Arthur Hackney: Artist and popular teacher noted for his firm and rigorous style

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The Independent Online

Arthur Hackney's work was strongly graphic and almost architectural in its line. Painting invariably in bodycolour (opaque watercolour), he created firm and rigorously designed images whether of trees, blossom figures or seascapes.

Hackney's early years could scarcely have been less propitious for his future development. The second of five brothers, he was born in Stainforth near Doncaster where his father, a coalminer, had moved when the North Staffordshire coalfields closed during the General Strike.

When he was only six the family returned to the Potteries but circumstances remained hard. Hackney's father, a difficult man, was unemployed throughout the 1930s. When his elder brother Frank fell sick and died from neglect at the age of 14, Hackney was devastated and felt that he must be responsible for providing for his family.

He took a job as an apprentice engraver decorating pottery for the firm Johnson Bros. On the strength of a drawing of a single daffodil which he did when he was 11 he was also accepted as a part-time student at Burslem School of Art near Stoke-on-Trent. He was fortunate in his teacher, Reginald C Haggar, a traditional watercolour artist, who was a great inspiration. Hackney felt that he owed everything to his energy and enthusiasm.

It was Haggar who encouraged Hackney to apply in 1943 to the Royal College of Art – of which he had never even heard – and this eventually changed his life. He succeeded in getting his wartime call-up deferred for a fortnight while he sat the College entrance examination.

Hackney's war service was spent with the Royal Navy. On his first evening at Fareham 30 men were killed in a bombing raid. Sailing to New York on the Queen Elizabeth, he was in Boston when he learnt that he had been accepted by the RCA. He joined HMS Cotton as a member of her gun crew, spending much of his time in the crow's nest in the north Atlantic convoys, helping protect allied ships against German U-boats.

He was also present at the Battle of Murmansk in the Arctic. Anchored near to Liverpool, he was shown charts of the Solent, where the ships were gathering for D-Day, and then took part escorting vessels in the English Channel during the actual landings.

He was demobbed in 1946 and finally able to take up his place at the Royal College of Art; most of his fellow students were ex-servicemen and included former prisoners of war from Burma as well as Dunkirk survivors. Hackney entered the Engraving Department. Its Head, Professor Robert Austin, was one of the finest printmakers of the 20th century and a demanding teacher. From the College, Hackney won a travelling scholarship which took him to France and Italy for 12 months.

On graduating in 1949 Hackney took a post as a lecturer at West Surrey College of Art and Design, where he stayed for the rest of his career (the College later became the Farnham School of Art and subsequently the University of Creative Arts Farnham). He became Head of Printmaking and Deputy Head of Fine Arts, and helped establish the Photography Department. He was also a member of the Fine Art Board of Adjudication and Design for the Council for National Academic Awards (the CNAA). In his spare time he wrote on exhibitions for The Arts Review and in 1960 wrote a series of articles on 'Problems Confronting the Artist" for The Artist magazine. His duties also took him to sit on staff interviewing committees. He once interviewed the young David Hockney when he applied for a post but turned him down because he found his manner rather forward – not least because Hockney suggested to him that he might like to buy one of his pictures. In retrospect, Hackney rather regretted not taking up his offer.

Robert Austin, who stressed the importance of structure, is an obvious influence on Hackney, who also admired LS Lowry. He first saw Lowry's paintings as a young man at an exhibition in Stoke-on-Trent where none of his works had sold and went back to Johnson's, where he persuaded the firm to buy a picture for their own collection.

In 1949 Hackney was elected to the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers and to the Royal Watercolour Society in 1951 (he served as Vice-President of the RWS from 1974-77). At the time the two societies shared a large and prestigious gallery in Conduit Street in the West End – it had been a night club in an earlier existence – where their private views were part of the London season, attended by the Queen Mother, ambassadors and Lord Mayors in full regalia. "Lady Members wore large hats," as Hackney put it. One of his paintings was bought by the Ambassador of the Lebanon and his wife; Hackney often wondered what had happened to it. He also exhibited with the Royal Academy and the London Group.

Hackney's work can now be found in the permanent collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, London County Council, the art galleries of Bradford, Wakefield, Nottingham, Keighley, Sheffield and Preston and the City Art Gallery in the Potteries, as well as in the Art Gallery of Wellington in New Zealand.

Deeply engaged and always willing to fight for what he believed, Hackney was a good-looking man and popular with his students. He grew a beard because he felt it might help him assert his authority – although it rather spoilt his looks. He wore it for the rest of his life. As a young man he played football for the Royal College of Art and in later years he played cricket for his village team at Tongham in Surrey, where he lived for many years with his wife Mary.

They had first met at the Royal College of Art when Mary was a student in the Architecture Department. Of his remaining brothers, Alfred also became a painter, Len a ceramicist (he was also on the Farnham staff), and Ron a housepainter.

Simon Fenwick

Arthur Hackney, artist and teacher: born Stainforth, Yorkshire 13 March 1925; married 1954 Mary Baker (two daughters); died Guildford, Surrey 12 May 2010.

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