Warren Storey: Painter and art educationist
Wednesday 27 August 2008
For more than half a century, the well-crafted paintings of Warren Storey were a regular feature of the Autumn Exhibition at the Royal West of England Academy (RWA), Bristol, where he served as artists' chairman under Mary Fedden during the 1980s and as vice-president during the early 1990s.
Less frequently his work featured in the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy in London. Landscapes, portraits, family scenes and still-lifes made up the bulk of an output that is characterised by firm draughtsmanship, a clear feeling for design and structure, tonal coherence and an impressionistic naturalism.
The son of a shoe retailer, Storey was born in South Shields in 1924. He attended the local school, conveniently situated adjacent to the art school, where his natural graphic facility was nurtured at Saturday-morning life-drawing sessions throughout his adolescence. Aged 17, Storey entered an art school whose Head, the ceramicist Ernest Gill, introduced him to modern architecture and shared an interest in classical music.
Gill encouraged Storey to apply (unsuccessfully) to the Royal College of Art. Despite this setback and the interruption of the Second World War, Storey mastered the now neglected disciplines of anatomy, architectural perspective, life and antique drawing and sciagraphy in a manner that gave strength to his post-war figurative art.
Both during and after war service as an air gunner in the RAF, Storey developed a natural flair for public speaking, delivering a début lecture on Elgar to a ballroom-sized audience at Scarborough in 1944. Thereafter he gave regular and informed art-history talks. The critic Eric Newton had given an inspirational talk on contemporary British neo-romantic art in South Shields in 1943, which Storey later considered had "kicked me off in the direction of wanting to talk to people about painting".
Between 1950 and 1984 Storey was Head of the Weston-super-Mare School of Art. Weston, a slightly run-down seaside resort, is not a natural art colony but it does possess spectacular topographical views across the Bristol Channel to Steep Holm and South Wales, as well as down the north Somerset coast. Such subjects recurred in Storey's art, alongside landscapes of Richmond, North Yorkshire, central France and Cornwall.
Storey bravely kept the Weston art school alive despite inevitable attempts to close it and he formed an exhibiting society, the Acantha Group, comprising former students and local artists such as Hector Norris and Nancy Upshall. He complemented his RWA exhibiting career with local shows, among which was a 1967 solo at the public art gallery in Weston. This included abstract and experimental work characteristic of his steady output between 1958 and 1972. Another solo show followed in Weston at the Winter Gardens in the early 1990s.
The 1960s abstract phase grew from experiments conducted with students into geometric and chromatic harmonies. As a student, Storey had discussed with a tutor, Norman Blamey, the links between art and music that had interested the modernist masters. He was later drawn to the colour and design of the Welsh romantic painter Ceri Richards's "Cathedral Engloutie" series, in which analogies between the visual and auditory were explored.
A series of "Fluttering Form" paintings, loosely based on the Braquian motif of bird movements through space, contained a lyricism and poetic charge that transcended mere mechanical experiment. Other compositions, inspired by mythological figures, among them Poseidon and Mars, explore themes like war, peace and calm.
Storey's instincts were towards solid subject-matter and a craftsmanly figuration. Along with Reggie Dent in Cheltenham, Paul Feiler in Bristol, Clifford Fishwick in Exeter and Alex MacKenzie in Plymouth, Storey was one of the "captains" of art education in the west. He responded with caution to the reforms of art education ushered in by the Coldstream Reports of the early 1960s and to the new Basic Design courses which encouraged experimentation at the expense of the traditional academic approaches preferred by Storey.
This was not surprising, given Storey's admiration from an early stage for Stanley Spencer, whom he met at the Varnishing Day for the 1950 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. This early connection moulded Storey's future development.
The younger man bought a drawing from Spencer and paid homage to the "master of Cookham" in the Spenceresque triptych The Raising of the Son of the Widow of Nain (1951). This large and detailed composition was the outcome of a spell at the Regent Street Polytechnic in London when Storey visited West End galleries on a regular basis, became acquainted with leading art dealers and saw Spencer's celebrated wartime Port Glasgow paintings at Tooths in 1949. In the pivotal year 1950, when Storey left London for his teaching post in Weston, he won second prize for The Barber's Shop at the Ideal Home exhibition in Earls Court.
A family man, Storey continued to paint regularly through his long retirement years. A solo exhibition at the RWA in 1976 featuring recent portraits and landscapes was followed in 1997 by an exhibition at the same gallery of Saxon Round churches in Suffolk. Other travels, to see one of his daughters in France, yielded townscapes of central France.
Warren Storey, painter and teacher: born South Shields, Co Durham 19 August 1924; Head of Weston-super-Mare School of Art 1950-84; Vice-President, Royal West of England Academy 1989-94; married 1947 Lil Evens (five daughters); died St Pardoux, France 6 August 2008.
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