When I was finishing up my time at the Ruskin, we had to submit a portfolio for the diploma we would get from the University of Oxford. It was really the only time the link between the University and the Ruskin existed. Along with the portfolio, we had to submit an essay and then present a “Viver.” The Viver represented an occasion where you stood in front of the Slade professor who was the art historian elected by the University to give all the lectures. He would ask you questions during the Viver and that year, of course, it was Eric Newton.
I had been studying anatomy since the age of nine. When I got to Oxford I went to a couple of anatomy lectures. I was overwhelmed by the smell of formaldehyde. The professor was from the medical school at Oxford, and would display an arm, a leg, a torso, or a head; the sorry remains of some poor soul who had been pickled and skinned. He would then start pulling out muscles, such as those in the forearm, to show you how the fingers worked. Sometime it was done in a way that was facetious and “entertaining,” and I felt nauseous. I felt people who donated their bodies to education deserved respect. So I didn’t attend.
When it came time for the examination, we were given a piece of paper and pencils. The monitors were careful to look at your hands to make sure you didn’t have any notes. Then they circled around the room while you had three hours to draw a figure in some pose. The one they gave us was a man climbing a ladder. You decided to draw the figure in any way you wanted to show him. I actually eliminated the ladder and had him climbing in the air so I could show the front three-quarter view. I went out of the way to include as many muscles as I could while others were trying to find a view that would only be the side so they wouldn’t have to do so much work. Then you had to label the muscles. You had colored pencils so you would make the muscle pink or red, the tendon blue and the exposed bone yellow. Then you would label everything in this mix of Latin and English.
In about three-quarters of an hour I got up and left. They all looked up and thought, “Oh, poor Barney. He panicked. Poor bastard.” When they posted the grades, I was one of four that passed. Were they pissed. But I could have passed that exam at the age of 15. I was about 25 when I went to the Ruskin because I had already put in four years in the military. Just as I had planned it, the G.I. Bill paid for the trip.
I loved anatomy. If you understand anatomy, you can abstract like mad; you can have all kinds of games with figure drawing and you can build the figure out of muscle masses and exposed bone. You know when a passage of muscle is extending or flexing; whether it is relaxed or working.all kinds of games with figure drawing and you can build the figure out of muscle masses and exposed bone. You know when a passage of muscle is extending or flexing; whether it is relaxed or working.