Obituary: Bryan Ingham
Tuesday 30 September 1997
Bryan Ingham was happy to let his work speak for itself. In common with most artists, he thrived on a response, but dismissed those who passed judgement without taking the time to look. His business, he wrote vividly in 1991, was "To beg, borrow, consolidate and synthesise, to add, even, to the classical tradition of harmony and contained chance".
Ingham's detractors have said that his work could never have been made without the developments pioneered by Cubism. Certainly he looked at Juan Gris and Braque, but Paolo Uccello and Giorgio Morandi held equal place among his favoured artists. The appropriation of forms that were his syntax, the still life, the interior, the female figure, and their synthesis, belong rather to newer, postmodern developments which unashamedly seek to revitalise the past in order to make art for the contemporary world.
Ingham's integrity centred around his refusal to be sidetracked on to a more populist path. As he said in his last days, "No regrets". The discipline, patience and iron will of the man were simply awesome. If one ever asked, after viewing new, surprising pictures, how he did it, he would pause, stare out of the window and reply in his Yorkshire tones, "Sheer, bloody hard work."
Bryan Ingham was an only child of parents who both worked in the clothing trade. His formative years were spent initially in Totley, a suburb of Sheffield, then the cobbled streets of the textile towns near Bradford. Following a trial for Yorkshire at the age of 14, he left grammar school at 151/2 with two O levels - English Language and Geography - and went into the family profession, working for two years in the tailoring department of a large Sheffield store.
His father, on asking Bryan what he was going to do (hoping he was going to become a commercial buyer like himself), was initially delighted with his son's reply: "No, no, father, I've decided I want to become a painter." This had always been his own unfulfilled ambition. But Bryan said his father had misunderstood him: he meant an artist. His father's face fell, but without pursuing the matter he offered to support him.
Following three years of National Service in the RAF, from 1954 to 1957, Ingham went to St Martin's School of Art in London. There, under teachers he much admired, he was taught to draw and to study architecture and wood engraving. He recalled Vivian Pitchforth, Archibald Ziegler and Clifford Webb with particular fondness. His precocious technique was noticed by Carel Weight, who was instrumental in easing his path into the Royal College of Art, where he studied from 1961 to 1964, having been voted Royal Scholar in 1962.
He found the politics at the Royal College hard to cope with, and didn't receive the degree his quality of work deserved. He was able however immediately to fund his practice as an artist with the several offers of teaching posts and the major commission which followed.
My first meeting with Ingham, in 1984, was in response to a handwritten invitation to a friend's home in Paddington one evening to see a selection of his latest etchings and collages over a gin and tonic. Ingham produced from a battered, well-travelled, brown suitcase a collection of pictures, which he lovingly arranged - collages on the mantelpiece, etchings laid flat on a low wooden table. I was struck by the quiet, precise way in which he commented about the images and the process of their discovery and refinement that was his life's journey. He gave a few essential pointers and then you were on your own.
On a visit to Cornwall three years later I arranged to go and visit him in Jollytown. The rendezvous point was a stretch of gravel outside a forbidding Ministry of Defence barbed-wire fence, containing a vast run-down airfield with burnt-out Hawker Hurricanes and a maze of derelict runways stretching over the horizon. Ingham appeared, sporting an old-fashioned motorcycle hat, goggles, leather boots - shades of Ralph Richardson, without the sidecar. Without Ingham there was no chance of discovering the small stone house with no electricity, a well and flourishing vegetable garden, completely isolated, overlooking Kynance Cove and the Lizard. In this bleak landscape he chose to live and work for 25 years.
At that time he liked to spend April to October in Jollytown and, when the cold became too intense for even his stoical nature, he moved studios to Worpswede in northern Germany, famous in the past as an artist's colony. He lived at Findorffstrasse 16 in the centre of the village. There he began work during the winter months on new suites of etchings and several paintings. Inspiration developed slowly, crystallising into forms and ideas developed in Jollytown - one landscape feeding another. He collected materials for his collages, which would accompany him in a large case back to England. The end of his stay was marked with a studio show.
When discussing plans for a future exhibition in 1989 he invited me to Germany. This was no ordinary studio visit. He planned the weekend with himself and Aysel Ozakin, a Turkish writer and poet who later became his wife, down to the smallest detail. Concentrated sessions in the studio were interspersed with visits to his favourite hostelries, Hemberg and Neu Helgoland, where he acted mein Host and greeted everyone. The highlight was Sunday lunch at a woodland restaurant where he insisted that the rosti was the best you could ever taste. He should know: he was a wonderfully inventive cook and his exact presentation of food certainly had a parallel in his painting.
From when he left the Royal College he had shunned the competitiveness of the art world, preferring in the early days to teach periodically at Farnham and later on to hold court in his studio to a discerning handful of loyal collectors. Only in the late 1980s did he appreciate that his paintings and, latterly, his sculptures should be seen by a wider public. The growing band of collectors who supported him at this time enabled him to explore new landscapes, spending long periods in Barcelona, Tuscany, Berlin, Paris and Malta. A sense of place was always central to any understanding of Ingham's art.
When one crosses Brunel's Tamar Bridge it is sad that Bryan Ingham will not be waiting, pint of "Spingo" (the local rocket fuel) in hand at the bar of the Blue Anchor in Helston, ready to discuss England's latest cricket selection policy. His brave fight against cancer in the last year of his life did not prevent his enjoyment of the simple things in life, but it did forestall a creative force before his time.
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