the value (material and emotional) of a painting by Australian artist Peter Booth over the course of the story. He ends up ripping the painting to shreds destroying its object value, therein seeing its true value. I was 20 at the time, today I see it a bit like a sapling of this project, not directly in terms of the story but connected none-the-less .
At this point I'd like to make available the new Kindle edition of Marches Past, his brilliantly quirky memoirs, as an insight into his inner workings. The creative exploration of abstract philosophical thoughts, power struggles with his psychoanalyst, intertwined with art and axolotls. Please contact me if you'd like to receive a review copy.
"A rare view of the critic as painfully exposed and vulnerable." - Matthew Collings, The Late Show
"I have been writing all day long. An orange sun is dropping, like a literary cliche, against a grey Hackney skyline. I begin to see why I started this day, today, a year ago, with images of imprisonment... The horror is that I am locked, like a prisoner, in this cell, this armored circle of time, and no other. I can only ever see the world from a point somewhere behind these eyes; I can only ever know it filtered, mediated and distorted through the gills of this my claustrophobic, indestructible history... I have always sought out the appearance which can be separated and detached from the other through the blade of the eyes, and incorporated painlessly into the self: art criticism. I have an over-retentive memory which stacks everything like a pile of plastic transparencies. Analysis was an attempt to shatter those sheets of glass, to break through the narcissistic veil, to find a way of touching and tasting and feeling real" - Peter Fuller, Marches Past
"This astonishing autobiographical volume is indispensable reading to anyone interested in the work of Peter Fuller" - The Art Newspaper
"An exceptional autobiographical experiment" - Sunday Times
The art community:
To understand the story of Peter Fuller, it is vital to take into account the community in which he was writing; his friendships, the perceptions of the people around him, who cared about him, fought him, fought with him and loved him in spite and because of all his unusual failings. So I'm putting together a timeline below of my research, which will serve as a backdrop. As I delved into this work I realised that it should be shared for free for everyone. The following quotes and stories are taken from obituaries, Peter's writings, archival material and occasionally recollections that have been imparted to me recently, this is not a polemical piece and takes into account all points of view. I use their words here with respect and compassion.
A huge debt of gratitude must be paid to everyone who was involved in the Peter Fuller Memorial Foundation for all their hard work over the years (please see further writing on this subject at the bottom). This is a continually evolving piece with many question marks and people/stories I have left out, particularly more of the artists he championed. I am contributing to the page regularly, so if it instigates memories for you that you would like to share please use the comment section at the bottom or email me at lrfuller(at)laurencefuller(dot)com
AT a GLANCE
There have been many brilliant artists over the years who have beautifully or hilariously captured the eccentric figure of my father, I'd like to share some of them here, if you have any more you'd like to share please do not hesitate to contact me.
"What excited my passion, or on occasions my hate, was the success, or failure, of a painting as art. To use an analogy from another sphere of life, if I love someone, I certainly want to know everything I can about them; but such knowledge can never 'explain' my love." - Peter Fuller
"During the decade 1965 to 1975 some habitués of the London art world used to spend at least half-an-hour a day discussing the ideas and opinions of the American art critic Clement Greenberg. Recently, a visiting American told me that he and his acquaintances in the New York artworld spend at least half-an-hour a day talking about the theories of the British art critic Peter Fuller. Times do change." John A. Walker, Aspects [mid-1980s]
"Peter Fuller was the most important art critic working in Britain in his time - or at least that is what I am quoted as saying on the back of several of his books. He kept putting it in the blurbs even when he knew that I had long since changed my mind about this youthful claim. Indeed, he kept putting it in precisely because he knew I had changed my mind. Oh my, how Peter liked to annoy people. He was that rarest of creatures - an art historian with a sense of fun" - Waldemar Januszczak
"Peter Fuller stood above all for quality... He led a one-man attack on the international style and recently one felt he was winning" - Karen Wright
"He was one of those special people who would try to throw you out of your own house after you had eaten dinner together." - Bob Chenciner
"Even if you disagree with every single statement and judgement of his, his undoubted value is that it's worth reading him, for the seriousness of his level of engagement" - Michael Shepherd, Arts Review
"Peter Fuller was an irascible and uncompromising writer, who, while never forgetting to court a public, journeyed from Marxist to conservative, from materialist to quasi-religious views, barely touching the middle ground... Fuller's books and Modern Painters, the magazine which he founded, reached a wide public well beyond the normally closed circle of the art world, and so they are interesting not only their content but as cultural phenomena." - Julian Stallabrass, The Success and Failure of Peter Fuller
"Art critics are generally little known outside their profession, but Peter Fuller's death in a car accident on 28 April 1990 triggered an avalanche of public tributes from friends, colleagues and even opponents. This response showed how far Fuller had succeeded in changing the direction of contemporary art debates, and in bringing those debates before the general public. The Tate Gallery has acknowledged Fuller's importance by taking on a huge archive of his papers, putting them alongside those of Roger Fry and Sir Kenneth Clark. With Fuller's death, British art lost its most energetic and provocative commentator, its greatest catalyst for change and renewal. It was widely mooted, in the obituaries, that Fuller was irreplaceable. So it has proved. In his absence, it is only too plain that the quality of art commentary in this country has settled back into the torpid and self-satisfied slumber he worked so hard to disturb." - John McDonald, Peter Fuller's Modern Painters
Birth & THE FATHER
"In the evangelical milieu of my childhood, the relationship between theology and science still seemed contentious” - Peter Fuller, Theoria
Although a key figure in the story of British art, Peter was born in Damascus in 1947, his parents Marjory and Harold were stationed there as his father worked for the Red Cross. His sister Ruth was born in Nazareth in 1945, and his brother was born on their return to London in 1950. The majority of Peter's childhood was spent in Eastleigh, a small town on the Southern most tip of England. The family lived in a Victorian house that was built on what was once an orchard.
