Democratic Promenade

On 30 September 2011, an exhibition opened at the Bluecoat which incorporated memorabilia from the 1970 occupation, most especially Frank Milner’s posters.

The exhibition – Democratic Promenade – runs until Sunday 27 November 2011 and is part of the 2011 ‘Liverpool City of Radicals’ celebration.  This is how the Bluecoat introduces the exhibition:

Responding to 2011’s Liverpool: City of Radicals theme, this exhibition draws on cultural and political narratives from the past century and asks what constitutes radical art practice today? The theme is prompted by events 100 years ago that had a profound cultural, architectural and political impact: a seminal exhibition by the Post-Impressionists at the Bluecoat, the opening of the Liver Building, controversial in its design and cast-concrete fabrication, and the transport strike that brought the city ‘near to revolution’. The title Democratic Promenade is taken from Walter Dixon Scott’s description of the Landing Stage in his 1907 book Liverpool.

‘It represents a coming together of business and pleasure, the city’s wealthy merchants mixing with its urban poor, Europeans heading to a new life across the seas, and sailors from around the globe dropping anchor on Merseyside. ‘

Frank Milner and Gerry Cordon were approached in the summer by Bryan Biggs, the exhibition curator, who was interested in incorporating something about the occupation as an example of radicalism in Liverpool in the last 100 years.  He was especially interested in Frank’s posters, but he had also seen this blog and borrowed some of the material that had been found in the archives (photos, press cuttings, ‘Old Chancellors’ booklet, leaflets, etc).

As a result, the occupation has been immortalised in a small  section of a large and very varied exhibition.  Frank and Gerry were invited to the opening where these photos were taken.  Click on a gallery image to view full size.

In one of the exhibition captions, Frank Milner explains how the posters were made;

During the occupation of Senate House I made posters in the large entrance hall. My equipment was woefully crude, a regular wooden frame held by rising butt hinges to a plywood base, with the silk screen nailed tight to the outer edges. But I did use professional ink and had a proper squeegee too. Whip-rounds were made for ink and paper and I found a place in town that sold printer’s offcuts trimmed to poster size at about 50p for 100 sheets.

Paris May ’68 posters were definitely my inspiration, such superb images, so simple and direct. However the French students had photoscreens and all the paraphernalia of proper art departments.  I had a wobbly table and paper stencils that disintegrated after 80 pulls when the turps used to dilute the ink soaked into the paper, and I spread the posters on the floor to dry.  I was very lucky really – left to get on with what I was OK at doing – and everyone was pretty appreciative.  But it was a bit messy.

Silk screen posters, even if they were crude, bridged the gap between the usual laborious hand-drawn placards and the professionally printed job. With the silk screen you could get something out really quickly. When ten students were sent down by the University I produced posters within a couple of hours. Later, when I worked at the Walker Art Gallery, I’d attend exhibition openings in the  entrance hall at Senate House. During the boring opening speeches I used to entertain
myself finding the old ink marks on the floor from the posters I’d made 15 years earlier.

I was pleased with the Old Chancellors poster. Everyone kept banging on about what a frail old man Lord Salisbury was. He seeemed pretty active to me, and toxic too – one of  the last people you would want to be your university chancellor. Despite Liverpool University nowadays priding itself on its liberal credentials and recently praising the 1970 occupation, one of its halls of residence is still called Salisbury Hall.

The exhibition guide gives the occupation and Frank’s posters a mention, too:


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