Obituary: Mike Elliott

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The Independent Culture
MIKE ELLIOTT was a committed artist and inspirational teacher at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts for over 40 years. It seems appropriate, if death can ever be seen thus, that he suffered a heart attack while on his way to teach there; he never regained consciousness and died in University College Hospital opposite the Slade School of Fine Art which he had attended as a student.

Elliott was part of that generation which benefited from post-war funding of art and artists. For the first time, those from a working-class background were able to spend their entire lives concerned with art. Born in Clapham, south London, in 1933, and brought up in Tooting, where his family had moved before the Second World War, he gained entry to a grammar school.

At 16, he decided he wanted to paint and persuaded his parents by talking in terms of commercial art. With the financial assistance of the old London County Council, he attended Camberwell School of Art and sat for both the intermediate and National Diploma of Design exams successfully. When he was subsequently accepted as an undergraduate at the Slade, it was once again the LCC that made it possible. He spent three years there, including a postgraduate year, a very productive time for him. The life of the art-school student suited him perfectly; he even played in the Slade School Jazz Band.

After graduating in 1957, he married a fellow student, Robina Evans, and with a French government grant the pair went to live and work in Paris. At this stage his work became entirely abstract and his interest was in the more rational approach of the Constructivists. He enjoyed his time in Paris but never felt at ease there. He exhibited with various galleries, including Gimpel Fils in London.

On his return to England, a chance meeting with the painter and teacher Joe Dixon led to the part-time teaching at Camberwell that started Elliott's 40-year association with the school. Whatever discipline he taught - painting or drawing or lino cut or woodblock - it was always art that was being discussed; he did not believe in merely developing craft skills.

In the early Sixties he and I set up a studio and silkscreen workshop in Kennington and around this a group of Constructivists was formed called Ko5. There were exhibitions and contacts with other groups abroad. Most important was the Group Mardi, the revolutionary group in Buenos Aires. In the Seventies and Eighties he designed and painted a number of murals in south London, often working with students on these as a project.

Mike Elliott's work evolved from Constructivism in order to accommodate a growing interest in German expressionism. It is this that really marks him out as a distinctive artist. He took the classical and rational approach of Constructivism and applied it to what was dominantly a Romantic art form.

A memorial exhibition of his work has been proposed for the Centenary Gallery at Camberwell School of Art in September.

Brian Elliott

Michael James Elliott, artist and teacher: born London 19 January 1933; Lecturer, Camberwell School of Art 1959-99; married 1957 Robina Evans (deceased; two sons, one daughter); died London 29 January 1999.

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