John Addyman

Painter and ceramic artist
Click to follow
The Independent Online

John Hirst Addyman, artist and teacher: born Wallasey, Cheshire 10 October 1929; married 1953 Madeline Southern (two sons, one daughter, and one daughter deceased); died Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire 20 July 2006.

John Addyman was an artist whose work analysed and recorded the structure of landscape and its context. His favourite medium was watercolour, but he was adept in many other media, notably ceramic. Wales and Suffolk were his particular inspirations.

As long ago as 1957 David Bell in his book The Artist in Wales illustrated the young Addyman's watercolour Rock Scene, Porthcawl, alongside the work of the established painters Kyffin Williams and Kenneth Rowntree - as one of the notable artists who were "using their natural environment as the subject of their art". Addyman had recently left Wales for East Anglia. By the time he returned to live in the principality just over 30 years later he had established a reputation as an influential teacher and prolific artist with many exhibitions in Britain and abroad.

John Addyman was born in 1929 in Wallasey, Cheshire, only child of John "Jack" Addyman, leather merchant, and his Welsh wife Emma. After starting at Wallasey Grammar School in 1939, John was evacuated to North Wales during the Second World War. From 1945 to 1949 he studied at Wallasey School of Art, where the work of the war artists and English graphics were influential.

From 1949, Addyman attended the Royal College of Art. In 1953, the year after he left, he married Madeline Southern, whom he had met on a school bus when he was aged 14. She had also attended Wallasey School of Art and then the Royal College, but a year behind John. Whereas he studied graphic design and illustration, his teachers including John Nash, Edward Bawden and John Minton, she abandoned the college after only two years, having wanted to study fine art instead of textiles, to which she was directed. She became an educationalist.

Addyman's father had set up shop in Port Talbot and John and Madeline lived there while he taught part-time at Swansea School of Art and looked for a permanent post. Addyman said that he

came to life visually in Wales. The impact of the coastal forms of south Wales was immediate and strong. As the activity of Port Talbot had a rough, dynamic quality, so my landscape was set against an industrial background which I think gave it a strength.

He began to be noted for his depictions of the craggy Welsh coastline. One was bought by the Steel Company of Wales; he showed in the Daily Express Young Artists Exhibition.

His teaching breakthrough came in 1955 with a move to Colchester, Essex, joining the staff of the School of Art under John O'Connor. Gradually Addyman familiarised himself with the East Anglian tradition of landscape painting while producing a series of linocuts and woodcut prints of Welsh rock and sea subjects for Robert Erskine's St George's Gallery.

Addyman also began to work in clay, making large ceramic panels again based on Welsh rockscapes. He did not consider himself a potter, and he was "drawing in clay", as he later put it. A highlight of this work occurred in 1962 when, having taken part in an exhibition at the Bluecoat Gallery, Liverpool, of ceramics and designs for architecture, he was commissioned to make a sizeable ceramic panel for BX Plastics, Warrington. This was completed to his wife's designs.

Addyman's Colchester teaching enhanced his career in many ways. He worked with John Nash at Abingdon Summer School and Flatford Mill Centre. In 1958 he had the first of three solo shows at the Minories, Colchester, that lively gallery then presided over by E.M. O'Rorke Dickey, a key figure in appointing Second World War artists.

In 1959 Addyman had work reviewed by the important critic John Russell while showing at the New Art Centre; in 1960 participated in a major show put on by the Contemporary Art Society for Wales, which added his work to its permanent collection; and in 1961 exhibited with Nash, Edward Middleditch and others at the Oxford Union.

Another facet of Addyman's time in Colchester was his involvement in the setting up of the Colchester Jazz Club, soon to celebrate its 50th anniversary. He had been taught piano by a choir mistress in Port Talbot; it had helped sustain him financially when a student and jazz remained a developing life's interest.

A visiting tutor at Colchester was Nigel Henderson, influential in Addyman's developing his rock-form ceramics, among them a large example now held by National Museum of Wales, in Cardiff. Addyman's ceramic work also led to his being invited to join the fine art department of Nottingham College of Art, where he developed a ceramics for architecture courses. One commission, for a panel for the University of Abidjan, came from the Foreign Office, on the recommendation of Nicholas Elam, who had begun to collect Addyman's work while a schoolboy in Colchester. Their association continued and led to exhibitions in South Africa and Canada, to residencies at the British Embassy in Luxembourg and exhibitions there and in Antwerp, between 1994 and 2000.

In 1967, Addyman settled in Sudbury, Suffolk, where he was invited to join the management committee of Gainsborough's House. He was important in the development of its print workshop.

Addyman furthered his teaching career in 1969-70 by joining the art history department at Essex University. He loved teaching, later acting as a visiting lecturer at Nottingham (Trent Polytechnic), at Norwich School of Art and in several secondary schools.

At Essex University he deepened his knowledge of John Constable's work, later finding an outlet in a 1988 Anglia Television programme on the artist. Addyman was also producing some of his best pictures based on the Essex/ Suffolk border, an area which he called "a perfect vehicle for my new ideas on the more formal presentation of content in landscape painting" - many pictures completed in the field, spare and technically adept watercolours with a strong abstract element.

Meanwhile, he kept up his links with Wales, being a prizewinner at the Cardigan Eisteddfod in 1976. Twenty years later he won a prize in the important Singer & Friedlander/Sunday Times Watercolour Competition and in 2000 was a regional prizewinner in the Hunting Art Prizes.

In 1989, Addyman moved to west Wales. With his wife and two grown-up children he took a farm at Bridell which, as well giving him studio space, made possible workshops and events such as the 1989 Proteus exhibition. Drawing on the talent of local through to international artists, this huge multi-media event in the middle of a field embraced on-site work, installation and performance.

When the demands of running the farm and centre became too much and with the children moving on, the Addymans settled in Narberth, Pembrokeshire, a town with an artists' colony. They were founding members of the friends of Queens Hall Gallery there.

Addyman's busy exhibiting schedule in recent years saw a retrospective in 2001 at Chappel Galleries in Essex which is currently hosting a small show of his work. A major Arts Council of Wales exhibition, "Layers of Perception", which has toured from Narberth since 2003, is now at Gainsborough's House, Sudbury.

David Buckman

Comments