This week saw Griselda Pollock, the brightest luminary of the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies at the University of Leeds win the prestigious Holberg Prize – the first Art Historian to win it and I’m immensely proud to be working in the same department at the same university. I nearly approached Griselda many years ago to supervise a PhD I was thinking about surrounding my research on the female sculptor Frances Darlington, but at that stage, I think she was on a temporary break from Leeds for her research. Years later my own project had evolved to something different and I got chatting to Abigail Harrison-Moore on an open day and she is now the theoretical, art historical half of my supervision, with Chris Taylor providing the creative, practical half.
The name Griselda must have lingered in my subconscious all those years ago as I initially named one of the two title characters in my first and only novel Grizelda – with a ‘z’. This was over five years ago now and I feel I must state very clearly that at that stage although I had read of her research interests on the university website and read some of her books, I had never met Griselda Pollock and had no inkling as to her character at all, so my Grizelda was an accidental coincidence. I chose the name simply because it made a good medieval-sounding compound for the title – The Grizendaph of Luddington. (The other main force of ill will in the story was a Daphne). I was ever so pleased with the title when I first coined it and the other artists in the book, set in a city very similar to Leeds talk about the Grizendaph as a singular entity much as people linked Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love as “Kurtney” or Evelyn Waugh and Evelyn Gardner as “Shevelyn”. That was it – the only reason I chose that name – a Grizendaph sounded a bit like a fantastical compound animal from medieval manuscripts and this suited my literary purposes perfectly since my Grizelda hailed from a mock medieval house in a town very like Harrogate.
As the book failed to find any agent or publisher I continually revised it and once I started my PhD in 2018 and remembered Griselda’s prominent role in the arts in Leeds, I began to worry that people might think I was satirising her – of course, I wasn’t. My Grizelda is a horrible character, manipulative, false, superficial and not very intelligent – the very opposite to Griselda Pollock. I was so worried, horrified that this is what people might think that I changed the names in the book and the title. Grizelda became Hildegarde and Daphne, Roberta, the book’s title became Avantgarderobe which happily emphasises some of the themes of image and creative integrity in the novel. The book was to be illustrated with caricatures of the characters by one of the characters who is a caricaturist in the novel. I started another career as this character, Benjamin Blott – who has helped to mitigate some of my financial losses as an artist with his dog drawings. Below are some early trial caricatures of Grizelda and Daphne as they were then and some of the other inhabitants of Luddington – none based on anyone real.
In any case, it would be lazy just to draw directly from a single real person for a character and all my characters are composites of people and of myself – many of my own faults find focus in the issues in the book and it is not an attack on anyone, more an affectionate skit on various situations in contemporary art at the moment.