Headshot of Richard Hill FAHACS MA student sat in front of a bookshelf. Richard wears a black t shirt and red fleece.

Richard Hill

Please tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

I am from Rotherham in South Yorkshire; 56 years of age and I left comprehensive school in 1982 with no qualifications to speak of. The course of events for most males such as myself from a working-class background, was to leave school and head to the coal mine or steel works, neither of which suited me. Needless to say, my dad got me a job as a labourer in the steel works and I spent the next thirty three years moving from one unskilled job to another. I come from a family that did not understand or indeed aspire to develop themselves academically and at the time I did not question this.

In 2015, I decided to try for something more. I took a six month access course with the Open University to see if I had the academic ability to possibly take a degree. I passed with a distinction.

Why did you choose to study your particular course and why did you choose the University of Leeds?

In my access course with the Open University, I composed my final piece on Guernica, the painting by Pablo Picasso. With this I realised that in my love of music through the collecting of vinyl records in the 1980s, I had also studied the artwork of the record sleeves, bringing about the love of photographic artists such as Anton Corbijn and design artists like Peter Saville and Mark Farrow. The relevance being that if I was enthusiastic with this topic in my own interests, it was a skill I could incorporate in the study of the history of art.

In my first year with the Open University studying part-time as an undergraduate, I moved through my studies ok but when it came to end of the year, I failed my exam. I felt I would prosper better going to attend classes at a university and rather than giving up I phoned up the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies (FAHACS) on clearing day. I must admit I thought the chance was remote that I would be accepted in such a prestigious place as the University of Leeds, but I felt I had to take the chance. I was put at ease by the relatability of the person on the phone, Dr Joanne Crawford, and I immediately relaxed and chatted about what I had done so far and my background, I received a phone call shortly after to advise I had been accepted on the course. 

What has been the best aspect of your course so far?

Looking back over the five years it has been the gaining of confidence and belief in my own abilities. I remember when I was first asked to stand up and present in a class, I hated the thought of it. Knowing at the time this was a facet of academic life that grew the further you developed, in my head I had decided that my academic journey would end with my BA in History of Art. Now, having completed my MA, I have the confidence to contemplate a PhD. With the increased knowledge in your subject, comes the confidence to express and argue your point, both in word on the page but also to others in presentation.

Can you tell us about some of the exciting projects you have completed as part of your degree?

I recently worked on a team project researching Black histories relating to film archives for the Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds. Finding my place as an older member of the group I took the initiative to lead the project forward, culminating in my presenting our findings to the management team at the Picture House. I found this exhilarating due to how this drew out the leader in me and qualities that I was reluctant to use due to lack of confidence in the past. 

A project I became involved with, not directly as part of my BA but certainly through the engagement I had in my studies from the first year of my degree, was to become part of the research team at the country house Wentworth Woodhouse. In the last week of the first semester, I was introduced to architecture by Dr Kerry Bristol. I had an interest from that time with the 18th century and the country house. Having lived close to Wentworth all my life but only having seen the house in papers and books, I began my research on its history. I searched to find if I could volunteer with them and found they were looking for researchers, so I emailed them. This was the beginning of an association which carries on to this day having recently completed my MA dissertation on a subject linked to the house. This is a study I would dearly like to continue, hopefully as a thesis for a PhD with the university.

Have you worked closely with a particular tutor or member or the University’s academic staff? Tell us about that experience.

As I have mentioned, Dr Kerry Bristol introduced me to architecture and the country house. I would not say I am an architectural historian like Kerry but the whole world of the country house and the art that is associated with those places has become my fascination due to Kerry’s teaching. I followed Kerry through my BA, attending all her modules and found that she tends to understand how I tick academically. Working with Kerry on my BA and MA has been a great builder of my confidence to keep going. I greatly hope our association will continue onto my PhD.

What would you say to students thinking about studying your course?

I would actively encourage anyone to engage in the humanities and specifically a BA in the History of Art with the School of FAHACS. Speaking as a mature mid-life male student without any formal knowledge of art, it is an introduction to a new world of understanding. In the first year you are introduced to a variety of subjects in art history through lectures, some of which I personally had not known existed. You are given the freedom to express your thoughts and ask questions in seminar after your lectures, assured there are no silly questions. From here you can follow your path, where now doubt it will get a little rocky, but you will receive the support of your peers and your personal tutor who is there to help you through your journey. Along the way you are shown new perspectives and ways to approach those art subjects, giving you the grounding and critical tools to move forward in your degree. The hub that is the school of fine arts building is a modern friendly environment to support you through your journey and my own personal favourite place to study is the Brotherton Library with its enormous stock of art history books and journals to get lost in and support you on your way.

What does Leeds as a city have to offer students?

Leeds Art Gallery is a joy of 20th century art deemed of national importance by the British Government. The jewel for me is that upstairs next to the gallery is an art library full of art and architectural books, and if you travel up a floor you have physical copies of nearly all the Country Life magazines ever published.

What do you plan to do once you graduate?

I am now hoping to continue with a PhD with the University of Leeds.