As the son of a devout Evangelical baptist father, he attended the Union Baptist Church every Sunday. Our family comes from a long line of Evangelical Baptists notably dating back to Andrew Fuller who was one of the founding members of the Baptist Missionary Society. The Andrew Fuller Centre has since used passages of Peter's book "Images Of God" in their studies at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville Kentucky. Which is surprising to me as the book is atheist literature, proposing a secular spiritualism in art divorced from God. Never-the-less incredibly baptist. So baptist in fact Harold Fuller led a provincial revolt amongst the congregation of the Union Baptists Church, walking out mid-service accompanied by a number of the flock, over a theological dispute with the minister.
"His tortured nature is hard to pin down. I only know the things he told me: he had an embarrassing father, for instance." - Matthew Collings
Peter was baptized upon confession of faith by complete immersion, in 1961, just before he went away to boarding school at Epsom College.
"He was affected all his life by the experiences he had there. I remember him writing desperate letters home to my parents and think they would have done well to take him out of that school." - Peter's sister Ruth
"I want to apologize about something which I hope you will forgive us for. Like Adam I begin with blaming the women folk who inveigled me into it. Ruth went to your desk for something I do not know what and found there your essay on British Public School, She read it and passed it on to mummy and myself. I do hope you will forgive us for having read that which you never intended us to read but I am grateful to have read it as it presents your problem to us in sharper perspective. Actually Mummy and I did wonder whether something of this sort was in fact going on and thereby making life difficult for you. We did of course realize that where ever there are a bunch of men of any age herded together there is bound (unfortunately) to be a certain amount of obscenity indecent and where authority is given into the hands of others a certain amount of bullying." - Harold Fuller, in a letter to Peter then at boarding school
The divide in architecture at Cambridge between Modernity and Tradition became the first divide Peter raised his pen to dissect.
“I had spent most of my first year in Peterhouse, in rooms facing the Combination Room and the great thirteenth century Hall, built out of Hugh of Balsham’s bequest, the oldest surviving college building in Cambridge, refurbished in the nineteenth century with glass and ‘Daisy’ tiles provided by Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and co. Subsequently, necessity dictated I should be transported out of Great Court, across Gisbourne Court, the castellated, mock-Gothic, nineteenth century extension, and into Fen Court, an aesthetically derelict piece of 1930s functionalism, only a little less ugly than the rectilinear phallus of the William Stone Building, which rose up like the member of some great mechanical rapist.” - Peter Fuller, Theoria
Peter met his first wife Colette while a student at Cambridge;
"When a student in Cambridge Peter could be a bit of a dandy - even if a dishevelled one . He wore slightly old-fashioned clothes and a hat. I am not sure but I feel he had a walking stick at some point, one of those Victorian gentleman’s accessory - purely for effect. He used to be invited to parties with his roulette wheel so people could gamble … That was his “decadent” phase ! Him and some of his friends were reading Huysmans. The book was called 'A Rebours'.
Peter’s work was his big project, a search for the meaning of life, for an answer to the “big why” … He was always reading serious booksand writing. Even in the early days when what he wrote didn’t have much chance of being published he wrote and wrote … We once went on holiday on a campsite in the south of France wheremy parents and uncle were staying. It was very hot. Peter set up his typewriter under the tent and proceeded to write a few hours everyday. My uncle was amazed, he interrupted the campers game of boules to tell the players to come and have a look at his nephew … He lifted the tent door and there was Peter typing away!" - Colette Fuller
As a young man Peter was involved in the radical 60s Socialist movement in art, after some time he found it difficult to justify the sort of art that he liked without some sense of spirituality (however secular). When in 1977 Herbert Marcuse's essay "The Aesthetic Dimension" was posthumously published, Peter adopted the phrase as his own and become one of the only aesthetic philosophers on the Left. As the years went on he saw that this 'aesthetic dimension' was the one area where Left and Right could unite. He was one of this of that generation of intellectuals to see the flaws in Marxism and wrote publicly about them finding a new view of British art through it. This caused a huge amount of controversy amongst his colleagues.
