Harry Thubron

Red Circle, 1964

Paint on wood

Archival Materials

Printed matter, photographs, letters, video

Harry Thubron (1915–1985) developed the Basic Course (a forerunner to the Foundation Course) while he was working at Leeds College of Art in the 1950s. Thubron’s approach to learning and teaching was notoriously difficult to pin down, and he resisted attempts to formalise his methods or produce a recognisable curriculum. He would offer starting points or suggest exercises to students, out of which unexpected results would occur that the students were then able to reflect on through discussion. As a result, he was particularly averse to the things his students produced being seen as artworks, and did not believe they should be exhibited as such outside the context of a learning environment.

Thubron’s ideas were embedded in the belief that artists, students and children should not be encouraged to consider art as the expression of a mysterious inner-world, or the mindless representation of feelings. Instead, they should have access to all manner of materials, whether art materials, everyday materials, or industrial materials. This way they would be connected to the world at large, and contribute to the re-imagining of it, rather than being isolated within an aesthetic wilderness.

The display of papers and books in Untitled is the result of three days I spent at the National Arts Education Archive, where I was introduced to Thubron’s ideas for the first time. It is shown alongside Red Circle (1964), and two showreels of films based on Basic Course exercises, one by Thubron and the other by Tom Hudson, Thubron’s assistant at Leeds.

Exhibited in:

Loaned by:


The Tetley, Leeds (24 Sept 2019 → 19 Jan 2020)

National Arts Education Archive

Yorkshire Sculpture Park, West Bretton

Leeds Art Gallery (Red Circle)

The Headrow, Leeds