Obituary: Larry Wakefield

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Larry Wakefield attracted widespread media attention two years ago when, following a campaign by women members of its staff, the social sciences faculty at Southampton University decided that three of his paintings that had been on loan to the university for 12 years, one depicting Adam and Eve, the other two female nudes, should be taken down and removed. "The paintings were not appropriate for a teaching room in the context of decor," said a spokesman.

Wakefield's calm defence of his work contrasted with the hysteria of his detractors, and his critics were effectively silenced through a powerful campaign led by the Independent.

Larry Wakefield's work first gained recognition in Germany and France, where the figurative/abstract combinations and expressionist character of his large canvases won acclaim. Acknowledgement was slower to grow at home. But serious collectors did fall in love with his work and buy his pictures, while many of those who came to meet him became friends, captivated by his humour, sharp wit and, above all, by his irrepressible energy. He continued to paint with unstinting verve until very shortly before his death.

Wakefield was born in Cheltenham in 1925 and educated at Pates Grammar School in the town and Cheltenham College of Art before being commissioned into the Devonshire Regiment in 1944.

At the end of the Second World War, still (to his enduring amusement) an infantry officer, he stayed on in Germany, where the sight of bombed cities, the destruction and devastation made a lasting impression upon him. His studies at Gottingen University completed his immersion in German culture: Expressionism, Bauhaus and ideas about the enhancement of the environment were to exert a deep influence on the future course of his work.

When he returned to England he married and committed himself to the rebuilding of English towns, working in architecture and planning. Before going into the Army he had been articled to the Town Architect in Gloucester; he first returned there, then worked in town and country planning in Shropshire, and in Bristol, before in 1956 he was appointed by Leon Berger to the City Architect's department in Southampton. He remained there for 10 years, and in 1965 worked with Sir Basil Spence on the new Southampton University campus.

He was still painting and exhibiting. In 1966, the year he had his first solo London show, at the Woodstock Gallery, he was appointed by Southampton Institute as a lecturer and studio master. He remained at the institute for 20 years, teaching painting, design and aesthetics, as well as lecturing widely in Europe, his final position being, for two years from 1984, as Deputy Head of Fine Art.

During this time he worked on prize-winning environmental art schemes in Germany, and established a strong base in Munich. His concern for the role of the artist in the urban environment he had further explored through an MA thesis at Manchester University in 1974-75. First-hand experience of the decay and regrowth of the northern industrial city provided the inspiration for a decade of work.

Travels in Greece and Ireland revived Wakefield's boyhood love of wild landscapes and his painting and image-making went from strength to strength. The real flowering of his work in the last five years of his life reveals a confident celebration of life, the joy of paint and painting, and the beauty of the inter-relationship of music, imagery and words. He concentrated on painting, drawing, print-making, writing poetry and making performance pieces in collaboration with the composers Jonathan Harvey and Ric Graebner.

In 1995, hearing of the plight of fellow artists in the former Yugoslavia who were without materials, he collected a large quantity of paints, brushes and canvases. Where the inter- national community had failed to get food through the Bosnian Serb-controlled area Larry Wakefield had managed, through his contacts, single-handedly, to reawaken the intellectual artistic life within the Bihac pocket.

His last canvases hold the subject matter, the representational quality, in a delicate balance and tension with his love of shape, texture and colour. They show a culmination of the vision which he examined and developed through his life, which he made very much his own.

Larry Wakefield had a solo exhibition in Paris at Galerie Entremonde in 1974, exhibitions in Munich at Galerie Goltz in 1978 and Galerie Betz in 1989, in Copenhagen at Galleri Jedig in 1985 and 1986, and in London at Art Space Gallery in 1986 and 1988. Last year he had another solo exhibition in Paris, at Espace Aragon, Longjumeau. He had a major retrospective at Southampton City Art Gallery in 1979; a post-1979 retrospective at the Millais Gallery, Southampton Institute, runs until 23 August.

Bill Foxton

Hilary Edward Lawrence Wakefield, painter: born Cheltenham, Gloucestershire 9 November 1925; married 1950 Velma Reef (three daughters); died Southampton 31 July 1997.

Comments