“The picture space was crammed with figures and in the centre was a grim portrait of Pinochet with his henchmen and their victims floating in a river of blood. A bleeding Allende was also shown. Above the dictator, a giant male figure flanked by red flags carried by trade unionists strained mightily to break the chains that bound his wrists, while below the people marched forward holding aloft a flame of resistance.”
From Left to right: Ken Hume (Chile Solidarity Campaign trade union organiser), Mrs and Mr Alvaro Bunster (ambassador to Britain from the Allende government and President of the Chilean Anti Fascist Committee), John Boyd, Luis Pavez (CUT) the AUEW’s President Hugh Scanlon, Elaine Nicholson (interpreter) and Maureen Scott (artist).
It was painted in a gesture of solidarity, a mural in support of Chile for the Peckham headquarters of the AUEW. While a symbol and expression of the AEUW’s internationalism, the mural was taken into the AUEW museum shortly after it was unveiled in July 1976. The protest music of Chile, typified by the work of Víctor Jara, became an integral part of the Chile Solidarity Campaign in Britain. It was not alone in using culture to foster solidarity among trade unionists around the world in the hope that they would use their power to mount an international blockade of Chile’s commerce as explored in Ann Jones’ study , (available here) No Truck with the Chilean Junta.
The artist, Maureen Scott, was among the many talented and creative people drawn to political activism in the ferment of the 1960s . From August 1971 in the League of Socialist Artists (LSA), Maureen Scott, and other members of the group, notably her co-worker and husband Mike Baker (1972-90), and Bernard Charnley were active in politically motivated art projects.
Maureen Scott (b. 1940, Coventry), trained at Plymouth College of Art, Goldsmiths’ and St Martin’s while Bernard Charnley (b. 1948), a graphic artist studied at Leeds College of Art were based at 18 Church Street, Camberwell ,The Communard Gallery, until 1975. Here they had exhibition space where they exhibited their own work, delivered lectures, published the poetry of the Turkish Communist Nazim Hikmet, The Wall , with illustrations by Scott, and generally promoted the cause of socialist realism. Amongst the titles they published was the 1973 polemic, “Liberal populism or revolutionary proletarian realism in art?”: a reply to John Weber of the Chicago Mural Movement and in 1976, the illustrated book, Class War in the Arts!
The LSA members were in addition to their artist activities were members of a small left-wing group, the Marxist Leninist Organisation of Britain. At the organisational hub of the MLOB, Maureen was also the LSA’s Provisional Secretary.
The League favoured the style of socialist realist art, and politically orthodox . “Our art must serve revolutionary politics. We place our art unreservedly at the service of the working class.”
“Within [the] overall tasks of the proletarian socialist revolution a role of unprecedented importance devolves upon… creative artists. For it is precisely through art that science., the knowledge, understanding and experience of the laws of motion of the universe, including particularly of human society, is distilled… artists, whether of the visual or the dramatic arts, are no less than “engineers of the human soul” [JV Stalin]… “Proletarian socialist art is a reflection in artistic form of the class struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie… The method of artistic creation of proletarian socialist art is therefore proletarian -socialist realism…”
“We Socialist Artists declare our aims and work to stand completely apart from and in irreconcilable opposition to the formalism and commodity fetishism of capitalist art which serves at one and the same time to mystify the movement and conflict of social classes, to preach and inculcate the helplessness of man before the “unknowable” universe, and the “atomic chaos” of the “existentialist” society – as also to provide the effete, luxury loving ruling class with those soporific, sensationalised and alienated titbits which might, for an hour or a day, provide an anodyne to bring forgetfulness of the moment of doom for their class which the approaching proletarian-socialist revolution is bringing ever nearer.”
Socialist realism was the only path: “In place of the pop art, mobile junk, psychedelic and other fringe lunacy of decaying capitalist art we will erect an art which expresses the dignity of working people, into which life is breathed from out of their very struggles…”
The “Theses on Art,” were put forward in 1972, by the “League of Socialist Artists”; this version was first made available by American political allies in Alliance, issue number 8, with the poems of Nazim Hikmet, illustrated by Maureen Scott. Their co-thinkers praised the contribution:
“We have still not found a better and more concise and clear expression of Socialist aesthetics and thus offer this in web form.”
bourgeois critic was less complementary:
“unfortunately typical of many, small, ultra-left political groups that they expend more energy attacking potential allies than their principal opponents.) Nevertheless, LSA members contributed to the Art Workers’ Subcommittee of the Artists’ Union, to ‘United We Stand: Exhibition in Solidarity with the Miners’ (London, Congress House, 1974), to a conference on art education and to a conference on art/politics, theory/practice held at the RCA in 1974.”
In discussing their cultural endeavours John Walker argued that: “Despite their left-wing rhetoric, in certain respects the LSA artists were conservatives: they believed in representation not abstraction, employed traditional techniques such as painting and drawing, accepted art galleries as places to display work and the necessity for artists to make a living by selling their products as commodities”
~ Walker, (2002) Left Shift: Radical Art in 1970s Britain. London: I. B. Tauris p51~
Publications of the League of Socialist Artists
1972 Manifesto & Theses on Art 22 pages, published by League of Socialist Artists. 9780950297613.
1973 Communard Gallery – forthcoming programme: Paintings, prints, posters, propaganda material for the working class movement (January 1972, 15 pages). 9780950264912.
