Obituary: Rosalie de Meric

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The Independent Culture
WHEN ROSALIE de Meric's father called her a coward he killed fear in her for the rest of her life. She steered her own singular course as artist and teacher in a life that would bring her into contact with many notable painters and writers.

From her first solo show at the Brook Street Gallery in London in 1940 through a widespread exhibiting career, de Meric emerged as an artist with a unique vision, who sought out and recreated forms with a quality of strangeness and a hint of the supernatural. Her drawing and use of colour had a dynamic energy. Although she went through radical changes of style over some 60 years, a trademark of her work was the simplification of forms to express their essential quality, transmitted to the viewer with a directness and power that were part of de Meric's character.

Her life could have been settled and unremarkable. She was born in Weymouth, Dorset, in 1916. Her only sister, Vivienne, died aged 24. Her mother Blanche's family had been made rich by Holloway's Little Pink Pills, which meant that Rosalie's father, Victor, need never work. Apart from three years as a tea planter in Ceylon, he lived as a gentleman.

As a child, through a family connection, Rosalie met Francis Bacon, then an aspiring painter, the beginning of a lifelong friendship. When she determined to train as an artist, however, her parents refused to fund her. She left home at 18, moved to London equipped with several smart frocks and trained as a typist.

In the evenings she studied to be an artist and moved into Bohemian circles. She shared a house with a mistress of Elias Canetti, the Bulgarian-born, Vienna-educated Jewish writer who from 1938 lived in Britain.

De Meric had earlier had some tuition in England and France from the dynamic, pioneering Futurist- influenced watercolourist and lino-cutter Claude Flight. From 1936 to 1939, in the evenings she attended Westminster School of Art and was instructed by Mark Gertler and Bernard Meninsky, who urged a need for sound draughtsmanship. In the war she worked as a typist for the Admiralty and as a nurse, continuing her studies at St Martin's and the Central Schools of Art, going on to Medway School of Art, Rochester.

Just before the Second World War ended, her life changed radically as she married the poet Thomas Blackburn. When introduced, Blackburn, a keen mountaineer, asked this young woman with remarkable green eyes if she could climb. Her innate fearlessness prompted her to say no, but she would try. They went to Wales and, because de Meric had the wrong boots on, she climbed in socks in the rain over some of the area's most difficult and dangerous routes. In his poem "Mountain", Blackburn commemorated

the unrepeatable

Days scaling slab and pinnacle, vernal, evergreen

Of our beginning: Scawfell, Tryfan, Craig-Ysfa, Great Gable

And the nights of our shared darkness that lay between.

Married and living in London, de Meric again established contact with Bacon. She, Bacon and Blackburn formed a close trio. The savagery underlying Bacon's painting influenced de Meric's, as it did Blackburn's poetry. Bacon and Blackburn were much attracted to each other, and were enthusiastic Soho drinking companions.

The marriage was turbulent. Blackburn's drinking and drug- taking were part of the problem, and they separated when their only daughter, Julia, was 12. She was to become the writer Julia Blackburn, whose novel The Leper's Companions is now shortlisted for the Orange Prize.

De Meric's early work had been landscape, followed by a series of imaginative allegorical paintings reminiscent of Balthus, work shown in a retrospective at Leeds University in 1956. Blackburn had a Gregory Fellowship there. The influence of Terry Frost, Alan Davie and Harry Thubron, who were also in Leeds, contributed to de Meric's changing to Abstract Expressionism, pictures shown at the Grabowski and Drian Galleries in 1960-62. For two successive years, in 1972-73, de Meric worked with Thubron on a colour course in southern Spain, which led to involvement with Hard-Edge Geometric acrylics for a decade, shown in London and elsewhere. In 1977 she settled in Westleton, Suffolk, in 1983 returning to landscape painting.

Between 1963 and 1977, Rosalie de Meric had lectured at Sir John Cass, the London College of Printing and Croydon College of Art, but she remained unsatisfied with her achievements. Archaeological drawings done during summer vacations in Romania, Spain, Italy and Greece were published in specialist journals. She also produced four silkscreen editions marketed in London Galleries. To finish her education, she completed an honours degree in fine art at Norwich School of Art (1984-87).

She remained fearless. Finally in hospital with leukaemia, she declared, "It's very difficult to die, but I'm doing well. I'm even rather enjoying myself."

David Buckman

Rosalie de Meric, artist and teacher: born Weymouth, Dorset 5 November 1916; married 1945 Thomas Blackburn (died 1977; one daughter): died Halesworth, Suffolk 2 April 1999.