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  • Writer's pictureHaydn Dickenson


Updated: Nov 26, 2022

I want to start by invoking the name of an artist and teacher named Sargy Mann.

I first came across this name in an RA magazine article from 2015 in which Chantal Joffe writes of the searing impact which Mann's teaching had upon her.

Mann's name is not a household one, but he clearly exerted an enormous influence over his students. It is especially moving to note that the artist became progressively blind, leading to his retirement from painting.

Joffe writes: “I can remember looking at a Monet and the ideas that Sargy was explaining seeming so fresh...He taught us how Monet painted paths in his pictures so that our eyes would walk into his paintings. He taught us about how the shadows in Bonnard were built up with different colours. It blew our minds.”

She goes on to speak of the respect with which Sargy Mann treated his pupils, and how he took seriously even the biggest mess she made.

After reading the above article, I could not get it out of my mind, and the piece has been pinned to my studio wall ever since.

I was particularly struck by the description of the respect and humility with which Sargy approached all of his students, and how he treated every one as an artist – something lacking in a number of teachers who tend to over-exercise their egos.

Mann very much admired the work of Pierre Bonnard, an artist whose sense of colour has always resonated fundamentally with my own artistic vision. Sargy Mann's beautiful, expressive paintings certainly demonstrate this reverence.

I have written before, in this blog, of my daydreams during repressed family times, when I would imagine how I might paint household scenes in the colours and style of Bonnard, Cezanne or Monet.

THE DINING ROOM, VERNONNET (1916) - Pierre Bonnard

This brings me to speak of my own mentors. My first was my mother, a fabulous artist trained at Art schools in Yorkshire in the mid twentieth century. Her knowledge of the fundamentals of Art – anatomy, perspective and so on - was profound, giving rise to wonderful drawing and painting skills which were founded on her rigorous college education.

The images below come from my treasured collection of my mother's work.

Life Drawing (c 1948) - Joan Bailey

SCARBOROUGH - unfinished (c 1948) - Joan Bailey

My mother encouraged and nurtured my artistic gift and I soon began to draw and paint as a means of retreating into my own world to escape an often troubled family atmosphere. At school I excelled at Art as I did at Music, but a conflict was already brewing between these two directions, fuelled by my father's confused wish to live his life vicariously as a musician, through me.

Meanwhile, I had found my second mentor in my Art teacher at St George's School, Harpenden which, coincidentally, was the school attended by one of my heroes, the artist Patrick Heron many years before.

My teacher at St George's was the charismatic Mick Miller, who introduced me to an approach to painting that opened my eyes to the possibilities of colour. Mick insisted that one should use colour to describe an object above all, rather than resorting by default to the colours in which things appeared in reality.

I threw myself into this new way of seeing which, to me, was incredible, absorbing and ground-breaking. Excited also by the bohemian milieu of the Art Room at school, where Mick would hold court at his table in a fog of smoke from his roll-ups (this was the mid '70s, after all), surrounded by acolytes, I felt I was at the beginning of an artistic journey. Sadly, this voyage soon paused for nearly forty years, as a result of paternal influence.

I feel a strong sense of destiny, stemming from my mother's loving encouragement and home tuition in Art and from Mick Miller's provocative revelations.

Sargy Mann, writes Chantal Joffe, “talked to us like we were artists, and he had such humility”. Mick, in a similar manner, never talked down to his students, and I was delighted when, meeting him again after more than twenty years, he reminisced about what he called my “incredible sense of colour”.

Thank you, Joan and Mick!

ABOVE THE EVERDAY HAPPENING (2021) - Haydn Dickenson. Oil on Canvas.

Copyright Haydn Dickenson 2022

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