"I can still remember with what excitement I read Herbert Marcuse's posthumously published essay The Aesthetic Dimension, in which he assailed 'orthodox Marxist aesthetics'. 'By virtue of its trans-historical, universal truths', he wrote, 'art appeals to a consciousness which is not only that of a particular class, but that of human beings as "species beings" developing all their life-enhancing faculties'. Marcuse wrote that 'art envisions a concrete, universal humanity, which no particular class can incorporate , not even the proletariat, Marx's "universal class". Such ideas struck a receptive chord in me. My own book Art & Psychoanalysis, plunged into a terrain which was simply out of bounds for 'orthodox Marxist aesthetics'. I explored psychoanalytic ideas, especially those of the British School of 'object relations' analysts, in an attempt to say something about the pleasure, wonder and mystery which I derived from the experience of art: in particular, I was interested in the possibilities of a psychoanalytic understanding of the form itself. In The Naked Artist, I tried to take these ideas still further and draw upon natural history and biology too." - Peter Fuller, The Journey
"After Cambridge Peter was as broke as the rest of us, and moved in to share our lavish free apartment at 10 Gloucester Gate Regents Park, underneath Adrian Berg’s studio where David Hockney with Peter Schlesinger, and Patrick Procktor were often passing up and down the stairs. In contrast, the luscious Jasmine would regularly visit from Paris to go out with all of The Marmalade until her gonorrhoea became insupportable." - Bob Chenciner
"That day we met at the front door of the house and he said, 'I'm writing art criticism for a magazine', and I replied, 'You can write on me. I've a show'. Although he was living in a room on the floor below my studio looking out on the same view so that he would be familiar with the subject, I could not have expected anything to come of it. He was just down from Cambridge. The year was 1968. When I had a retrospective in Rochdale, he took the trouble to see it, and to get that organ of the new puritanism Art Monthly eventually to publish his review. I have been able to attribute the opposition of all other critics to his support. While I was a first of sorts for him, he was a one and only." - Adrian Berg
The 60s in london: A TIME OF REVOLUTION
Like many people coming of age in the sixties in England, Peter was a part of the subversive movements in culture in the West. As the new wave was breaking new ground in New York, the 60s art world in London was booming, Peter and his mentor at the time John Berger were the Socialist art critics of their day.
"In the early 1970s, I certainly came close to believing that the editorial board of The New Left Review had access to "The Truth", to which I could be a party if only I understood their texts correctly." - Peter Fuller, Marches Past
"It was also the time of revolution. After learning the trade with Larry Lamb’s capitalist City Press Peter started Seven Days, the hard left tabloid broadsheet with writers like Anthony Barnett, Patrick Cockburn and his son Alexander, Tariq Ali, Fred Halliday and John Berger." - Bob Chenciner
“In 1968, when Walter Benjamin’s essay ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ (written in the 1930s) became easily available in English translation for the first time. Benjamin had written about how modern means of producing and reproducing images were shattering the ‘cultic’ associations and the ‘aesthetic aura’ which had once surrounded works of art... Benjamin claimed that this demystification of art was part of progress and proletarianisation” - Peter Fuller, Theoria
The Black Dwarf was a radical newspaper published between May 1968 and 1972 by a collective of socialists in the United Kingdom. It is often identified with Tariq Ali who edited and published this newspaper until 1970.
"When I first knew Peter he was working as the theatre critic of a dreadful local paper called The City Press... At that time I asked him what he really wanted to do and he replied, "My only serious interest is Art". His first column appeared under a pseudonym, Percy Ingrams, and was published in the Red Mole. We shared many friends in common in those days and I used to run into him at the New Left Review offices. Even though our political paths diverged very widely in recent years, I always found his material thought provoking." - Tariq Ali
Through writing for Black Dwarf Peter met Anthony Barnett, the pair became lifelong friends and collaborated on many projects together, (towards the later years this was not without its conflict), during the late 60s they worked together on radical newspaper Seven Days.
Thought short lived Synthesis is was Peter's own journal which he also published during this time, aged 21, with many of the same writers contributing essays, poetry, theatre and art criticism from a socialist perspective, a unique look at the sort of conversations being had at that time, I have obtained the rights and appropriates permissions to publish it in full here;
Peter's gambling addiction began to develop at Cambridge, it was tied very closely with his masochistic compulsions, which developed into destructive behavior which greatly concerned those close to him. So he took up psychoanalytic treatment at the Freud Institute under the NHS, The Psychology Of Gambling was the first book to come out of his collaboration with psychoanalyst Kenneth Wright.
"His Revelation, which transformed him into an art critic, was suitably bizarre. He was steadily tsupplementing his meagre income by betting on red and black at roulette while being manipulated by cleavaged croupiers, when one night he returned shaking. He had lost £20. He decided that there was only one remedy - to go to Gamblers Anonymous. After hearing others stand up to confess their losses, he found himself adding a few zeros to his own to keep up. It was clear that he had a complicated problem and so, on the National Health, he attended several courses of psychoanalysis. In inspired leaps he applied his Freudian analysis to dead art and then to live art. He found himself slightly ahead of the thinking public and even established art critics." - Bob Chenciner
"Most people gamble believing they are trying to win, in fact most gamblers loose. Why, then, do so many people gamble huge sums of money when the odds are regularly stacked against them?
