Barry Driscoll

Versatile wildlife artist


Barrington Lionel Driscoll, artist: born London 15 December 1926; married 1951 Kiffy Bowerley (one son, one daughter, and one son deceased; marriage dissolved 1979); died London 30 April 2006.

Barry Driscoll established an international reputation as a wildlife artist, highly regarded by his artistic peers and also by naturalists. Starting as an illustrator, he developed as a painter and muralist and later as a sculptor, producing characterful work noted for its anatomical accuracy. His was an unusual success, because it was achieved without recourse to the commercial gallery system.

He was born in Camberwell, London, in 1926, his father a printer on the Daily Express. Young Barry developed a love of nature and birdwatching when the family moved to Shropshire during the Second World War. When he left school, he was conscripted into the Army and served in India, Palestine, Egypt and Northern Ireland before he was able to join St Martin's School of Art in 1948 on an ex-serviceman's grant.

He was fortunate in having a number of fine draughtsmen among his teachers: Archibald Ziegler, James Stroudley, Jehan Daly and Nigel Lambourne. After obtaining his National Diploma in Art and Design, Driscoll achieved a place at the Royal College of Art. Again, he was lucky in his teachers, who included John Nash and Edward Bawden, the poster designer Abram Games and, especially, the writer and critic Basil Taylor, an expert on the great 18th-century horse anatomist and painter George Stubbs.

After graduating, Barry Driscoll set up as a freelance illustrator and it was not long before he established a name for high-quality work. Commonly in brush outline and wash reproduced in half-tone, sometimes with partial colour and spattered texture, it began to find its way into a range of outlets.

The early 1960s saw Driscoll consolidate his reputation with some notable natural history books. These included several by René Guillot, including Mokokambo, the Lost Land, 1961; King of the Cats, 1962; and Mountain with a Secret, 1963. William Swinton's Digging for Dinosaurs, 1962, further proved his versatility. These were soon to be joined by those by two even more notable writers, Henry Williamson and Desmond Morris.

Williamson so liked Driscoll's illustrations that he asked his publisher to use Driscoll to illustrate a new edition of his Tarka the Otter, the Hawthornden Prize-winning book that had first appeared in 1927. Driscoll's illustrations enhanced the 1964 version, to be followed by a new edition of Williamson's 1935 classic, Salar the Salmon.

Driscoll and Williamson became friends, a conjoining of opposites. Although both were individualists who shared a love of the English countryside and nature, the crabby Williamson was famous for his pronounced right-wing views, while the gregarious, humorous Driscoll was a lifelong anarchist-cum-socialist.

Driscoll was already illustrating for the writer and broadcaster Desmond Morris before he became famous for The Naked Ape in 1967. Apes and Monkeys (1964) and The Big Cats (1965) were among the first of many titles completed for Morris.

In 1960, Driscoll had created three big murals for London Zoo, followed a year later by illustrations for a brochure from the World Wildlife Fund. Over several years he wrote and illustrated a column in the Sunday Express. There were also major press campaigns for such industrial giants as the electrical firm GEC. In 1970 Time-Life asked him to make a number of paintings of fauna in Arizona.

In studies of ancient breeds of sheep, Driscoll worked in egg tempera, then oils, and by the early 1980s had developed an interest in sculpture. He knew many sculptors and from them gradually assimilated details of technique. When his friend Germano Facetti, who had revolutionised book-cover design for Penguin Books in the 1960s, was returning to the Pietrasanta area of Italy, Driscoll asked him to inspect local foundries. Facetti discovered the Mariani foundry, which Driscoll was to use for many of his sculptures, the originals of which he chose to create in wax rather than plaster. Others were cast at the Arch Bronze foundry in Putney, west London.

His two-dimensional work was not neglected. British cattle breeds were a particular interest, and the Post Office asked him to illustrate them on some 1990 stamps. A similar series was commissioned by the Irish Post Office.

With so much commissioned work, Driscoll was under less pressure to exhibit than many other artists. He did show with the Society of Wildlife Artists (SWLA), of which he was a member, and with the Phoenix Gallery in Lavenham, Suffolk, although he was not represented by any major commercial gallery. In 2002, he was the principal sculptor in a wildlife show of two- and three-dimensional works which originated at the Accademia Nazionale d'Arte Antica e Moderna in Turin, Italy. It travelled then to Barcelona, in Spain, and finally to the SWLA in England.

David Buckman

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