At the time when this event occurred, we had no idea of it’s Art-historical significance. With natural flair, Dedman put the F into Art and changed the character of taking a break from life-painting forever. Academy Fools: the Fortnum & Mason Fart is a citation about the early use of flatus as an Art form.
The Academy Schools always toted a fair mix of learners from differing social strata. Walter Woodington (administrator) was a quiet, shy man. His connections with Communism were never apparent, however he came out on the side of the establishment when Dedman ‘made a statement’ beyond the pale of painterly charm.
During the second year of the post-graduate course at the Royal Academy Schools, students were obliged to paint from the nude (having spent the first year drawing from it). The practice has now ceased, however at the time of this event, Peter Greenham was Keeper of the Schools. A former Oxford scholar Greenham went on to study Fine Art Painting at the Academie Julien in Paris. He emphasised traditional academic procedure.
At eleven in the morning, we took a break from painting the nude; our model was a woman from Ireland, called Cath. I purchased some coffee from the canteen with two other students, (the Maywood brothers) and returned to sit in the corridor on a plinth, supporting a cast of Myron’s Discobolous just outside the door of the life painting room. Further down we could see Walter Woodington, the Schools administrative officer. ‘Woody’ as he was known, was showing the premises to a couple who were reputed to be the owners of Fortnum & Mason – the famous victuallers on Picadilly.
Martin and Andrew were stood close by, smoking roll-ups and drinking their beverages. For myself, the coffee had an instantaneous effect – I felt a build up of flatus and in order to impress my colleagues, lifted my right buttock from the plinth and put on a bit of a crank, for want of better words. Straining to effect the very best anal embochure, I let out an ear splitting traunt of which a stallion would be proud!
It rattled against the stone plinth and of course, the acoustics were ideal for sort of instrument I was playing. Martin’s reddening face contorted to suppress his mirth; behind his little, round ‘Trotsky’ style glasses, his eyes were rolling with amusement and he nearly swallowed his fag. His brother behaved similarly, spluttering into his coffee. Unbeknown to me, Woody and his classy consort had strolled up the corridor and were standing within easy hailing distance. There was no doubt about it – they heard my puerile display of vulgarity and looked duly shocked.
We resumed painting and shortly after, Woody came and poked his head in the door of the room and gave me a look which can only be described as ‘withering’. Martin said he thought I got off lightly; it was more likely for Woody to have sent me down. The latter of which did not happen, belying the fact for all its anachronistic, bourgeois twaddle – the Academy Schools was way, way, way ahead of its time in allowing me to stage such an organo-morphic, post-modern event. Academy Fools: The Fortnum and Mason Fart was performed by Alan Dedman in the corridor of the Royal Academy Schools, circa 1985.
Photo of Alan Dedman by Casey Moore
Photo of the Maywood Brothers by Christie