Laurence O'Toole

Objects & Paintings

College Days: Rebel with a Cause  —  1988-91


A New Phase.

In 1988 I entered a new phase of my life. In late summer I separated from my wife. In the autumn the art course began. Fortunately I found a flat around the corner from the family home where my daughters could come and visit. The travelling time on the bus and train from Birmingham to college in Wolverhampton I used to study in depth the different elements and movements in the history of art. The history of art I found fascinating but that was not the reason why I had applied for the course. It was to hone my skills and try out lots more different mediums that I did not have access to before. Coupled with this I was now free from a relationship that was not really conducive to creativity. The result was that I threw myself completely into the projects with a freedom that for so many years had been pent up. Such energy!

The Aladdin’s Cave.

It began with metal sculpture, using the forge and learning to weld, then later making plaster casts and later stone carving.

The Print Department was to become like a second home for me. I found the tutors there down to earth and very helpful. I took to learning the different print techniques like a duck to water. I had worked when I was eighteen as a silkscreen printer for a year, which proved helpful. So also was a visit I made to Amsterdam with regards to etching. In Rembrandts house I studied his prints intensely and brought back to the print workshop his counter proofing method that assisted me towards the finished etching. My output in the print workshop was prolific. Some Saturdays I would turn up in the normally empty workshop with my two daughters and worked on projects. My daughters also took to print making, in particular they enjoyed turning the big flywheels of the print presses.

It was only in the fine art department that I did not flourish. The fine art department was governed by an over inflated ego with a penchant for abusing his authority. I did not like this situation. Also I was not used to being with other people. I had always painted by myself and in the shared cramped space allocated I found it claustrophobic. Fortunately by the third year I was hardly ever at college, preferring to work alone in my basement studio in Birmingham. When I did go to Wolverhampton it was only for the history of art or some print work. The print tutors were very supportive when pressure came down from above. I did not let them down. At the end of year show I brought all the work I had been working on from Birmingham.

Social Misfortunes.

Unfolding events were to play a fundamental part in the development of my artistry during the college days. In Britain a greengroceries daughter had become prime minister. She had some very peculiar ideas on a fair and just society The Apotheosis of the Blessed Margaret (1990/1). In American a former B rated actor became the president and his notions of bringing peace and world order were little better. Between the two of them there was complete unity in promoting an unbridled capitalist free market agenda that created a further greed in the people and corruption of ethical values. There was also the monumental event of a wall being toppled in Germany Wall of Memories (1990) and First over the Wall (1991), the Tiananmen Square massacre in China, which I have not forgotten but never found the time to address and the events in the Gulf of Arabia or was it Just War (1991).All of these events were to make an impression on the direction in which my work was to develop.

It was the national events in Britain that were to initially galvanize me into action when I witnessed the manipulation of people by appealing to the baser instincts. The human being was to be labelled the consumer, an animal with an insatiable appetite. With the new norms were to be new laws and taxes, the most infamous of which was the attempt to introduce the Poll Tax. It was at this point I knew I could no longer be a passive observer. My response was to form the West Midlands Artist Alliance, to organize in my own small way resistance through art. Thus it was whilst at college that I became a rebel with a cause. Up until that point I had been a rather inactive member of the wonderfully woolly and idyllic green party.

After the end of year show I had no interest in collecting my degree and wearing some silly clothes in the process there of. Instead I was still busy working on social themes, with rehearsals for Safe in Hand that was performed in July 1991 with the help of the St Paul’s Theatre Group and organizing the second WMAA Exhibition. After this I had to finish the work that was to bring this chapter of my life to a close, The Beggar’s Banquet (1991). This was to be exhibited in the third and final WMAA Exhibition at Wednesbury Art Gallery in 1992.


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