Obituaries: Neville Boden

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The Independent Online
The forms that the sculptor Neville Boden liked to place in his art resembled, often, a controlled ripple. Quentin Bell, writing an introduction to his one-person show at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1973, remarked: "It is as though Mr Boden were celebrating the union of a piece of sheet metal and a lily." To work for Boden, the raw material had to be capable of making a curved plane, edges kept crisp and surfaces smooth. Frequently the cut and cast forms were repeated, or striated with colour used to control the space and to contradict the priorities of scale.

Although Boden overlapped with the New Generation celebrated in the Sixties (and remembered for artists like Phillip King, Tim Scott and William Tucker), he identified more easily with the eccentricity and lighter touch of his teacher George Fullard. The aluminium work the Tate Gallery bought in 1970, Blow in Her Ear, was inspired by the wing-shape of an Assyrian relief which then travelled through the sensuality of feminine form. Its graceful lines re-emerged in clusters of arcs and waves in the hand-held reflective objects and jewellery Boden made in recent years.

Skill with welding and soldering was acquired during his apprenticeship as a boilermaker in Zimbabwe. When he left Africa at the age of 28, his employer at African Explosives and Chemical Industries Ltd recommended him as a "first-class craftsman" who also possessed outstanding qualities of leadership and determination. Three months later, in September 1958, he enrolled as a sculpture student at Chelsea. Boden's art began taking on a clarity and spatial focus which was well established by the time he finished the Gregory Fellowship in Leeds in 1968.

Unusually, in Neville Boden's case personal ambition was compatible with his admiration for the art of others which was insistently diverse, and often took the form of purchasing work (sometimes in combination with his equally discerning wife Zuleika Dobson) and championing reputations utterly unlike his own, from Mary Martin to Dennis Creffield. Indeed in the mid-Sixties Boden was identified as the owner of the "erotic" picture Lovers and Romances by Stass Parakos shown at Leeds City Art Gallery which provoked a celebrated court case in the North.

In the Seventies Boden took up a teaching career. He spent 15 years at the London College of Printing as Principal Lecturer in Media Studies and then another eight (until May this year), supposedly in retirement, at Chelsea, Camden School of Art, and finally Central St Martins and Kingston. These last assignments were in the pre-foundation portfolio preparation course where his shrewd and gentle encouragement were in particular demand. Artists, amongst them his sons, benefited from his confidence in their powers of creativity just as they cringed when he vociferously brought the range of his reading and museum-visiting into arguments.

During his term as President of the London Group, from 1973 to 1978, Neville Boden's professional championing was a special advantage when asking members - such as the painters John Bellany and Bert Irvin - to deliver their best works for the annual show (several of his own make up a special display in the current exhibition at Central St Martins on Southampton Row).

Towards the end of the Seventies Boden bought a small house in Andalusia, in a village called La Indiana on the plain below Ronda. He had been introduced to the area by the artists Harry and Alma Thubron and himself contributed to the tradition of British artists working in the area, from Bomberg to the present. Drawings, large-scale and on prepared blue grounds, of the mountainous surroundings were exhibited in 1981 in a gallery in Ronda's Plaza de Toros, the opening attended by Neville Boden's Spanish neighbours, with whom he communicated as much by the warmth of his formidable presence as by his never-quite-mastered Spanish.

Neville Colin Boden, artist and teacher: born Albert Town, South Africa 19 December 1929; married 1959 Helen McMurtrie (died 1972; two sons), 1974 Zuleika Dobson; died London 24 June 1996.

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