In view of the interest in Euan Uglow I thought I'd say a few things about what I understood from his teaching. I was taught by Euan for all my 4 years at the Slade and I’ve used speech marks where I am pretty certain of his terminology and meaning and use of words that were constantly on his tongue when explaining stuff to me.

Euan was crazy about geometry and he knew a great deal about the methods of the Egyptians with regard to geometrical construction. This obsession was something he shared with another painter I knew and was friends with, Patrick Symonds, and relates directly to the length of time he spent on the paintings; particularly the big pictures, ‘the machines’ as Euan liked to call them.
Here’s why:
He was not interested in “painting something out of the corner of the eye” but wanted to “attack” it head on. Everything was to be looked at directly and “in focus”; he wasn’t interested in painting the sensation of a glance for example. He would look at something and ask himself “How can I make something out of that?” The emphasis here is on ‘make’; an optical experience needed to be “nailed down”. “I can easily splodge something down in an hour or two. But such paintings do not interest me,” he said. He used to laugh about Delacroix’s admonition to be able to draw a man falling from a building before he hits the ground.

This desire to “make something out of” what he was looking at meant he was obsessively fastidious about maintaining the constancy of the set up which was arranged to accord with a pre existing idea. The painting ‘The Diagonal’ is a good example of this. So strong was this “idea”, that when a model gave up on him he would hire another model and continue the same painting with the new one. (I know this to be true because the first model for ‘The Diagonal’ Suzy King, gave up after about 6 weeks and was replaced. I shared a house with Suzy in London for 4 years during my student days at the Slade and she told me this herself).
The business of “making something out of” involved heavy uses of geometry. But it was geometry mined out of the model set-up itself, never imposed on it once the painting process had started. He did this “To build harmony into the image,” a patient “investigation” into what made the image tick.
I remember asking him about a painting I was working on and saying that I found the light on a model’s foreshortened leg absolutely marvelous and wanted the painting to be about that. “Find out why it’s marvelous, what makes it marvelous,” he said.
“I won’t let chance be there unless it’s challenged”. The nature of that challenge was to dig into the wonderment of what he was looking at with geometry. However, the geometry and obsessive measurement that “trapped” the optical phenomenon he regarded as in no way an answer to the miracle of the model’s appearance in front of him; it was not an explanation of its beauty. Geometry, for Uglow, was a means of objectifying his subjective response so that he could “remake” the phenomena in front of him. Geometry was a tool out of which he constructed a paradise in faithful parallel to the model’s unassailable miracle of existence. If the geometry came out of her, then in some way he felt he had touched the flame itself, albeit vicariously. Hence the inordinate amount of time spent on these paintings in relating every mark to the harmony of the rectangle’s proportions. (Hence his love of root rectangles – “I like a rectangle with reason,” he said.) It was a way of becoming intimate with the subject. A method by which he could rid himself of “assumptions about what the model looked like
.” “Innocence is not the same thing as naivety” he once told me, sagely.
A sort of pragmatic meditation, if you will. And although a thoroughly pragmatic soul, Euan believed in the “magic moment”. “I get about one a week after painting for 5 days from the model, it’s not common, – how many do you get?” he once asked.

He became increasingly “excited about colour” as the years passed. The fruit pictures are “about colour”. Colour was seen as volume. Thus the painting of a lemon was an attempt to represent the “presence” of its volume by colour. This was why the fruit pictures were so often as flat as possible; the yellow became the lemon as it were. This was why he raised up the shadows to as high a key as possible without them ceasing to read as shadows. Thus his pictures explained form through shape rather than chiaroscuro, and, as much as was possible, by its local colour.
But what that local colour was, was never assumed. He loved to be surprised by colour. “Something has to happen,” he said, when one colour buffets against another. But not so that it could be made to look pretty - he considered prettiness for its own sake as extremely vulgar. These buffetings of colour in his paintings, or colour sequences, were derived from the model as much as the geometry. If something "happened" when the colours were next to each other, then they were de facto, beautiful. "Happened" referred to their ability to affect the drawing. The shapes that he selected from the infinite variety suggested by the model were as much governed by the colour as how well they drew or "explained" the forms. “A carpenter making a good joint is drawing beautifully,” he said in one monograph. Change the colour and you have to change the shape. Change the shape and you have to change the colour. They are mutually dependent.
He once gave me a lesson in colour and asked me to provide a bit of white board and sat down at my easel in front of the model (This, for Uglow, was unheard of at the Slade and I enjoyed a brief period of celebrity among my peers! – The hubris of youth meant that, to my eternal regret, I didn’t keep his ‘painting’…). He observed the colours on the model's body by looking through his fist and seeing a tiny speck, devoid of context, at the end of its tunnel of darkness. He then mixed up a colour to correspond to what he had seen in this way. He repeated this a number of times until he had a series of colour patches set down in approximate positions on the canvas. These would be carved into and drawn into shape later. What he was doing was making sure he could be innocent of any preconceptions about the colour scheme; a device for cleansing himself of images he new about and avoid imposing them as a ready made solution to what was in front of him. Maintaining the preciousness of innocence again...

Thus, over time, he could extract and “learn” the colour scheme of the model. As the painting progressed he would start to organise the colour into the idea developing out of his constant looking at the model over the weeks and months. Slowly, he could make chromatic decisions about the organisation of the colour secure in the knowledge that what he was dealing was sourced from the model and not other paintings he knew about.
This was, I believe, how he was able to continue to work from fruit that had literally collapsed into a pile of mould - there was a painting in his studio of a ripe peach being made from a black, withered blob sitting behind the plumb lines and marks of his set-up. Strange, but entirely true.
This was not always the case of course. “Every picture is different” and he discovered new rules with each painting. This was the “idea” he was painting. An idea that gave birth to the painting, for example: three colour primaries arranged as a pyramid of fruit. But often a new idea would emerge from the encounter with the set-up itself. The tyranny of preconceptions and how to avoid it was why he evolved his extraordinary procedure. A preconception was antithetical to discovering something worth painting about.

— Chris Bennett studied with Euan Uglow at the Slade School. Bennett lives in Sudbury, Suffolk, England.