John Wright

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The Independent Online

John Wright, painter, printmaker and teacher: born Doncaster, Yorkshire 23 December 1927; married 1955 Jose Young (one daughter); died Leicester 4 April 2001.

When John Wright announced that he was retiring at the age of 56 from his post as Senior Lecturer in the School of Fine Art at Leicester Polytechnic, his students told him that they were getting up a petition to ensure his stay. He had to inform them that his departure from the school after nearly 30 years of teaching was entirely voluntary, and not, as they assumed, because he had been forced out on account of cuts or internal politics. He simply wanted to devote the rest of his life to drawing, painting and print-making.

Wright was born, the second of three sons, in Doncaster in 1927. There were two occupations in the Doncaster of his youth, railways and mining, and Wright's father was a railwayman. His family lived near the race course, the home of the St Leger, where Wright spent a lot of his youth sketching ­ later he made a print of Prince Raf Monalulu, the feather-bedecked racing tipster and a well-known figure of the national racing scene.

After attending Doncaster School of Art during the Second World War and a period of National Service, Wright went to the Royal College of Art, in the School of Engraving. His career thereafter was in education, at secondary schools in Doncaster and Birmingham and then at Leicester Polytechnic.

In 1955 Wright married Jose Young, whose father was also a railwayman. They met when she was designing costumes for a ballet drama and he was asked to design the sets and scenery. They lived together in the unspoilt village of Kibworth Harcourt near Market Harborough in Leicestershire.

For some years Wright was also employed as an artist by the Leicestershire police, work for which he required a strong stomach. Usually he was required to attend police stations in the county but sometimes, if secrecy was necessary, witnesses were brought to his home where they might be persuaded to give their evidence. On these occasions even his wife was obliged to leave the house but when she returned it was always full of cigarette smoke.

In his retirement Wright worked ceaselessly at his art, whether painting in oil or watercolour, or making prints ­ his greatest love ­ for which he kept a couple of presses. He said that he painted the things he liked ­ which were mainly landscapes and portraits but might equally include a pen of pigs in a farmyard: he believed that an artist should bear witness to his time, for such scenes might soon pass into history and be lost for ever.

A Fellow of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers and a member of the Leicester Society of Artists, Wright saw his work go to many public collections. Once a piece was finished, Wright was usually willing to let it go quite cheaply, content in the knowledge that his work would be giving continued pleasure to others.

A good-looking man of medium height and build, John Wright had a gentle, considerate and unassuming nature; he put his own interests last. In his work, on the other hand, he remained strongly determined. Such was his enthusiasm that, having suffered acutely from arthritis for many years, he had both knees replaced during the same stay in hospital because, he said, he could not spare the time to go to hospital twice.

He remained very active until his death at the age of 73, which occurred shortly after he discovered that he had cancer. His remaining works are to be sold for cancer research.

Simon Fenwick

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