North Laine History

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North Laine artist and NLCA Street Rep Cyril Mount has died aged 92.  Known for his controversial paintings Cyril developed his skills as an unofficial war artist being sent out to paint enemy lines during World War II.

A love affair with India

He was born in 1920 and raised in a deprived area of Liverpool.  In the thirties he enrolled at Liverpool Junior School of Art but ran away to join the Royal Horse Artillery when he was 16. This was when he first developed a love affair with India and its culture and food.

He served in World War II

At the outbreak of World War II his Regiment mechanised and left for the Middle East and North Africa in March 1941. He spent the early war years in action as Wireless Operator, as well as drawing panoramas of enemy positions and other things. In North Africa he fought with the 4th Indian Division in all campaigns to Tunis. In July 1943 he was involved in the invasion of Sicily and was later wounded and evacuated back to Tunisia. Following convalescence he was recommended for commission. He successfully completed six months officer cadet training in Almaza, Cairo, and left for the UK in April 1944 as a full lieutenant.

He painted during the quiet times

He had made many drawings and gouache paintings in lulls between fighting and 39 of these are now in the permanent collection of the Imperial War Museum. In 1990 the Museum commissioned him to return to Egypt to paint a picture of the battle at Ruweisat Ridge for the 50th anniversary of El Alamein and this painting is displayed in a glass case together with a message from 'Monty' to the 8th Army and with Rommel's record of preparations for the battle.

Study and teaching

On decommissioning after reaching the role of captain Cyril was offered a choice of a secure job in the civil service or a place in further education.  He became an art student for four years full time and then went on to teaching in Higher Education. With his innate ability to instruct and inspire he became a Principal Lecturer and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

He suffered a breakdown

His obsessive commitment to the job, coupled with the recurring trauma of his wartime experiences, led to a severe mental breakdown in the early sixties.  On his recovery he moved his family south to a sleepy market town where he took up a position at the local college and pursued his career as a painter. When the college closed, he found himself, for the first time, without a job or commitments and was finally able to devote his life to painting and search for spiritual fulfilment.

The search for inner peace

Since the fifties he had struggled to find inner peace, joining first the liberal Catholic Church, The Theosophical Society then the Quakers and the Christian Scientists.  From each he would take some element, but it was not until the late sixties, when western alternative culture embraced Eastern philosophies and religions, that he found what he was looking for and became a devotee of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. He travelled to India to spend time at the Ashram in Puna and meet the Bhagwan himself.  On his return he eventually discarded the orange robes, but his devotion never waned.  On official forms he described himself as a Buddhist, on all others he simply stated "I am my own God".

The move to North Laine

In the later part of his life he moved to North Laine and Argus Lofts, where he said “he had finally found home and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else ”.  His studio was at the Phoenix, where he worked with artists more than half his age.

His painting became more political

His painting became gradually more political. He was greatly affected by Goya's Horrors of War drawings, which have fed into his art. At his last exhibition in Bradford in 2012 Cyril said, “The very act of drawing and painting still carries with it a strange but very real sort of magic. My feeling is that those of us blessed with this ability should when necessary use it to draw attention to the cruelty, injustices, horror and futility of war and ruffle the feathers of those responsible for corrupt capitalism and religions. In my case I don't feel I deserve the title of peace activist, just the reformed enemy who saw and experienced far more than he bargained for when he ran away from the 1930s depression and joined the regular Army.”

He called himself an 'aggravationist'

Cyril called himself an 'aggravationist' and said he seemed to stir things up without always intending to. Knowing him we think this wasn't the case.  He has often used the medium of painting to make political statements or to make people think about controversial issues. His painting of De Gaulle (1970) hung in the Boudin Museum at Honfleur for four years before being banned because of Cyril's particular 'interpretation' of his subject. This painting was on display, along with others, at the reception at the Phoenix studios after Cyril’s 'green' burial at Clayton Woods on 1st March 2013.

We won't go into the trouble he caused with Sony play station for legal reasons…

A second wind of creative energy

Dr Gordon Millar, art historian, wrote in 1998: "It is clear that Mount's recent work has lost none of its fire and anarchy. This is a late flowering of skill and sensibility - a combination of the energy of youth and the insight of experience. He joins the ranks of those painters who have surprised their younger colleagues by getting a second wind of creative energy...."

Not concerned with fame and fortune

Cyril did his fair share of exhibiting but was never concerned with the 'fame and fortune' aspects of the 'art game'.  His last major exhibition in Brighton was in February 2010 at Brighton Museum called “ Operation Scipio ”. This was a code name given to the most savage battle of the North African campaign (Scipio Africanus was the name of the Roman General who captured Tunisia).  The exhibition gave visitors a real insight into World War II.

The Celebrating Age festival

Cyril may also be remembered in Brighton for his work in 2006.  Brighton hosted an international cultural festival, 'Celebrating Age', aimed at creating a more positive attitude to ageing among people of all ages. It focused on what older people can do rather than what they cannot do, demonstrating the huge contribution that older people make to society and helping them to realise their personal and social aspirations.

Cyril's idea for an arts prize for over 50s

Cyril put forward the idea of organising a national visual arts prize for artists over the age of 50, which had never been done before. In fact many art competitions are only open to artists under the age of 50 (e.g. the Turner Prize) or even 40 (the BP Portrait Award). His idea was adopted by the 'Celebrating Age' organisers at Brighton & Hove City Council, funding was obtained and the competition was announced and it was a huge success. Posters advertising the competition quoted Sir Roy Shaw: "Turner and Michelangelo produced some of their finest work in old age, showing that in art, as in football, the second half can be even better than the first!"

He touched people's lives

As a painter Cyril leaves a legacy of his work in many public and private collections, but his biggest legacy will be all the people’s lives he touched and inspired, including us.  As a friend and neighbour he will be dearly missed and we consider ourselves extremely lucky to have known him.  No-one who really knew Cyril could think of him as an old person; he always lived in the present and to him age was no barrier. As one of his many sayings went "You will never grow old if you know what you're doing tomorrow".

[Previously published in the North Laine Runner, No 221, March/April 2013]

Cyril Mount

By Adrian Stubbs and Daren Ball,

North Laine residents

Somew of Cyril’s paintings that were exhibited at his funeral.