This book sets out to identitify the diverse elements of gambling and to study the which they interact. The first part of the book consists of a stimutating text by Peter Fuller. One of the editors. He not only sets earlier studies in their historical context, but also pioneers investigation into relatively uncharted areas: the relationship of gambling to religion, capitalism and pornography. As well as expanding and criticizing in detail the ideas of the authors represented in the collection, Peter Fuller develops the thesis that gambling has the characteristics of the obsessional neuroses, rather than those of the addictions. After this substantial introduction, there follow, gathered together here for the first time, the key texts on gambling gambling seen not from a sociological or moralistic point of view, but from a psychological standpoint. The texts stretch from 1901 to 1973 and include the seminal study by Freud on Dostoevsky, as well as the major subsequent works, by Edmund Bergler, Ralph Greenson and Robert M. Lindner. To set the complex phenomenon of gambling in context, the editors include several texts on parallel and related themes: Ernest Jones's study of the nineteenth-century chess player, Paul Morphy; and two articles centring on the theme of money, by Sander Ferenczi and Elvio Fachineili." - Preface to Psychology Of Gambling
THE ART CRITIC
"As it happens I agree with Gilbert one of the contributors to Oscar Wilde's famous dialogue on, 'The Critic As Artist'. Gilbert argues that higher criticism is 'the record of one's soul'. He goes on to describe it as 'the only civilized form of autobiography, as it deals not with life's physical accidents of deed or circumstance, but with the spiritual moods and imaginative passions of the mind." - Peter Fuller, The Journey
THE LONDON GROUP
The London Group with its key figures in Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff, RB Kitaj, et al and my father was one of its strongest voices, though at odds with Francis Bacon 'For Bacon, the myths of vicarious sacrifice, incarnation, redemption, resurrection, salvation and victory over death mean nothing - even as consoling illusions' he never-the-less felt as he did the other artists of this movement that he was one of the most important artists of the 20th Century, time has proven this be the case. The Getty Museum recently had a major exhibition of these artists called "Londons Calling" on until November 14th in Los Angeles, so I took the opportunity to revisit his major essays on these artists:
And then there was Ruskin...
John Ruskin was the leading British art critic of the Victorian era, and one of the most influential art critics in history, his writings were non-conformist, complex, powerful and controversial, writing from the spiritual perspective on art and nature.. sounds pretty familiar.
"Ruskin was a restless, comprehensive intellectual and a fine prose stylist, he was moralistic, a purveyor of elevated journalism, ill at ease with his epoch and his sexuality, and somewhat mad; all these qualities suited him in the role of Fuller's alter-ego." Julian Stallabrass, The Success and Failure of Peter Fuller
“I well remember how an undergraduate colleague felt that even such an ambivalent endorsement of Ruskin as I had written amounted to a betrayal, not just of the modern movement, but also of the revolutionary politics to which so many of us were then committed. Even so, I went on reading Ruskin... My generation of revolting students was certainly preoccupied with many of the issues about which Ruskin felt so deeply, and wrote so persuasively; like Ruskin, we also felt that the body politic was in convulsions of an epochal and transforming character. Unlike Ruskin, we were convinced that these changes would lead to a better world. And we were infatuated with the ethic and aesthetic of modernism. In those heady days, the colleges were in ferment: ‘Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,/But to be young was very heaven!’” - Peter Fuller, Theoria
"To set out to read Ruskin's work today is to begin climbing an unknown mountain. Admittedly, it is a deeply flawed mountain, and it is easy to lose one's way among all that granite stubbornness, those dangerous crevices, valleys clogged with the silt of dead ideas, and endless strata of categories. It is a mountain on which one encounters strange fossils of thought, glacial drifts of verbiage, springs of brilliant insight and frequent glints of an almost preternaturally acute perception. Despite the arduous rocky passages where the going gets so tough that one wants to give up, it is also an infinitely varied mountain, fascinating for its dappled surface, rich in filigreed rocks and luminous hoar-frost. It offers spectacular changes of view and mazes of argument at every turn. Above all it is a majestic mountain, with its foothills and lower slopes rooted firmly in the common-or-garden facts of nature and physical being, but soaring up towards those giddy and sublime heights, swathed in clouds of rapture, where non- believers must leave Ruskin to tramp on to meet with his maker." - Peter Fuller, Theoria
SOME cheeky FIRST IMPRESSION
"He was writing copiously in New Society or the first few pages of Art Monthly, always taking up considerably more space than other writers. From the start, he was getting himself noticed by irritating the living daylights out of the British art world." - Waldemar Januszczak
"When Kasmin, who launched David Hockney and many other artists, introduced me to Peter Fuller in the early 1970s, I was not at all impressed. I was interested in the immediate art of Warhol and Lichtenstein and fast convertibles to match, not this scruffy chap with thick glasses who talked about Marxism and art." - Bernard Jacobson
"For a long time I have been proud that Peter counted me as a friend and came frequently to the gallery even if to tell me, cheerfully of course, that what I had on the wall was no good." - Kasmin
"Once Peter came round to the Artscribe office to do some work on an interview — that was how we met; I interviewed him for Artscribe about four years before I was fired as the editor there — and he arrived when I was on the phone to the Chelsea Arts Club, who had called to plead with me to come and fetch my mother, who was having a nervous breakdown in their reception. I said I wouldn’t and they should call the police if she wouldn’t leave. Peter brought up breakdowns and parents with me, and I admitted I was in therapy and when he asked what kind and I said I didn’t know (Jungian I think), he said when you’re down a deep pit and someone’s throwing a rope to get you out, it probably doesn’t matter who they are. But he had been in a much classier Freudian analysis, and I think I even got the impression he’d had it for free, because he was so interesting, although I’m sure I must be projecting that, because of fears of not being interesting enough for my present therapist, who I certainly don’t get treated by for free." - Matthew Collings
