It was with some sadness that I saw that Howard Gardens Faculty of Art and Design was up for sale. It is not by any stretch of the imagination a handsome building. It has the half arsed Weetabix box 'make-do' Municipal look of the 50's but it maintains an important place in my life as it's what helped me break out of my home town and provided the first chapter of my adult life.
I remember vividly getting lost for my first interview for the Foundation course at Howard Gardens. Sam Jones and I caught the bus from Maesteg via Bridgend to Cardiff and being the feckless valley boys that we were promptly got the wrong directions to an unconnected location (which I know think was Saint Teilos). We got to Howard Gardens late and ran up to the ramshackle building, sweating with our portfolios under our arms. John Aubrey the course director pocked his head out of the top floor window and shouted "We're on the top floor!" we were clearly that hapless. I remember as clear as day feeling completely out of my league and intimated by the 'Big City'! Although Sam didn't get in I must have had something then cause I was asked to come back for a second interview and it was only after I left that I realised that I'd blushed a deep Scarlett. My Foundation year was my first clumsy steps into independence and I cringe when I look back at some of my behaviour, but that's what youth is about, right? It was a head rush of new experiences and new people, new people who would remain friends to this day. I bid a drunken goodbye to Howard Gardens when the Foundation course finished expecting never to return.
I'd decided I wanted to do a B.A in Fine Art and spent the next two years applying for courses, working, travelling, oh and getting married in South Africa. I gave the application a final roll of the dice when I had an interview for the B.A at Howard Gardens. It felt a bit weird to be back but again the interview went well as I was offered a place which meant coming back from Durban, which I was pretty happy about. Weirdly the three year Degree course doesn't stick in my memory as much as the Foundation course and didn't seem to have as much of an impact. In retrospect I was flailing around a bit trying to build up some confidence and find a voice. In retrospect they were mostly good years but I remember the final one being tough and I do miss the freedom. The final year of my B.A was mostly spent in the Llandaff UWIC building which is where the Art schools permanent home will be. It's a perfectly serviceable space, but it is a bit anemic and out of the way, and if there's one thing that Art needs it's to be right in the centre of things.
I graduated from Howard Gardens with a 2/2 and a feeling of dissatisfaction. I wasn't to pick up a paint brush in anger for another ten years. This has more to do with me than the course. After the Degree I'd have another connection with Howard Gardens, as for a few years I'd go to gigs there (Pete and the Pirates were particularly good) and when I could go and see the end of year Degree show. So it's sad to see it go, it's part of my personal history. 'Tommy's Bar' the ground floor bar was created and named when I did my Degree there, and I worked behind the bar briefly, wearing a Fez before they were cool and that'll be gone when the building is turned into flats or – more likely – student accommodation. It's sad but when I cycled past it I was coming from my studio and I found out the next day that I have an exhibition of my paintings in the Waterloo Tea Gardens this coming September, so onwards and upwards while glancing just behind.