Paul Derbyshire

Painter inspired by Hong Kong


Paul Derbyshire, painter and teacher: born Blackburn, Lancashire 30 November 1936; married first 1962 Lorna Tresidder (two sons, one daughter; marriage dissolved), second Sue Mansir (marriage dissolved); died Blackburn 1 January 2007.

Paul Derbyshire came late to painting. Until his retirement from teaching in the 1980s, he had largely worked as a printmaker. He turned by necessity to watercolour, because he then no longer had access to the sophisticated printing equipment he had used throughout his teaching career, nor the space in his home for large oils.

He found, however, that the fluidity of mark-making no longer came naturally to him and his earlier choice of subject - smoky, northern industrial towns - had all but disappeared, and he struggled to find inspiration for his work. He also discovered that, for some exhibitions, he was too old.

And then, in 1994, circumstances chanced to take him to Hong Kong: immediately he found excitement and stimulation from the continual night-and-day bustle of streets, shops, the crowds, the ships in Victoria Harbour loading and unloading out at sea. He abandoned his small holiday sketchbook and went out and bought painting materials and large sheets of paper. By chance, he also discovered a pile of old, abandoned doors, from which he stripped the wood and prepared it for his oils. On the top of the dining-room table on the 13th-floor flat where he was staying, he began to paint the panoramic views over the East Lamma Channel.

Derbyshire was born in Blackburn, Lancashire, in 1936. His father was a lorry driver who would sometimes take his son down to the Liverpool docks, which would later provide inspiration for his work. From 1948 to 1953 he attended Blakey Moor Modern Secondary School for Boys and subsequently Blackburn School of Art, where he gained a National Diploma in Design (NDD).

Before taking up a scholarship to the Royal College of Art he was conscripted into the RAF for two years. It was an experience he enjoyed and never regretted. He found the discipline and self-sufficiency so much to his taste that he was tempted to stay in the services.

Instead, in 1959 he went to the School of Graphic Design at the Royal College to study printmaking. Among his contemporaries was David Hockney (then known as "Dave"), whom Derbyshire helped with his early etchings; Hockney later gave him a print to thank him, but he sold it to help pay for his first divorce.

On graduation in 1962 Derbyshire went to teach at Liverpool College of Art (renamed Liverpool Polytechnic and now John Moores University), where he set up the Creative Printmaking Unit. An immensely hard-working, enthusiastic and sympathetic teacher, he was always on the side of students, who knew they could find refuge in his department. He was also imaginative: he taught perspective - a chore for most students - by getting his class to visualise imaginary villages which they had to find their way into. After 10 years of teaching, he was granted a sabbatical year at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, where he studied comparative art education.

By the late 1980s, Derbyshire was happy to leave behind the politics and in-fighting of a nearly 30-year career. However he found that he missed the company of students and took two part-time teaching posts. Then, after many years away from his own creative work, he bought a small kiln and started dabbling in ceramics and began to paint again.

Although diffident about exhibiting, he found that his work was now regularly accepted by the Singer & Friedlander/Sunday Times Exhibitions, the Discerning Eye and the Royal Watercolour Society's open exhibition, where he won prizes in three consecutive years. This also led to a one-man show with Baker Tilly in Bloomsbury as well as a group exhibition. In 2004, he entered the Patchings Art Centre Exhibition in Northamptonshire for the first time and won the Derwent Award. In the same year Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery held an exhibition of his work and some of his prints appeared in the book Modern and Contemporary Prints by Phoebe Phillips and Tom Robb.

The main intention of Derbyshire's art was to capture the atmosphere and essence of the environment although his vivid, spontaneous pictures have little regard for topographical detail. Aside from the work he did in Hong Kong, where, having made contacts with the local art world, he returned annually, he also painted in Scotland. He and Pat Williams, his partner of 18 years, were intending to move to Kirkcudbright, where he sold his work at the Whitehouse Gallery.

Paul Derbyshire was very tall and thin with fair hair which later turned white (his grandchildren called him "Mr Spaghetti"). As a young man he had loved football, cycling and rock-climbing. He also loved doing up houses: he moved 18 times during his life. Although he was self-effacing, considerate and kind to a fault, his excessive energy could make him difficult and even aggressive - he had to be prevented from wading into arguments - and his death was caused by hypertension.

Simon Fenwick

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