One of the joys of joining Highbury Grove has been getting to know the staff. A particularly inspirational, one-of-a-kind teacher that students and parents rave about is Phil Diggle, our Head of Art. I’ve never known an art teacher like him. He’s a genuine artist, living his craft every day, sharing his passion, his philosophy and his work with his students; they probably don’t know quite how lucky they are.
Last weekend I went to visit his incredible exhibition in Highgate. It’s not just the scale and energy of his work – and the thickness of the paint – that are striking; it’s his personal engagement with it all; the way he talks about it and where it all comes from. He’s wonderfully humble; self-deprecating and modest. The work does the showing-off for him. In some style.
The paintings are 3-D. They go beyond texture… some are inches thick.
And the things that go on in the classroom are wonderful. So many parents and students have gone out of their way to tell me how inspiring he is. He’s recently started a twitter account @DigglePhilip which he uses to share his work and his thoughts. ‘Notes from A Bus’ provide a regular source of joy and reflection.
Our recent open house art day, part of The Big Draw, was a big hit. This is what you might call getting fully immersed in painting:
A bit of body painting using hands and feet as brushes, soon become something rather more:
But the Rock Star aura doesn’t end there. Phil’s roots in the Manchester punk scene give him a special perspective on life. His brother, Steve Diggle, was and is the guitarist in The Buzzcocks. They used to play gigs together where Steve would play ambient guitar and Phil would splash paint across the stage. I’d love to have seen that. For me, being able to talk to Phil about Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley is amazing – two heroes of mine from the Magazine era.
Phil is the subject of this wonderful film: Philip Diggle’s Luxury. It shows him at work in his studio at various times in his life including periods in New York and Berlin. It’s amazing to watch him in action, fully involved in his work, creating massive abstract pieces in an intense, physical process with hundreds of paint pots and a big stick. It also includes interviews with various art critics and Tony Wilson, a Manchester media legend from the 1980s famous for setting up Factory Records. There are also wonderful monologues as he walks across Hampstead Heath, reflecting on art, life and nature. He even sings a little bit of ‘Permafrost’ – which is pretty cool!
Watch the three segments here – it’s well worth it.
Philip Diggle’s Luxury Part 1
Philip Diggle’s Luxury Part 2
Philip Diggle’s Luxury Part 3
This is the final scene. Phil takes flight across the heath in a free-spirited moment. I love this. And the final Steve Diggle track is great too.
I’ve written before about lessons from art lessons. Phil is the real deal; an artist who teaches, who lives his art every day. Outside the Box. A true inspiration. It’s a wonderful privilege for all of us. (Even the site team – though they don’t always feel that way!)