Obituary: Edmund Caswell

Edmund Caswell settled on his profession via a quite unexpected route. It was not until the age of 38 that he committed himself to becoming a painter.

He was born in 1938 in Bangalore to a military civil service family, "returning" to England when he was seven. He eventually gained a scholarship to study at the Coventry School of Art. However his focus shifted and he took a degree in husbandry and manure. He earned a living in a variety of ways; farming, shoemaking, a six-year period in the Royal Artillery near horses which he loved, scene-painting, building, decorating and as an illustrator. He studied part time at the Heatherly and Sir John Cass schools of art and eventually, in 1978, gained a place in the fine art department of Hornsey School of Art, at the then Middlesex Polytechnic.

It was abundantly apparent that Caswell did not fit into any category that such a department might expect. He used the place as his own - as indeed all people studying should, it was just that his manner was particularly vigorous. He came to learn to draw and paint in order to fulfil his driving ambition to meet adequately the poetic imagery teeming in his mind. He paid no attention whatsoever to the fashions of the art world that are reflected in art schools. He had his vision; he let others search around for theirs. He was a weaver of legends and tales and he set about doing this in drawing, painting, print- making and even film.

This was a time when the course had first become involved with work in the community - in schools and hospitals - and when students of fine art could step out of their academic isolation and into the world of people, hoping to share experience through art. In his first year at Hornsey, Caswell took up an opportunity in a local hospital, in the geriatric ward of Colindale Hospital, Middlesex. The result was sensational, both in human and artistic terms. Through the carnival mural that he created Caswell discovered his metier: to give pictorial articulation to poetry and story.

It was therefore not difficult to realise that Caswell was the person to take up the challenge of a mural for the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children when the hospital contacted Hornsey. Caswell knew Great Ormond Street's connection with J.M. Barrie's book Peter Pan, and this became the theme for the mural.

He commandeered studio screens to set up paper for a full-size cartoon of the 72ft by 8ft project. His manner of proceeding was not entirely popular but the drawing showed a spectacular command of theme, idea and draughtsmanship. He gained the commission and set to work on site.

It took eight years to complete, plus a further six weeks seven years later. He worked on it largely from 8pm to 8am to keep out of the way of hospital "traffic". His sheer talent, energy and determination produced a stupendous work. It was unveiled by Lady Callaghan of Cardiff in December 1988 to celebrate the passing of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Bill that gave the royalties from Peter Pan to the hospital for ever.

In 1992 he created a series of paintings depicting the scenes that inspired the music of "Pictures at an Exhibition" by Mussorsgsky. The pianist Norman Beedie had invited him to produce these paintings originally with the aim of using them in an animation video, but the whole scheme was eventually performed in 1993 in a multimedia environment at the Bonar Hall at Dundee University with images projected from Caswell's work on to screens while Professor Beedie played the piano, alongside a specially choreographed dance performance.

Recently Caswell was commissioned to paint an interpretation of Robert Burns's "Tam O' Shanter", and in January this year Phil Gallie, the MP for Ayr, hosted an exhibition of images of Tam O' Shanter at the Houses of Parliament, which included Caswell's work. The painting he was working on at the time of his death was of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene in the Garden of Gethsemane, commissioned for the Church of St Mary Magdalene, Dundee.

Caswell was not a comfortable person. He held views emphatically, even dogmatically. He was more than a little self-willed. However his immense heart and loving nature made him an adorable person. He was what is known as "a character" but with real depth of character. He needed the great support of his wife Henny King to help him sail through the stormy oceans of his moods.

Edmund Caswell, artist: born Bangalore 12 August 1938; married 1986 Henny King; died 1 December 1996.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment & HR Administrator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Business Partner

£55 - 65k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: A HR Manager / HR Business Partner i...

Recruitment Genius: Senior HR Assistant

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company's vision is to be t...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'