Joanna Carrington

Versatile painter with a distinctive style

Joanna Carrington, painter: born 6 November 1931; twice married (one daughter); died Poitiers, France 13 November 2003.

Joanna Carrington was one of the most talented and versatile artists of her generation, producing paintings with both strength and sensitivity, ranging from stark Spanish landscapes to warm English interiors, which always conveyed her own originality.

She came from a Bloomsbury background: her father Noel Carrington was a publisher who worked closely with Allen Lane at Penguin, for whom he created the elegant Puffin Books. Her aunt was Dora Carrington, the now-famous painter who committed suicide after her beloved Lytton Strachey died.

But Joanna never met her aunt, and she was determined to escape from the Bloomsbury tradition, to create her own style. She studied in Suffolk under Cedric Morris, who thought he had never had a student who showed so much promise; and later in Paris under Fernand Léger who insisted on bold drawing and tight composition, but only praised work which resembled his own.

She went on to the Central School in London where her teachers, including Keith Vaughan, Mervyn Peake and Louis le Brocquy, encouraged personal expression; and gained a Queen's scholarship which led to her first exhibitions, including "Six Young Contemporaries" at the ICA. She married Mick Pilcher, a designer, and went with him to live in Nigeria where she painted little. But after a divorce she lived in Notting Hill where she found a studio and painted with great energy. In 1962 Joanna Carrington held her first one-person show at the new Establishment Club in Soho - where Frankie Howerd was performing downstairs.

She taught at the Hornsey and Byam Shaw schools, and the Regent Street Polytechnic, while establishing her own distinctive style, and her own following. In 1966 she was married again, to Christopher Mason, himself an original film-maker and painter who brought unswerving support and enthusiasm to her work, and served as her impresario.

She held several exhibitions - some jointly with Christopher - and wrote a book Landscape Painting for Beginners (1971). She relaxed from her serious paintings by producing naïve pictures incognito under the name Reginald Pepper: they were exhibited at the Portal Gallery in the Seventies which was unaware of their real provenance: but even after Joanna Carrington was exposed her Peppers still sold well.

In the Eighties Joanna and Christopher spent much of their time in France, where they eventually settled in St Savin in central France. They inspired each other's painting, made their own gallery space and created their own confident artistic world, self-sufficient but warmly hospitable.

They returned to England only occasionally, to see friends and attend their exhibitions, regularly at the Thackeray gallery in Kensington, London. Later they moved to an old mill in France which they lovingly restored, where Joanna spent her last year fighting with cancer which eventually defeated her.

Anthony Sampson

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