"I first met Peter ten years ago  at a seminar I had organised in Cambridge. He was on a panel with Bernard Jacobson, the gallery owner. Fuller's brief was to argue against silk screen as a medium; Bernard Jacobson was to take the opposite view. Peter arrived with a prepared lecture which lasted 45 minutes; Bernard arrived with some notes on the back of an envelope. There was no contest. Out of that meeting, strangely enough, there grew a deep friendship between the two." - Karen Wright, Modern Painters: Tributes To Peter Fuller, 1990
"I agreed to do a forum with Peter in Cambridge. I arrived, no written speech, no notes, no preparations, nothing. Peter proceeded to give a 45-minute dissertation. He was sensational. He was riveting. He was absolutely brilliant. I saw the large group of people before me through a haze, and my heart sank. I had been demolished before I began. Simultaneously I knew I had fallen in love. Peter had been sent in to beat me up on how I could possibly take Andy Warhol seriously. By this stage in my life I was already fairly anti-Warhol and Pop Art, but neither the organisers of the evening nor Peter himself were aware of this until I spoke, expressing - in, I suppose, a rather homespun way - virtually the same opinions as my erudite opponent." - Bernard Jacobson
Berger VS CLARKE
I spoke to Berger recently, we talked for about 20 minutes on the phone and he gave me his blessing to use his work with Peter in my film. I'm very grateful that he did. I've heard Ways Of Seeing described as a relic of the past, and it is to be taken in the context of its time, but also a crucial piece of art and cultural history as it continues to be republished every year and is studied at almost every major art institution internationally, certainly its vital for any serious study of conceptual art, and to see the opposition to Peter's position on art. Ways Of Seeing was created as a riposte to Kenneth Clarke's Civilization, Kenneth Clarke was the Director of the National Gallery made famous by the latter TV series he held an unintentionally opposing view to Berger's on the role of the art institution.
“[Ways Of Seeing] led Berger to despise the idea of conservation. He severed art from concepts of aesthetic value and spiritual concern altogether. In 1970 he sent me a letter outlining what he described as a ‘viable critical stance to the art world’. He referred to ‘the use by a certain number of artists of visual communication ... to pose and investigate a whole series of new social and philosophical questions’. The critic, he argued, needs to enter the questions posed: ‘The answers, which must lie outside the works, are more important than any “quality” of the works-in-themselves." - Peter Fuller, Theoria
“In the early 1970s, I came under the influence of John Berger, who mixed McLuhan and Benjamin together in a book and television series called Ways of Seeing, a riposte to another book and television series, Kenneth Clark’s Civilization, by which Berger had been greatly offended. Berger (at least the Berger of Ways of Seeing) wanted to purge art of those ‘cultic’ associations more relentlessly than Benjamin ever did. He argued that ‘the spiritual value of an object, as distinct from a message or an example, can only be explained in terms of magic or religion’, and went on to say that since, in modern society, neither of these was a living force, ‘the art object, the “work of art”,’ was ‘enveloped in an atmosphere of entirely bogus religiosity’ — essentially an attempt to camouflage an obsession with price. The issue, as he saw it, was between ‘a total approach to art’ and the traditional esoteric approach ‘of a few specialized experts’ who were ‘the clerks of the nostalgia of a ruling class in decline’. Their expertise and connoisseurship were being rendered obsolete by the proliferation of new means of reproduction. ‘For the first time ever, images of art have become ephemeral, ubiquitous, insubstantial, available, valueless, free . . . They have entered the mainstream of life over which they no longer, in themselves, have power.
All this led Berger to despise the idea of conservation. He severed art from concepts of aesthetic value and spiritual concern altogether. In 1970 he sent me a letter outlining what he described as a ‘viable critical stance to the art world’. He referred to ‘the use by a certain number of artists of visual communication ... to pose and investigate a whole series of new social and philosophical questions’. The critic, he argued, needs to enter the questions posed: ‘The answers, which must lie outside the works, are more important than any “quality” of the works-in-themselves.” - Peter Fuller, Theoria
"In 1970, I was an obscure and penurious critic writing for art magazines and the underground press; John Berger (whom I had never met) chanced upon an article I had written attacking the machinations of the art market under the pseudonym ‘Percy Ingrams’ in the Trotskyist paper, Red Mole. Berger sent this to Paul Barker, then editor of New Society, with a note suggesting that he should seek out Percy and get him to write something. My first piece for this magazine, ‘The £sd of Art’, appeared under my own bye-line on 9th July 1970.
Over the years that followed, Paul Barker gave me as much space as I wanted to work out my changing aesthetic ideas in public; he encouraged me to write about anything that interested me from a new interpretation of the Venus de Milo, to conceptual art, Sir Joshua Reynolds, or the origins of creativity in our species. This was a generous and risky thing to do - and I will always be grateful for it. Then, there were very few non-specialist British journals which made the space for serious articles of any length about the visual arts. Today there are fewer; and tomorrow there will be none.
Inevitably, in my early years as a critic, I was deeply influenced by Berger whom I met soon after the appearance of that first New Society article. The following month he sent me a letter in which he outlined what he saw as three elements comprising a ‘viable critical stance’. First and foremost was the assault on the art market and ‘the turning of works of art into commodities’; the exposure of this process, he told me, ‘takes us far into the economic and ideological workings of capitalism’. He wrote that whenever there was a chance of such revelation, ‘the critic should take it: without necessarily having to assess the creative value of the works in question.’ The second arose from ‘the use by a certain number of artists to pose and investigate a whole series of new social and philosophical schemes, kinetics, etc. The critic should take an interest in such work and ‘enter the questions posed’ in the understanding that the ‘answers ... must lie outside the works’ and that they were ‘more important than any “quality” of the works-in-themselves’. Many such questions, he wrote, ‘were about art in the hope of transcending art’. Thirdly, he recommended a sociological critique of the use of the ‘“professional” life of artists as a life-style of maximum freedom’.
