Derek Mace, Tony Keeler, Emrys Parry

Derek Mace, Tony Keeler and Emrys Parry at the Yare Gallery. The exhibition ‘Now and Then’ (run recently) features artists and ex-students from Great Yarmouth College of Art and Design. Derek Mace, Tony Keeler and Emrys Parry taught me before I went to London.

In 1969, a year after the Tet offensive began, the skies over East Anglia raged with American military aircraft training for Vietnam. At Tilney St. Lawrence County Primary School we couldn’t hear each other as pairs of McDonnell-Douglas Phantoms screamed towards Holbeach range on their strafing runs.

McDonnell Douglas Phantoms

Each evening Reginald Bosenquet announced that ‘American B52 bombers had attacked the Ho Chi Minh trail’. Simple graphics cushioned us against the violence unfolding thousands of miles away, simultaneously condoning it.

At night B52s flew over our house. The ground shook. Night ops at Holbeach meant my bedroom was lit by exploding ordnance a few miles away. It was a ‘righteous war against the evils of Communism’. At least peasants in Norfolk weren’t on the receiving end of US imperialism but the reality for Vietnamese people must have been hideous.

A B52 at RAF Mildenhall

The UK was fortunate to have Harold Wilson as Prime Minister. Unlike his bloodthirsty counterpart Tony Blair, he kept the nation out of a war that wasn’t ours. Which meant my dad could take his family on holiday to a caravan park in Hunstanton!

At the caravan club house, I was dancing ‘the twist’ when a young couple showed appreciation for my abilities. Unbeknown to our family, Tony Keeler (TK) and his wife Christine, briefly made our acquaintance. Later, we passed by their place in Hunstanton for a chat.

frontage of gycad roderic barrett alan dedman
The newly refurbished GYCAD

Seven years on, Keeler became my art teacher at the Norfolk College of Arts and Technology (NORCAT) in King’s Lynn. TK was responsible for about two thirds of the curriculum we followed, I never shared his enthusiasm for Art History, finding the subject boring. At the end of studies, Keeler persuaded me to attend Great Yarmouth College of Art and Design (GYCAD). His aesthetic, based on grammar school, GYCAD and Leeds Poly was subtly imposed on us.

Mace (note aircraft )

Like Tony Keeler, Derek Mace hailed from Great Yarmouth. They became friends at grammar school, did foundation studies at GYCAD and went on to a DipAD (Diploma in Art and Design) at Leeds Polytechnic in the early 1960s. Both came back to work as teachers on behalf of the Norfolk Education Committee (NEC).


Leeds is a great city. I went there in February to do some research for a painting. Leeds Poly gained a ‘red-hot Lefty’ rep in the 1960s. The photo below is of Leeds lecturer, Robin Page performing ‘Junk Yard Happening’ circa 1967.

Robin Page Leeds alan dedman St. Martins
Leeds lecturer Robin Page dispensing valuable life skills in the 1960s

Jamie Wagg and Paul Setchell followed the same college circuit as myself before they went to Leeds to study Fine Art. Jamie and me were drinking together at the Fermoy Arts Centre in Lynn; we talked about Keeler. Jamie said: ‘Oh him, jumped-up Surrealist’.


Keeler admired Surrealism. His proto-Pop hybrid of the two (Surrealism & Pop Art), might have looked sophisticated to A-level students but ….. in recent years the Leeds creative marque has been more effectively expressed by actor Leigh Francis (aka Keith Lemon) in his early TV work. ‘Bed-time with the bear’ surpasses any amount of ‘high art’.

Derek Mace

Keeler’s ‘pictorial language’ if it may be called as much, is arcane. He knows the secret! We must work to decipher the meaning in his paintings. Beyond his unassuming exterior, an ego craves power and control. He once said to me ‘painting is a bit like having a wank’ (self-indulgent). Perhaps the exhibition should be titled: ‘Creative onanism for one’?

Derek Mace

These artists could make a better job of the the human figure and face. The people we see are mawkish, wandering about in a colourful but bleak no-man’s land. More 2D than 3D. The sort of ‘environment’ many of us inhabited post-Art school; there is a lack of modelling.

