The Monthly interviews artist, Colin Robertson – Part 2 – Art and Architecture

What happens after you complete your education at the Chelsea Art College?

It was 1975 when I enrolled at Chelsea School of Art and Building, Lime Grove, Shepherds Bush, opposite the BBC studios and the home of The Old Grey Whistle Test. I studied Introduction to art, painting, graphics, fashion, sculpture, photography and building construction.

An art school education opened up a whole new world for me and I launched myself into it attending lectures and talks, endless visits to museums, art galleries, public and private, exhibitions and performances. Live music, theatre, poetry and other events were covered by Time Out and City Limits and they were an education in their own right. I discovered European Cinema, Global cuisine, Eastern religions, Western politics, squatters rights, frugal living and the cosmic and esoteric teachings from around the planet.

Well before that I completed my degree, at the beginning my final year, my mother died and that left me and my father. I was saddened by that, it was a real blow because I wanted both of my parents to attend the final year exhibition. That was my dream and of course that couldn’t happen.

Making Tracks – Istanbul – Colin Robertson

Then I was offered a chance to enter a competition which was run by the Heinz Food Company. I was asked to enter the competition by the teacher, Doug Hamilton, he was also from Glasgow, who wanted to show everyone that he was able to teach well enough, it was his first job working in teaching, for students to be able to enter this competition. I really enjoyed working on that project, it was my last year and it was the main thing I had to work on, and, unbelievably, I won that competition. That was brilliant and then at the end of the year, my father came to the end of year show.

I don’t think he fully understood what it was that I was doing, but Doug Hamilton spoke to him and told him that I had talent and that they might be able to get me into the School of Architecture. We couldn’t really talk about it, but I think he understood that I had done quite well.

Do you go to study Architecture?

The Art School helped me get a scholarship and so I went on to study architecture. I found the theoretical side of architecture very difficult. I found it difficult to understand the theory, difficult to write about it, but I loved doing the actual work, drawing up the plans, things like that. And I got my degree which I gave to my father who had it framed.

Making Tracks – Mombasa – Colin Robertson

What is the next development?

At that time I was living in Brixton, I was offered a house there, and that was a very interesting time for me because I was introduced to a completely new cultural orientation. A new way of approaching life.
Brixton was a place where lots of Jamaicans and Africans lived, and I started to immerse myself in that culture, particularly reggae music, things like that. At the same time I was able to get a job in an architect’s office in Camden Town.

I established myself in that office and I eventually moved to a squat in Primrose Hill. I spent the next few years drawing up plans for the architects who spent their days managing projects.

I was doing quite well, well enough that I had a chance to buy a house. But I still had another 2 years of study to complete my Architecture Degree, and I could see that idea of going back to study just wasn’t going to happen.

Making Tracks – Barcelona – Colin Robertson

What about your interest in art?

At that point in time I was really much more interested in music and a group of my friends formed a band and we had a number of adventures while we were learning to create our own music. That included setting the architect’s office I was working in on fire, amongst other things.

In the end I decided not to become a fully qualified architect and instead I worked freelance and drew plans for various projects. I did architectural drafting work for the best part of ten years.
I also became interested in ecological issues and the need to design buildings with the planet at the centre of the design process.

Eventually, I went to live in an ecological village which opened my mind to a lot of theoretical and cultural ideas which impacted my art later on.

See more of the work of Colin Robertson here:

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New Belfast Community Arts Initiative trading as Community Arts Partnership is a registered charity (XR 36570) and a company limited by guarantee (Northern Ireland NI 37645).Registered with The Charity Commission as New Belfast Community Arts Initiative - NIC105169.