For ten years, Berger was a constant source of support and encouragement. He had, of course, left England to live in a village in the Haute Savoie, but he wrote to me regularly, commenting on my articles in detail. ‘I liked your piece on Oldenburg - except for the last paragraph ...‘ ‘I thought the T.L.S. piece was excellent ... And Hamilton of course is all nostalgia ...‘ We visited each other frequently and I developed a sense almost of complicity with him, which was both flattering and exciting for a young and inexperienced critic. In 1975, he wrote ‘Within the art world we are alone’.
The following year he sent me a drawing of two men driving a stake into the ground with alternate blows of their hammers. ‘If we hammer away like this, we may dent something.’
I looked back over my blows of the hammer before I wrote this piece. In that very first New Society article, my ‘line’ was an all-out attack on the art market and the improbable assertion that the most interesting work in the future world, in any event, be unsaleable. ‘The art experience’, I wrote, ‘has come to lie in the interaction between the object and the viewer, far more than in any “value” inherent in the object itself.’ The article was spiced with asides on art with purely aesthetic goals, and noises of encouragement to a ‘new generation of artists’ who were starting ‘to create a new, articulate, genuinely revolutionary art detached from object slavery’. It is nothing like as eloquent as Berger; but it has all the hall-marks of the work of a devoted disciple." - Peter Fuller, Goodbye To All That!
THE 70S "A Tide Of Books"
"He kept his arcane philosophies ahead of his resonating public as his tide of books enjoyed acclaim. The critics and the establishment in general hated him for it, but lacked the words to finish him off. He was passionate, outspoken and articulate in debate. " - Bob Chenciner
Since the 60s Peter was championing Hockney, as one of Britain's greatest artists:
"To be "England's Answer", the art world's prime symbol of ' the swinging sixties', the first of the painters to move with a flourish into the fashionable, glossy covered world of the Mcluhan conscious, mass media hero, should be enough to spoil anybody, both as a painter and as a man, David Hockney, however, is delightfully unaffected." - Peter Fuller Synthesis
Below is a brief look at Hockney's recent exhibition at LA Louver followed by one of Peter's first art reviews aged 21 taken from his first publication Synthesis.
Darwin and father
In the late 70s Peter and Anthony Barnett took a trip to Charles Darwin's house together in Kent. To see what Darwin saw every morning as he walked out into woodlands around his house, collecting species of wild orchids and contemplating the movements of the universe, as he notes in the origin of species:
"It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with birds singing in the buses, with various insects flitting about and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and so dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us."
Inside Darwins study a monkey skull rests on the table, an object of contemplation on the evolution of species, notes on a world divorced from God litter the study. As they exit into the hallway, peering down its length for ten meters, as portraits line its scope towards a large window, there on the other side with shocked and pained expression stood Peter's father, the light glaring behind him, shrouding his stance like a vision of a smited demi-God. Not unlike the feeling of Terribilita Peter discusses in Art & Psychoanalysis below.
THE NAKED ARTISTS
Art & Psychoanalysis
Through psychoanalysis Peter was able to reform a world view that uncovered the base foundations of his subjective experience and approach a work of art through his aesthetic responses to it. This allowed him to cover a huge number of artists and topics in his short time on this earth.
"Peter was in analysis for twelve years, because of a gambling addiction, but of course the addiction in the first place was due to other troubles. He said he left the treatment in the end because he was kicked out, because the analyst just didn’t like him any more. The aggression you’re supposed to have towards the analyst after a certain stage as a sign of health was just too aggressive. I took this tale literally at the time. There must have been some issue of sorrow and pain behind it, but I never learned what it was. He often used to mention the analyst/writer Charles Rycroft, and when I eventually read Rycroft I found him very illuminating about what goes on in the psyche." - Matthew Collings
"My experience of the work is my evidence, the core of my critical project." - Peter Fuller
He realized the greatest contribution he had to make to this world, had to do with his own subjectivity, his memories and experiences through the framework of the greatest artists and thinkers throughout history could express a new world view.
