Adam Raven

Artist son of Simon Raven
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The Independent Online

Adam Julian Raven, artist: born London 9 March 1952; died Barcelona 22 June 2006.

Adam Raven was the extraordinary son of extraordinary parents. Simon Raven was the author of the Alms for Oblivion novels that portrayed English upper-class life in louche terms - he was described by Noël Annan, his tutor at Cambridge, as reckless and a scamp, a liberating example to his more timid contemporaries. Simon married Susan Kilner, a fellow undergraduate, in 1951, when she became pregnant. The marriage was largely for form and was dissolved in 1957.

Simon remained a huge influence on Adam, who often used to go and visit him for Sunday lunch at the hotel he retired to on the South Coast. His father's opportunistic take on class was reflected in Adam's adulation of the working-class hero - his chosen companions were often from the demi-monde.

His mother Susan worked on the pioneering Sunday Times Magazine and bought a house on communal gardens in Notting Hill, west London, where Adam was brought up. He went to Bedales, the happiest days, he said, of his life: he wistfully tried to recreate the camaraderie of those days. His mother, however, berated the school for failing earlier to recognise his artistic talent.

As well as sharing his father's passion for cricket Adam Raven also hatched an ambition to be a writer. In his early twenties he would carry around a notepad and jot down observations or thoughts that came to him. Some of these observations anticipated his work as a painter in their visual power and accuracy.

His life changed when, in 1977, at the age of 25, he was finally diagnosed as bi-polar; and it was then that he decided to become a painter, explaining that in dealing with a plastic environment he felt closer to things in themselves. He taught himself to paint by setting up his easel outside Notting Hill houses and depicting them on canvas. His talent became obvious.

Being authentic was a characteristic of Raven's: he was never a snob and always kind to everybody he met. In his art this was manifested in his peculiar mix of the architecturally accurate with a Chagall-like dream quality which found expression in sculptures and details portrayed as though they had descended from another world; that of his imagination. A mixture of the naïve and the luminous led to his selling out his shows and numerous commissions especially for houses, his patrons mostly coming from the world of the arts.

His mother moved to Shepherd's Bush, partly to get her son away from "undesirables" that had attached themselves to him in Notting Hill. There she nurtured his career, building him a studio at the top of her terraced home.

His first show, in 1980, ended in the kind of farce his father might have written about. It was to take place in Albemarle Street. It was reviewed by Brian Sewell in the London Evening Standard and everything was going swimmingly when the gallery went bust and the receivers were called in. Raven was lucky to get his pictures out.

Anthony Blond organised another in 1982, which sold out. Others followed locally in London, as well as on his travels. In 2002 he had an exhibition at the October Gallery in Silver Hills, New Mexico.

In his last years he wandered the world with his companion Michael Harkett, carrying his canvases with him. Unusually, he drew on them in charcoal, completing them in oil when back home. Harkett remembers, typically, being taught by Raven on the banks of the Mekong how to tell a fine wine by smelling its cork. In Chiang Mai he was mugged by prostitutes, another vivid vignette his father might have enjoyed.

When Adam Raven was found dead in his cabin on a cruise liner, his body was put ashore in Barcelona. A last twist in his story is that the coroner lost his heart: it has still to be returned.

Thomas Thirkell

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