Soul man comes home

Som­er­set artist Leonard Green is mov­ing back to his mu­si­cal roots in a new ex­hi­bi­tion, dis­cov­ers CATHER­INE COURTE­NAY

Somerset Life - - BATH BUSKERS -

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’

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