"Art and Psychoanalysis, was the direct result of many years of rigorous psychoanalysis. In it he outlined his outrageous theory that our tastes for art are stimulated at the earliest possible point in out visual awakening - when infants first become aware of their mother's physical presence. According to Peter Fuller, a baby staring up at its mother's breast was experiencing the first stirrings of the all-embracing aesthetic experience that would eventually lead to Jackson Pollock." - Waldemar Januszczak
The sculpture depicts Moses at his most defining moment; having just received the Tablets from God, he sees his people dancing around an icon, a Golden Calf. Defying the second commandment;
"This is the scene upon which his eyes are turned, this is the spectacle which calls out the feeling depicted in his countenance - feelings which in the next instant will launch his great frame into violent action." - Sigmund Freud
Peter talks of the emotion it evokes:
"Terribilita: it cannot easily be translated. It is more than the awesome or the sublime. It has much to do with frightening power. It is a word which seems to express exactly the quality which that mighty, marble face, in all its violent serenity, evokes in you. Terribilita: as you look, you find yourself thinking of the demonic creativity of the sculptor who carved the statue; of the megalomania of 'The Holy Father' who lies dead behind it; and of the transfiguration of the ancient Hebrew prophet himself through his encounter with 'God' on Mount Sinai. But, in the end, eve if you are as thorough-going an atheist as I, it is the idea of 'God the Father' that this face inevitably evokes. More even than the famous Life Giver of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, the expression of Moses seems to be that of the omnipotent, omniscient Primum Mobile himself, the 'Mysterium Tremendum'. His anger is none other than (opyn, orge), 'The Wrath of God'." - Peter Fuller Art & Psychoanalysis
"He moved on to post-Freudian Melanie Klein analysis where our love of damaged sculpture like the Venus de Milo was equated to violent resentment against the eventual denial of our mother’s breast." - Bob Chenciner
In the below article I explore the relationship between art and psychoanalysis, father and son, artist and subject. Which for me is inextricably bound up with my father's psychoanalysis, and his essays on Sigmund Freud and grandson Lucian Freud.
THE CARO & FULLER SAGA
At the heart of the debate between Modernism and traditional Mastery was the comparison of two titans in British sculpture Anthony Caro vs Henry Moore. While my father's relationship with Moore was always much simpler, that of admiration from his early years when picking up rocks from the field at Cambridge and trying to convince his peers that they were just like Henry Moore's and why that was important, that he'd picked it up from the earth. Peter's relationship with Caro was always difficult, as you'll see running throughout these interviews, letters and articles, he was at first angered by Caro's Modernism seemingly determined to stop him, then as the years [assed came around to see the existence of Caro's work as important, perhaps so that he could have a legitimate sculptor worthy of disagreeing with.
On this subject I think Peter would have liked this quote; “The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me. The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.” - George Bernard Shaw
"No long time reader of New Society could have read his recent denunciation of John Berger without feeling that the argument went beyond specific issues of aesthetic to Fuller's own need to purge his formative influences, of the son to do battle with the father." - Sean French, New Society
Belief in Ruskin and traditional values led to unbelief in the Marxist perspective. Peter's book Seeing Berger and his polemics against his erstwhile mentor meant that he was heavily criticised by intellectuals of the New Left. This should not be taken out of context to the time, when Thatcher was cutting funding for the arts in alarming proportions, many of the art institutions in England suffered great losses. Peter may have seen a polemic against Ways Of Seeing as necessary for the time to protect the arts, I personally doubt wether he would have maintained this as a permanent position with the changing of times. If proved wrong he was very adaptable and constantly re-assessing his values.
"Sometime during the 1970s, I began to feel that I wanted a theory of art which was derived from - rather than at odds with - my own deepest responses to works of art. Inevitably, I found myself drawn back to the traditional concern of aesthetics i.e. the quest of ‘the beautiful’, and to ideas about imagination, talent, genius, tradition - and the particular formal possibilities of the various arts. I came to realise that, although I was interested in paintings as social documents, that had little to do with the roots of my responses to them. What excited my passion, or on occasions my hate, was the success, or failure, of a painting as art. To use an analogy from another sphere of life, if I love someone, I certainly want to know everything I can about them; but such knowledge can never ‘explain’ my love.
In trying to make sense of my own responses to pictures, I found myself drawn ever further away from the narrow economic and sociological preoccupations that pervade Ways of Seeing-, I began to read traditional aesthetics, to study psychoanalytic and even biological ideas about imagination and illusion, and to become much more knowledgeable than I had been about the materials and techniques the painter and the sculptor use and their peculiar expressive possibilities. Inevitably, I found myself drawn into the aesthetically conservative and yet profoundly radical universe of Ruskin; and, it was through reading him that I rediscovered Kenneth Clark, and came to realise that there were many more ‘viable critical stances’ than I had previously imagined.
In 1980 I published Art and Psychoanalysis exploring some of these new ideas; I also wrote the paper Seeing Berger. Berger wrote to me immediately, expressing his agreement. ‘I have read the essay and I think it very good. Its arguments are just and clear, and they correct what is false in Ways of Seeing, as well as going beyond it. I never considered Ways of Seeing an important work. It was a partial, polemical reply - as you say. But I was worried that your essay might miss this process, and so become too textually attached to a test that was not important enough. My worries were quite unnecessary because you situate the questions you discuss marvellously. Reading you, we are back in the world.’ He ended with a characteristic image: ‘Strange how we work - and walk - the two of us. Sometimes it seems to me that we are each a single leg of some other being who is striding out’." - Peter Fuller, Goodbye To All That
In 1976 Peter's daughter Sylvia was born, in his first marriage to Colette. She currently lives in London with her husband and two children Howie and Camile.
The Shared Symbolic Order
"Six years ago, when I first collected the essays and articles in Images o f God, I thought I was being daring - if not perverse - in reviving the idea that aesthetic experience was greatly diminished if it became divorced from the idea of the spiritual. ‘Serious’ critics, after all, then seemed to pride themselves on their pre occupation with other things: formalists, Marxists, structuralists and post-structuralists, alike, asked the mirror on the wall, ‘Who is the most materialist of all?’
