Norman Neasom: Artist and inspirational teacher whose work was rooted in the English landscape
Friday 07 May 2010
The artist Norman Neasom was born near Redditch in Worcestershire and spent nearly all his life in the area. He drew and painted deeply-observed landscapes of England and Wales together with figures and animals in their environment. What mattered, he said, was what he felt about a subject and had the urge to express: every leaf on a picture must be felt. "If I don't feel I don't do,", he said. At heart he was an illustrator and he liked looking at the amusing side of life: "If that comes through to the viewer then I am happy." Neasom's was a benign, pastoral vision in a deeply English tradition.
Norman Neasom was born in 1915 and grew up on Birchale Farm on the outskirts of Redditch. His father and an uncle leased adjoining farms, employing 18 men between them. The farm-house dated from the 1700s, its half-timbered barn constructed with timbers which had come from Bordsley Abbey after its dissolution. His first memory dated to October 1917 during the First World War: one night he was carried into his parent's bedroom to see the searchlights over Birmingham through the lattice windows of the farmhouse as a German Zeppelin tried to bomb the Austin motor works.
From a very early age he loved to draw on any scraps of paper he could find – it was a habit he continued all his life. After leaving Redditch County High School in 1931 at the age of 16, with the encouragement of his father he gained a place at the Birmingham College of Arts and Crafts. Here he studied under Bernard Fleetwood Walker, Harold Holden, Henry Sands, Michael Fletcher and William Colley. They were all professional artists and Neasom always regarded them as having provided an excellent foundation for his own career.
During the Second World War Neasom worked on the family farm – farming was a reserved occupation. He was also with St John's Ambulance and did Civil Defence duty at night. Once again the farm lay on the flight path for Birmingham; one night a German bomber dropped a full load of incendiary bombs across their land up to the walls of the outbuildings. The whole farm was bathed in white light and there were shells scattered across the fields.
Neasom worked briefly in London as an illustrator for magazines such as Punch but on the day the war ended he received a letter from Birmingham inviting him back to join the teaching staff of his former college. Discovering that his students worked better if he inspired them with a theme, he took groups of student artists to locations throughout the city such as Elmdon Aerodrome, the Gas Street Basin and Ansells Brewery in Aston. He believed it helped give the young artists, who were often ex-servicemen, a purpose to draw.
He stayed at Birmingham for eight years until in 1953 he moved to a teaching post at Redditch School of Art. Subsequently he became head of department where he remained until his retirement in 1979.
Neasom's own pictures – he worked primarily in watercolour – were based entirely on observational drawings and written notes, and he created from sketchbooks scenes that had captured his imagination using characters he had perhaps seen in a local pub or supermarket. Through drawing, he said, one learns so much: form, colour, light and shade and composition. A sensitivity to these qualities is evident in his work.
After his retirement he did a large amount of book illustration as well as historical map and broadsheet drawing. His work is in the permanent collections of Her Majesty the Queen, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Royal Watercolour Society, Royal Birmingham Society of Artists and the West Midlands Arts Council. It was also was bought by many enthusiastic private collectors. In 1947 Neasom was elected to the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists and in 1978 to the Royal Watercolour Society. He was also an Honorary Member of the Stratford on Avon Art Society.
A man of great personal kindness and courtesy, he remained essentially a countryman (although he also loved sailing and founded the Redditch Sailing Club). The farm where he was brought up however is no longer a working farm and the land has been developed into housing estates. After years of neglect the farmhouse and barn, which are listed buildings, are now used as a local community centre.
Neasom's wife, Jessie, predeceased him. They had met during the war "through a haze of burning toast" when she was still only 15 and working in a Civil Defence canteen.
Norman Neasom, artist and illustrator, born Brockhill Lane near Redditch, Worcestershire, 7 November 1915; married 1948 Jessie Davis (died 1995; two daughters); died Redditch 22 February 2010.
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