Soul man comes home
Somerset artist Leonard Green is moving back to his musical roots in a new exhibition, discovers CATHERINE COURTENAY
rt teacher required – must be able to teach swimming.”
It must have seemed that the Gods were smiling when Leonard Green saw the advert in the Times Ed more than 30 years ago.
He was desperate to move from his job as head of art in an inner city school in Salford. And fortunately, it so happened he was a coach for the Wigan Wasps swimming club…
The position at Millfield school in Somerset was tailor-made and he remained there for 26 years, leading an ambitious multi million pound prorammne to develop arts education at the school – and coaching swimming too.
But despite this, and recalling his successful Millfield days over a cup of coffee in Street, he says: “I always thought I was a painter not a teacher.”
Len is currently staging the first exhibition of his own artwork at Millfield’s Atkinson Gallery.
It’s drawn from a body of work created since leaving the school.
The large, colourful canvasses shout their message loud and clear – heralding the artist’s return to painting.
It’s been a long gap.
For almost three decades he’d put down his paintbrushes and concentrated on teaching.
“I was of the mindset that if you are going to teach, then do it properly. I couldn’t be at Millfield six days a week and carry on painting.”
Fulfilling the promise he made to himself to return to painting can’t have been easy after such a long time? “I had two years in the wilderness when I didn’t know what I was doing,” he confesses, then: “I drew back on what I always thought was important to me, music, Northern Soul music.”
This love of music, of dancing and the energy it inspires is what informs his abstract paintings and swimming’s in there too. Movement, or rather the feelings aroused by movement and sound, are his creative source.
These are dynamic, almost wild canvasses; he’s interested in automatism, the process of making marks without thinking, but it has to be a careful balancing act, he says.
“I can’t let the freedom go or it will be a mess; I control the mess and bring structure to it.”
Former pupils and colleagues may be surprised to learn that
Len used to be a semi-professional DJ on the Northern Soul scene. It goes back to the post war youth clubs set up by the government in the mining towns of the north.
They were hopeless he says, but they did provide somewhere for people to go. Some people played table tennis; Len brought along his records. He started introducing them, mainly to get the attention of the table tennis players.
“I was invited to visit a nightclub to see DJs performing: I thought: ‘I like that; you can be the centre of attention – an egomaniac!’ ”
Returning to the youth club, he says fewer and fewer people continued playing table tennis... and soon Len was DJ-ing in other clubs.
“I loved the music; I felt I lived in the night-time,” he says.
The energy in his paintings is
‘I had two years in the wilderness when I didn’t know what I was doing’