This was not my preferred brand of narcissism. Sociology, biology and psychology had taken me so far in my attempts to get to grips with the nature of aesthetic experience; but, in the end, not that far. I could not evade the fact that there was always a qualitative aspect to the encounter with art. Without evaluation, there can be no appreciation, let alone criticism: every aesthetic response is an act of discrimination which implies a hierarchy of taste. The attempts of the academic critics to evade this - to anaesthetise their ‘methodologies’ - seemed quite futile.
Almost everyone now seems to acknowledge the intellectual, ethical and aesthetic bankruptcy of Marxism: but it was not ever thus. I think it is true to say that, of the generation of critics who became deeply immersed in Marxism in the late 1960s, I was among the first to realise that we had entered a cul-de-sac. Marxism, per se, had nothing to contribute to the understanding of art, which, by its very nature, appeals to those dimensions of human experience which do not change greatly from one moment of history to the next. Although some socialists have written well about art, this is the reason why socialism has always been an impediment, rather than a stimulus, to critical perception. " - Peter Fuller, introduction to Images Of God
"A fuller, says Webster's dictionary, is one who scours, cleanses and thickens cloth in a mill; it was attitudes to art that Peter scoured and cleansed, deepening and weighting our response to its potential for spiritual power. He was the Ruskin of our time. He was unique and fascinating combination of enfant terrible and Grand Old Man - both at once. He was child in the directness of his vision. When the Emperor of Art went naked, other critics might be deceived, but never Peter: he saw and commented with unnerving pungency.
But his commentary had a maturity of balance and expression, was weighty with deep reading lightly borne. He could infuriate those who thought differently, but for Peter this fury was intended as cathartic, and motivated solely by a desire for the truth. He believed to his depths that art mattered, that it held within it a means of enlargement of heart for us all; his sheer love of what he spoke and wrote about gave his views their force. Even more was his understanding of art as a search for the spiritual, as redemptive. His love was a moral passion. It was God he sought so single-mindedly, a God in whom he longed to believe but could not. The last time we were together, I told him I thought he was very close to God, but did not yet know His name. He gave me that singularly sweet smile of his, and replied, 'So you say, Wendy, so you say'.
Peter, rightly, could only accept truth on his own say so - and now he does. I have no doubt at all that Peter now sees with overwhelming joy the truth of that Beauty he searched after with such persistence and dedication. He saw God anonymously as it were in the beauty of art, but not 'face to face'." - Sister Wendy
"Both read the Bible day and night,/But thou read'st black where I read white', wrote Blake. Peter did battle over that precious idea on the much bloodied field of art opinion. He was the best sheepdog I can remember...Some may think he had a cavalier attitude to ideologies, first of the left and then of the right.... My own experience of him is that he was a Good Listener and that he would always grow." - RB Kitaj
"I made my first trip to Australia in 1982, and I went again in 1984, and 1985. These journey’s have had deep and still continuing effects on my attitudes to art, landscape, and indeed nature itself. They have also changed my life in more personal ways. In one sense, at least, these Australian lectures chronicle my antipodean transformations." - The Australian Scapegoat, Peter Fuller
"In February 1984 I was invited by an artist to go to some talks headed and organised by David Bromfield. There was this voracious, what I thought young, British art critic. I continued going to the seminars which finished at the beginning of March, and then this young art critic was giving his own talks for another two weeks. I became more and more interested and noticed that he was picking me out in the audience. The day of his Ruskin lecture, I decided to stay at the very side of the auditorium to see whether he really was noticing me. He walked in in his usual shy way, put his lecture down on the stand, looked up, flicked back his fringe and glanced over the whole audience with a serious look on his face, until he suddenly caught my eye. He smiled and looked down at his lecture.
When walking out of the lecture, I could hear somebody behind me saying, 'Go on, go on, go on.' I turned around and Peter and David Bromfield were walking side by side with David nudging Peter. I kept walking out. He came up to me outside and asked me what I thought of the lecture. I said that some students were saying that they had already read that particular lecture. He said, ahl but it was in a different format. He asked me out to dinner that night." - Stephanie Burns
A full account of my father's Ruskinian values, how he came to adopt Neo-Romantic / Humanist philosophies (which in a way were always there), is well documented in the final book before he died Theoria: Art & The Absence Of Grace. Which is now available in the new Kindle Edition.
"Ruskin drew a distinction between what he called aesthesis and theoria. The former he described as ‘mere sensual perception of the outward qualities and necessary effects of bodies’ or ‘the mere animal consciousness of the pleasantness’ to which such effects can give rise; the latter as the response to beauty of one’s whole moral being. Although the second part of his book was concerned with the imagina- tive, in distinction to the theoretic, faculty, Ruskin emphasised the ‘penetrative’ power of the imagination which, far from being a matter of fancy, or ‘falsehood’, reached into ‘the TRUE nature of the thing represented’. Pictures produced under the guidance of a painter’s imaginative faculty could thus become, in turn, the objects of the theoretic faculty to other minds...
If the distinction between theoria and aesthesis lay at the very foundations of Ruskin’s aesthetic, it was, for him, one which had constantly to be renegotiated, given the shifting movements of his religious beliefs." - Peter Fuller, Theoria
The oedipus switch
"After Laurence was born he was happy. He didn't have to fight with himself any more. Now he was the centre of somebody else's Oedipal complexes." - Stephanie Burns, 1990