Lanchester Gallery Projects

LGP

Index: 'Bill Mitchell'

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Biography

“I was born in 1925 in London’s Maida Vale.

Serious illness in my early years resulted in extensive periods in hospitals and convalescent homes, which meant virtually no schooling.

In 1938 apprenticeship to an old established firm of decorators introduced me to painting and decorating. Apprenticeship in those days meant mixing paint, gilding, graining and marbling and some instruction on the history of the craft. However, after service in the Royal Navy during the Second World War for 3 years I decided that house painting was not for me.

During demobilisation leave, whilst attending Wembley Stadium greyhound track I learned from a fellow punter that the NAAFI required decorators to re-furbish their clubs and canteens. For two years, I painted scenes and panoramic views in canteens all over the world, from Freetown in West Africa to Corsham in Wiltshire.

I applied to the Southern College of Art in Portsmouth to do a full-time art course. I wanted a state grant to pursue an N.D.D course but was rejected on educational grounds. I enquired about actually paying for the course and in a period of rampant State aid this was a stunning proposal. I was told that, yes, I could pay, but that the high cost would rule it out.

I went to the Pearl Assurance Company where I put down a deposit to purchase an insurance agency to sell insurance. One year later I climbed the staircase at the College with a small cardboard suitcase containing the cash for the course. This caused consternation but passed into legend as an instance when a working lad defeated the Labour Party.

My aim in pursuing the art course was to look at a career in restoration of classical buildings. Many had suffered damage and neglect over the war years. I was interested in restoring the painted decoration on the ceilings and walls. When favourable answers to enquiries proved that this was a possibility I decided not to complete the course and told the College so. They were disappointed but suggested that I should apply for entry to the Royal College of Art in London – they also said that I probably would not make it. Being competitive, or, to be more precise, bloody-minded I decided I would make it. This had nothing to do with a burning desire to do the course and everything to do with getting my own way.

I completed three years at the R.C.A. School of woods, metals and plastics with a fourth year post-graduate award, an Abbey award, tenable at the British School at Rome and a silver medal. The Abbey Award is a prestige affair and gives the recipient an insight into both ancient and Renaissance cultures, but probably most important of all to rub shoulders with other disciplines, architects, painters, engravers and sculptors. All thanks to a visit to the greyhound track at Wembley – incredible really!

Returning from Rome, I replied to an advertisement in one of the daily newspapers for a designer, or artist to assist the London County Council Architects Department to design decorative works for the council’s housing estates. This was a marvelous experience – I was working with builders, architects, and engineers on vast projects and using a wide variety of different materials.

Since this period I have worked in many parts of the world and have been privileged to participate in massive municipal schemes and exciting private developments, some of which can be viewed on this web-site. I have lectured on the experiences I have had in the design and art world – and what seems to entertain the audience most are slides and anecdotes telling the story of the lessons learned and the techniques I have used during my 55 years of work.”