Richard Vicary

Printmaker and painter


Richard Henry Vicary, artist and teacher: born Sutton, Surrey, 8 July 1918; married first Jean Bickford (died 1961; two sons); second 1964 Deirdre Creagan (one son, one daughter); died Shrewsbury 8 August 2006.

The artist Richard Vicary's preferred medium was lithography, an art form invented in Munich in 1798 when Aloys Senefelder discovered how to print from the flat surface of stone (lithography means "drawing on stone"). Exploiting the fact that water and grease repel one another, it was the first entirely new development in printing since the 15th century, although the printing surface is now more often a metal plate such as aluminium or zinc.

The process has been adapted considerably during the course of its history until, in the 20th century, lithography replaced most other processes for printing on paper. Traditionally in art lithography was used primarily for the landscapes which were Vicary's most characteristic subject matter. Printing on a lithographic press is particularly complicated - and Vicary had a great zest for mechanical devices, the more improbable the better. He also wrote two books: The Thames and Hudson Manual of Lithography (1976) and The Thames and Hudson Advanced Manual of Lithography (1977).

Vicary's art was strongly influenced by the Neo-Romantic painters and printmakers of the wartime and immediate post-war years, when artists such as Graham Sutherland, Ceri Richards, John Piper, John Craxton and John Minton were at the height of their reputations. His own artistic preference was for landscapes that showed evidence of man's activity, such as quarries and industry. He never depicted his motifs in a topographical manner but he noted the "air of unreality" within his work: perspectives are foreshortened, images are out of all proportion to reality and in improbable conjunction to one another, colours are strong and bold and "unnatural". Despite living 80 miles from the sea, he was attracted by working ships.

Vicary was born in Sutton in Surrey in 1918. His father was a Methodist minister and a member of the Pen Club who wrote pot-boilers under the name Simon Jesty. (His 1935 novel River Niger had an introduction by T.E. Lawrence.) His rather fiery mother was a suffragette. An elder brother was killed in action during the Second World War.

Richard Vicary attended the Judd School in Tonbridge in Kent until his father, no doubt thinking his son needed a safe career, found him a position in a bank. This proved to be a disaster and before long he was sacked. The headmaster of his school suggested instead that Vicary's evident artistic talent for making architectural drawings should be allowed to flourish, and so in 1935 he was sent to study at Tunbridge Wells School of Art. The following year, he went to the Medway School of Art in Maidstone, where he stayed until the outbreak of war in 1939.

As a conscript in the Royal West Kent Regiment, Vicary helped set up smoke-screens over the Thames during the Blitz; later he worked in radar in North Wales. At the end of the war, believing it too late to take up the place he had been offered at London University, he instead attended Brighton School of Art and the Kodak Photographic School. Subsequently he taught at the Tiffin School at Kingston upon Thames and, from 1948 to 1950, part-time at Epsom and Ewell School of Art. The greater part of Vicary's career was spent as Head of Graphics and Printmaking at Shrewsbury School of Art until, in 1972, he retired on account of ill-health. Subsequently he conducted summer schools at Henllan Mill near Welshpool.

All the while, Vicary continued with his own work - although he was the most modest of men and had to be persuaded to exhibit. After various wartime exhibitions he showed in the 1950s with the Artists International Association in Whitechapel. He also exhibited at the Oriel Gallery, Newtown, the Gateway Gallery in Shrewsbury and the Bohun Gallery in Henley-on-Thames and had solo exhibitions in Birmingham, Lancaster, Shrewsbury and Leningrad. In 1974 Vicary was elected to the Royal Society of Painter- Etchers and Engravers and to the Royal West of England Academy in 1989. His bright, optimistic work was bought by a number of education authorities, Bath University, St Thomas's Hospital and many private collectors.

Aside from his printmaking Vicary painted in watercolour and pastel. He produced poster poems for West Midland Arts and the Housman Society, as well as linocut illustrations for the children's book The Ivy Garland (1982).

After the death of his first wife, Jean, from cancer in 1961, Vicary married again, to Deirdre Creagan, and bought a smallholding with several acres of land near Shrewsbury, where he lived for the rest of his life. An old cowshed was converted into a studio - albeit one invariably in a state of chaos - and here he installed a couple of printing presses. The first, from Ellesmere College, he dismantled and brought home on a tractor and trailer; the second, from Shrewsbury College of Art, was the one he himself had bought when he had been head of printmaking. Ever resourceful, when the family washing machine came to the end of its working life, Vicary took it apart and turned it into a Heath Robinson-like contraption of a water barrel which directed water down on to his lithographic press.

Forever on the side of life's casualties and the dispossessed, Vicary collected both stray dogs and stray people. His conversion to become a Jehovah's Witness about 20 years ago was typical: they were, in his eyes, another persecuted minority and therefore worthy of support.

Staunchly left-wing in his principles, Vicary taught himself Russian and would take his family to Russia on holiday. A one-man exhibition at the Mukhina Gallery in St Petersburg in 1991 came about after a long correspondence with Vladimir Shistko, an "Honoured Artist of the Russian Federation" and Head of Design and Graphics at the Academy of Industrial Art in Leningrad.

Simon Fenwick

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