Leslie Cole, artist and educator
From 1946 until his early death in 1976, Leslie Cole taught at Brighton College of Art (later Polytechnic) and the Central School of Arts and Crafts, London. At the former he worked closely for many years with John Vernon Lord teaching drawing to graphic design and illustration students.
Cole had been a highly productive war artist in the Second World War, having assiduously courted the War Artists Advisory Committee (WAAC), chaired by Sir Kenneth Clark, for opportunities to work as an official war artists. His commitment to this project eventually resulted in a series of commissions in Malta, France (working alongside the Royal Marine Commandos), Greece, Germany, Burma, Malaya, Singapore and elsewhere. Particularly powerful were his visual portrayals of Belsen concentration camp that included harrowing views of prisoners of war, the death pits and the women’s compound and of Japanese prisoner of war camps in Singapore, where he portrayed the conditions of women and children.
Cole had trained at Swindon Art School and the Royal College of Art, London, where his studies included mural painting, lithography and fabric printing. His early work focussed on lithography, a medium in which he established a reputation through sensitive handling exhibitions at home and overseas. He was also a member of the Senefelder Club, participating in its 1934 exhibition. In 1937 Cole took up a teaching post at Hull College of Arts and Crafts. Following the outbreak of war he joined the RAF but was discharged on grounds of ill health. In his efforts to gain the attention of the WAAC he undertook trips on a Hull trawler involved in minesweeping and coastal defence duties and a destroyer guarding a convoy to Gibraltar. Early WAAC commissions were juggled with leave of absence from Hull College of Arts & Crafts. However, continued employment at the latter compromised Cole’s opportunities for War Artists’ commissions, resulting in the tendering of his resignation in 1944. In this period he held an honorary commission as a captain with the Royal Marines and was a salaried war artist
Having spent some months recording the after effects of the War Cole did not return to England until 1946 when he moved to London where he continued his practice at Stamford Bridge Studios. He taught in Brighton for thirty years but felt that his artistic contributions were overshadowed by new developments in the fine arts in the post war period. However, his significance was recognised in a 1985 exhibition at the Imperial War Museum entitled To the Front Line. Leslie Cole: Paintings of the Second World War.