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Arthur Moyse: Artist, Critic and Bus Conductor

Bruce Wilkinson writes:

When Dave Cunliffe moved to London in the late-1950s he befriended ‘artist, critic and bus conductor’ Arthur Moyse who introduced him to anarchist ideology through political debates at Hyde Park Corner and via Freedom newspaper (to which he contributed cartoons and reviews), press and bookshop.

Dave Cunliffe Collection, The University of Manchester Library

A well-known character in radical London and friends with the likes of musician and writer George Melly, Moyse remained proud of his working-class roots and had little time for the kind of artists he often mixed with in London’s galleries, taking great pleasure in satirising their lifestyles in his writing and drawings.

Dave Cunliffe Collection, The University of Manchester Library

A rambunctious drinker, he could often be seen (and even more frequently heard) around the capital’s pubs, always prepared to argue the case even if there wasn’t necessarily one to contend.

Moyse was no bar-room philosopher though; he was a highly principled Irish immigrant prepared to get physically involved if the cause called for it, fighting street battles with Oswald Mosley’s fascists and on behalf of gay colleagues at London Transport and it was his brand of pragmatic anarchism which had a profound impact upon the young Cunliffe, inspiring independent thought alongside a new spirit of literary endeavour.

Dave Cunliffe Collection, The University of Manchester Library

One of the great treasures within the Dave Cunliffe archive is his correspondence with Arthur Moyse which includes lots of original artwork and cuttings of his column and cartoons from Freedom. Moyse enjoyed sending postcards, Christmas and birthday cards which he would amend by creating collages, satirising the original cover picture. He also sent numerous prints and photocopies of his own drawings which he turned into originals by adding colour or new content altering their initial meanings.

Dave Cunliffe Collection, The University of Manchester Library

His pictures are mostly humorous black and white ink drawings but with a serious intent, based around a variety of political themes related to his anarchist principles: republican, anti-state and anti-authority, he enjoyed puncturing the pretensions of the privileged middle-classes and the establishment. There’s often many different references within each drawing, usually topical and almost always political but also using his self-taught but broad art history knowledge.

Moyse’s dispatches are often hilarious tales of his own drunken exploits or contain scandalous gossip about political activists, writers or artists. There is also a whole subsection of spoof letters stretching over thirty years, all beginning “You don’t know me, but…” and going on to recount extraordinary tales usually ending with threats of violence or court action under a variety of wry noms de plume.

Dave Cunliffe Collection, The University of Manchester Library

Much of the correspondence isn’t easy to work with as it is often typed on the reverse of arts press releases or gallery invites he received as a critic or even on the backs of letters he’d taken delivery of, re-using the paper with un-numbered pages making it even harder to piece missives together. This does, though, mean that there’s lots of interesting information attached and I can confirm that it is easy to get distracted by reading the details of 1980s events at the Riverside Studios or the ICA.

On his return to Lancashire, Cunliffe used Arthur’s artwork and articles in Poetmeat and for a number of BB Books editions, Moyse contributing to Global Tapestry until the late-1990s when his health began to deteriorate. BB Books published two works created by Arthur Moyse – Golden Convolvulus – a sex-themed anthology of art and verse which led to Dave Cunliffe’s obscenity trial (which we’ll deal with fully in a later blog) – and a collection of his own material in the extravagantly titled Wildly Flowering, Sinisterly Creeping, Joyously Twining, Beautiful Terrible Garden World (1968).

Dave Cunliffe Collection, The University of Manchester Library

He also had his own entirely fictitious Zero One magazine for which he produced a series of front covers often receiving subscription demands both from those interested in reading it and from institutions like the British Library wanting to add issues to its collection. I have to admit wasting quite a bit of research time trying to track down copies before I realised that Zero One didn’t actually exist, something I suspect Moyse would have enjoyed.

Dave Cunliffe Collection, The University of Manchester Library

When Arthur passed away in 2003 his will was contested by distant relatives on the basis that signatures on the document were forged and it is feared that his own huge archive of material has all but disappeared, meaning that this collection of his art, correspondence and writing may well be the most substantial in existence. Although he received an obituary in the Guardian and is fondly remembered by those who still remain from his London circle, Moyse is yet to get the attention he deserves but hopefully someone will make a detailed study of his life and work in the not too distant future.

4 comments on “Arthur Moyse: Artist, Critic and Bus Conductor

  1. Société Astronomae

    Ah, sometimes we wonder whether we are ploughing a lonely furrow and when I saw this my heart leapt for joy!

    • Bruce Wilkinson

      Thanks for those lovely words! I have a lot more blogs in the pipeline which will hopefully tickle your fancy too.

  2. Jim Pennington

    Arthur Moyse – a true deity for whom nothing was sacred. All Praise and Hail the Moyse.

  3. Mary Lowrey

    I’ve got his drawing of Betty Blake’s funeral in my loo. I’m in it and Sylvia Pope, my driver and girlfriend, Betty in the box, Arthur himself, the terrifying vicar who did the ceremony at Mortlake . Betty was the T&GWU secretary at Riverside Garage, Hammersmith. Everyone in his picture were real people from the garage. I think Sylvia asked him to do a tribute to Betty, so he did the picture and got it framed for her. If there is to be a collection of his work I’ll happily add this little gem to it. I reckon 1985. Hope we are talking about the same Arthur Moyse!

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