Francis Hewlett: Artist who helped lead the rise of Falmouth College

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The Independent Online

As well as being Head of Painting at Falmouth School of Art from 1958 until 1981, Francis Hewlett will be remembered for his extensive body of work, including portraits, still life, landscapes and large ceramic sculpture.

That the School of Art flourished during his long tenure was no doubt due to his intellect, magnanimity and liberality as well as to the brilliant group of artists who came together with him on the staff, during the formative years of the 1960s.

Hewlett was born and raised inBristol; his childhood was difficult. From an early age he could draw well and this marked him out. At 17 he was awarded a scholarship to the Westof England College of Art in Bristol. There he was greatly encouraged by George Sweet, who ruled the painting department. Hewlett and Sweet had a mutual respect for each other, which developed into an extremely close and warm friendship lasting until Sweet's death in 1997.

During his studies Hewlett wouldattend evening performances at the Bristol Empire Theatre. The Empire was in decline due to the rise of television and cinema and was often half-empty. He drew obsessively in the auditorium, acutely observing the audiences, architecture and performances. It would take more than 40-odd years before the drawings would be turned into successful paintings.

In 1952 Hewlett was awarded a scholarship to the Slade in London. Just after, he won first prize in a promotional competition for the MGM film An American in Paris. This allowed Hewlett a year's study in Paris - the Slade authorities willingly held his place open while he enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. In Paris he drew extensively around the area near Ile Saint-Louis, while the cathedral of Notre Dame replaced the Bristol Empire as his obsession. On his return he continued his studies at the Slade; Claude Rodgers was his tutor, William Coldstream his professor, while among his fellow students were Robert Organ, Phillip Sutton, Euan Uglow, Tom Cross and Michael Andrews. Student days came to an end in 1955 and National Service loomed. As a conscientious objector Hewlett worked in a children's home in Surrey with his wife Liz.

In 1958 Hewlett became Head of Painting at Falmouth while under the Principal, Michael Finn, who had a vision for the school to become a place of serious creativity. With the beginning of the degree structure Hewlett spearheaded new methods of teaching and with Michael Finn introduced the basic design course (later Foundation). Numbers went up, students flourished and Falmouth School of Art became nationally famous.

Hewlett described his own work in the early 1960s as "Thick Pop". In reaction to the Euston Road School he began making larger and larger ceramic sculptures, mainly consisting of large hands, Y-fronts and string vests.

In 1977 Hewlett was appointed by the Welsh Arts Council and University of Wales to the Gregynog Arts Fellowship. Surrounded by the glorious countryside of central Wales he quickly returned to painting landscapes.

At the age of 50 Hewlett was offered early retirement on medical grounds and decided to go. The large top floor of his family home in Falmouth was converted into the ideal artist's studio, and he returned to the Empire Theatre Drawings, the Notre Dame sketches, slowly but surely enlarging them into full-scale paintings.

In this time his family life blossomed and he continued painting until he suffered a stroke in 2009. He was a wild and irrepressible raconteur, possessed of a withering wit and an uncanny skill with mimicry, and the Hewlett family home was frequently filled with the sounds of stomach-aching laughter.

Hewlett had a deep affinity and connection with the intense, piercing beauty of the Cornish countryside, which permeates much of his work. A committed environmentalist and nature lover, in the early 1970s Hewlett founded and for several years led the Falmouth Civic Society, which continues to flourish, and was active in both heritage and environmental conservation. A lifelong pacifist, Hewlett was an active peace campaigner and took part in some of the seminal protests of the 1960s and '70s, including the Aldermaston marches.

For several decades an enthusiastic atheist, and having dabbled briefly with Buddhism, in later years Hewlett found a quiet philosophical home in secular humanism. After a three-year illness he passed away peacefully in Falmouth.

He will be remembered not only for his prolific work, but for his wit,humour and integrity by friends,students and fellow artists. He is survived by Liz, three children and five grandchildren.

Hewlett has work in public collections including the RWA Bristol,Truro Museum, Plymouth, Southhampton, Portsmouth, Bristol University Theatre Collection, Belfast, Duisberg, Aberystwyth and Leicester. His work is in private collections in Britain, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, the US and Australia.

Francis Hewlett, artist and teacher: born Bristol 26 September 1930; married Liz (three children); died 22 February 2012.