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Paul Rudall: Artist whose work mixed abstract and figurative forms


Paul Rudall was one of Britain's most respected post-war artists; an obsessive painter, he continued his work every day of his 32-year "retirement".

Like that of his life-long influences, Picasso and Braque, Rudall's work spanned a wide range of colours, tonal contrasts and media; he most often worked on board or paper in oils, but often in distinctive combination with meticulous pen and ink. His pictures represent a mixture of figurative and non-figurative images, including highly abstracted female forms and still lifes. Reserved yet opinionated, he was reluctant to explain, or even title, his work, but once confided that it "is produced by instinct, deliberately devoid of subject matter – I need it to express feeling by purely visual means".

Paul Charles Rudall was born in Kensington, London in 1921 and educated at Regent Street Polytechnic. His earliest employment was as a layout artist in an advertising agency in Charing Cross, where he often delivered his own work to the customers, later noting that he fulfilled every role in the agency except writing copy. At the same time he studied part-time at St Martin's School of Art. Fashionably but thoughtfully left wing, he was a member of the anti-fascist Artists' International Association alongside founders Cliff Rowe and Misha Black, and often contributed to their collective exhibitions. Bombed out of Kensington during the Second World War, his family moved to Swindon, where he joined the Swindon Contemporary Art Group, which included experimentalists such as Desmond Morris, John Eyles and Mervyn Levy.

Rudall was drafted into the wartime services in 1941 and achieved the distinction of being frequently "posted" not only between different stations but also between different services. His artistic talents were exploited with the requirement that he whitewash the stones marking the boundary of at least one aerodrome, while a scout badge in semaphore led to his becoming involved in the development of radar.

His avowed atheism meant that he was obliged to peel vast vats of potatoes while his more circumspect fellow servicemen were attending Sunday services. He was invalided out in 1944 after contracting tuberculosis, and entertained the sanatorium nurses with his skills in rapid draughtsmanship.

After the war he was accepted as a student at Bath Academy of Art which, following the demolition of much of the city by the Luftwaffe, had re-opened in 1946 at new premises in the Jacobean manor house at Corsham Court under the leadership of Clifford and Rosemary Ellis. Considered by many to be the foremost art academy of its day, Corsham boasted an impressive list of tutors, including William Scott and Kenneth Armitage.

Combined with an influx of talented students, many of them ex-forces, and an ethos of free expression, the early post-war Corsham provided a mix of contemporary cultural development that greatly stimulated Rudall. Moreover, his arrival in 1947 coincided with that of fellow student Rosemary Williams, whom he married in 1951; their ensuing honeymoon consisted of a tour of southern England by tandem.

After graduating, Rudall was employed as head of art at Chiswick grammar school and subsequently as head of art at Dudley Grammar School, where he worked for many years and is still remembered fondly by a remarkable percentage of his former students; he was artistic father to Garry Barker – and thereby artistic grandfather to Damien Hirst. During his long sojourn in the West Midlands he lectured extensively on art history at many different venues, both for Birmingham University extra-mural department and the Workers Educational Association, again to long-remembered acclaim. He exhibited at several galleries, primarily in Birmingham and the Black Country. His strong sense of design led to frequent requests to illustrate books, and to a commissioned mural at Birdcage Walk shopping centre in Dudley.

Following early retirement from teaching in 1980, Paul and Rosemary moved south to the artist's mecca of Bath. Although he worked in exceptionally cramped conditions, Paul continued to paint tirelessly for the next three decades, exhibiting in galleries in Bath, St Ives, Much Wenlock, London and Germany. His artistic journey remained primarily one of self-exploration, reflecting his belief that "works of art – whatever styles, medium or period – are, in effect, self-portraits making inescapable expressions of the artist's personality."

Retaining his deep interest in art history, he rarely missed visiting important exhibitions in London. He was also better able to explore his knowledgeable enthusiasm for music, which began in his youth when he received violin training from Gustav Holst's brother. Although his greatest enthusiasm was reserved for jazz, his characteristic eclecticism stretched as far as the politicised poetry of the Doors.

Paul Rudall, artist: born London 6 February 1921; married 1951 Rosemary Williams (three daughters); died 10 February 2012.