At least Mace makes an effort to deal with formal painting issues. His ‘Self-portrait with still-life’ shows a preoccupation with pictorial space interpreted through colour. His teaching started me on that road, though for all the years at esteemed institutions, there was no follow-on, except for my own endeavours.

Self portrait with still-life DC Mace

Derek Mace, Tony Keeler and Emrys Parry don’t get involved in the visceral aspect of painting, whereas someone like Rembrandt did. Neat, clean, designer-esque. Self-conscious. Illustrative. Not risking much. Flat surfaces.

The colours are vibrant and joyous as if from a sweet-shop interior. I really like this about Mace’s work in particular. If only the people in them were as cheerful! Both his and Keeler’s work can appear like a less versatile Eric Ravilious on LSD. Mace’s work owes a debt to Pop Art which must have influenced him as a student in the 60s.


Did any of them make sales? I recall Mace discarding a set of transparencies in a bin after an unsuccessful trip to Cork Street in London. Being ‘talented’ is only half the battle. Marketing your work is the real challenge. Remember none of these men were/are professional, full-time artists, first and foremost they were/are teachers. At least they made an effort to do something other than teach, but Mace did it a bit too much on college time.

The crazy, surreal World we see here resonates with a particular period in British history. Perhaps in the fullness of time their work might be better appreciated. Applying Schopenhauer’s criterium: does this exhibition stimulate a greater involvement with life? Eh? Or is it just a magic lantern show for ‘those in the know’? the Fabian elite of the flat-lands.

Emrys Parry Boy in landscape

The Leeds/Yarmouth legacy translates poorly into the agrarian community of East Anglia. Champagne Socialism aside, you still have to earn a crust. Stick to tractor driving. At least it will keep the wolf from the door and you can kick it’s lazy arse from time to time.

Photos of artworks by Nigel Moody

Photo of GYCAD by Nick Ward

Emrys Parry Collage from Mandell’s Gallery, Norwich.

Phantoms (Photo by PPH2 BRUCE TROMBECKY – USNavy) Warbird News

B52 courtesy RAF Mildenhall

Pic of Robin Page from ‘The Look of London’ magazine

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  1. fionn rawnsley

    Well yes , really sets the scene of Yarmouth art school for me, I remember Mace painting in the studio while we got on with somthing like life drawing or photography. He did inspire some students in thier work and use of masking tape. Mace seemed more like a slightly older prefect than a teacher, more of a peer. The arts system is so stacked against a rank outsider, as you say at least tractor driving puts food on the table. I also met Mrs Keeler and somehow thought she was the woman who got caught messing around with Harold Wilson , ha , ha . In the spy affair which buckled the labour govt. I seemed to remember she said she was ! You have a very lucid recall of all the context, I to remember the roaring aircraft and B52’s over head 20 miles east of Lynn. I did a head of Jamie Wagg , I wish I still had it , it was only my second bust and worked out really well. There was something simmering under the surface of Jamie which I took to be a sort of distaste of middle class wanna be art students.
    Emeris Parry who was Maces line manager was not such a bad guy but I felt found it hard to manage when all he really probably wanted was to make his work. The last time I saw him was on a moderation day when he showed me a students exhibition which was all pornographic photos of vaginas dicks and penetrations, raised his eyebrow and said ‘ Pudendum see “ . I think it was a pass grade.

  2. Fionn, thanks for your comment. It adds to this post which I haven’t found easy to write. ‘Pudendum,see?’

  3. Paulasymonds

    Yes I also exhibited at that exhibition !!!
    Paula Symonds
    Withdrew all my stuff on the last week because of transphobic abuse ie Parry calling me and presenting me as a gentleman to visitors to the gallery
    Sickening in this day and age
    It’s the Yarmouth’s mentality that prevails even throughout the artist community even though they are supposed to be “the said more accepting “

  4. Hello Paula, thanks for your comment, sorry to hear of your unhappiness. Yarmouth was a lark, but (for myself) just passing through, didn’t address my social reality. Parcelled off without touching the sides.

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