1973 “Liberal populism or revolutionary proletarian realism in art?”: A reply to John Weber of the Chicago Mural Movement publish date January 1973, 13 pages, 9780950297644.
1975 Paula Modersohn-Becker,1876-1907
1975 In commemoration of Nazim Hikmet (1902-1963)
1976 Maureen Scott, Essays on art and imperialism – art and socialism
1976 Class War in the Arts!: The League of Socialist Artists V. the “art and Culture’ Agencies of Monopoly Capital : a Collection of Documents in Struggle against Corporate Reaction in Art Produced by the League of Socialist Artists since Its Foundation in May 1971 . 0950154075
1977 Manifesto & Theses on Art. 3rd ed (19pages)
That Wall is a poem depicting the mass terror and widespread horror thrown up by capitalism-imperialism in the era of its senility. It is a poem showing one side of class struggle – the side which arouses the greatest feeling of revulsion and loathing, and which many well-intentioned people, particularly the type of liberal intellectual which forms the main prop of the revisionist parties, cannot accept. It does not lay emphasis on the strength, the creativity, the resource and unbounded resilience and reserves of the working masses who have the power to rise and destroy this ultimate product of man’s class-divided prehistory, and in this respect may be considered a pessimistic poem. I have nevertheless felt that, in an age when renegade ‘socialists’ seek to cover up the true face of capitalism, representing its ruling monopolist oligarchy as ‘striving for peace’, ‘more reasonable’, ‘interested in the preservation of mankind’, etc., the true face of brutality revealed to tens of millions of struggling peoples in all the continents of the world should find expression in images striving to portray the essence of capitalism-imperialism, and thereby helping to educate all those temporarily taken in by the illusion of relative class peace to a true stance of proletarian internationalism. For so long as exploitation, oppression and war should continue in any corner of the globe, it is necessary to strip away the false mask which the objective allies of imperialism give it, to make it stand exposed in all its diseased violence and inhumanity, so that working people the world over may unite the quicker in the titanic struggle to topple the ‘colossus with feet of clay’, and to usher in the era of socialism and communism. This aim, in my view, Nazim Hikmet fulfils in a powerful and convincing way in this poem.
Maureen Scott 1973
Maureen Scott life from Facebook
Maureen Scott was born in an air-raid in Coventry in 1940 and this experience has broken through in her agitation and political art all her life. “Political protest painting has been the central part of my body of art starting in various art schools and continuing throughout my life.” Years of struggle and poverty with marital breakups, child loss, abusive relationships have influenced a serious of paintings on homelessness, grief and the perpetual study of the oppressed.
Painting by candlelight
Maureen Scott’s earlier work deals with the struggles of the working class. Her painting Unemployed (1972), was created in a bedsit during a particularly difficult time in her life. The work expresses the issues she faced in the conditions her family were living in at the time. Having to paint by candlelight due to no electricity and having a lack of relevant support, she found her family relationships strained. The painting itself bears the marks of this austerity, with burn marks at one edge. The stark harshness and realism of Scott’s work act as a call to arms, to stand up and resist power imbalances and social injustice.
For three days a week, Scott painted by the light of a single electric light-bulb and for the rest of the time by candlelight due to her financial circumstances in the 1970s.
Unemployed (1972) reflects the challenges her family faced and the struggles of the working class – small living spaces, unemployment and the lack of child support.
“This painting was set in my one room with just space for my cooker on the Holloway Road,” she says. “The gloomy light was from a single light bulb and my hope for room to work and breathe only lay in dreams of success as an artist.”
She describes the piece as autobiographical. The father-figure is her partner at the time who died from a second heart attack. He had refused to take medication after the first. “It was a terrifying death I found impossible to deal with,” she said and underwent bereavement therapy in the 1990s
In the 1990s recovering from bereavement therapy and a pause from painting I returned to still life oil painting and rediscovered my love of colour. [http://maureenscottartist.com/index.php/still-life-studies/]
Maureen began drawing and painting as a small child. She went on to attend Plymouth College of Art in the early 60’s, then Goldsmiths College and Central St. Martins in the 70’s. At the age of…. she suffered a breakdown after her husband died and was admitted to Maudsely Hospital. Despite these turbulent years Maureen has accomplished a great deal including having her poetry published, working in Fleet Street as a professional litho printer and showing her artwork in exhibitions in the Whitechapel Gallery, Galerie Poll in Berlin and as far afield as Delhi and the USA.
Her work is in collections such as the Museum of Modern Art, Utrect and the Museum of Labour History in Manchester and Bethlem Archives and Museum.
The work on show at the Bethlem Gallery presents a side to Maureen’s work that is rarely seen. Her accomplished brush strokes reveal a sense of the artist’s daily life and what she sees around her; a mother and child in the kitchen, the veg for the evening meal, a favoured cat sitting on the tablecloth. The exhibition introduces us to the person behind the politics and invites us to enjoy the simple things in life.
In preparation is War Paint is a new book covering the artist and poet’s most productive period from 1990 to present day.
“I could not live without canvasses, paint boxes, and easels. I was born with images in my head and I have a compulsion to make these images real. Some images are happy, some horrific. Some use colour the effect the viewer. My pictures are where I make the life I want to live. Unlike some fashionable, thus mega-rich artists who claim they believe in nothing, I am the opposite. I am full to the brim with everything and it over flows onto my canvass. I cannot stop it.”
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“Painting, for me, is literally a process of getting the images out of my head, I see an image and have to paint it.”
– Maureen Scott