Obituary: Philip Graham

Philip Graham had, as a curator and gallery director, the ability to combine a talent for spotting young and promising artists with an academic know-ledge of modern and 19th- century art.

This made him, like his late partner, Stephen Boyd, one of those rare creatures in the London art world - someone who was prepared to stand up for what he believed to be worthwhile and important, even if at times this brought the pair of them to the edge of penury. Graham's death at the age of 49 deprives the London art world of an insightful and often courageous curator.

Art was not Graham's first career choice, though it had always had an interest for him. He was born in Derby, but his family emigrated to South Africa in 1948. After school, Graham's fine voice and theatrical ambitions pointed him in the direction of a career as an actor and singer, and he entered the drama department of the University of Cape Town. Following graduation he decided that there were more likely to be opportunities for a young actor-singer in England, and he returned to London.

Modest parts as a singer and dancer came his way, but, after he met his lifelong partner Stephen Boyd, Graham's career took off in a new direction, when they started dealing in antiques. The two men, similar in age, were an almost perfect couple, Stephen small in stature, wiry, resilient and imaginative, Philip taller, equally slight, but with an astute understanding of the workings of the business side of the art market.

Eventually they moved out of London in the late 1970s, opening St Judes, a shop in Somerset specialising in ceramics with theatrical connections. In a relatively short period they built up one of the strongest collections in the country and later they extended their interests to 18th- and early 19th-century pottery and porcelain, again establishing a national reputation for high-quality work accurately attributed.

Confident of the market, in the mid-1980s Boyd and Graham opened a tiny shop and gallery, again named St Judes, at the north end of Kensington Church Street, becoming one of London's leading ceramic specialists. A little later they became aware that few galleries were prepared to show images of the male figure and were determined to fill the gap in the market. Gradually ceramics gave way to figurative art, chiefly, though not exclusively, of the male nude. The gallery established a reputation for old master and academic drawings of the male figure, mostly of the 19th century, and they edited a well-illustrated book, Life Class (1989), on the subject. Alongside this programme, they showed work by living artists, some established, others at the start of their careers.

St Judes combined professional competence with ingenuity and flair, often appearing to whisk talented innovative artists out of nowhere. In fact both Boyd and Graham worked assiduously to find and nurture artists, to discuss their work, and give support. Clear, well-written, timely press- releases, and good-quality photographs of artists' work ensured maximum publicity. Private views were as much social occasions as an opportunity to view work, with a loyal following keen to see what they had to show. With no financial backing, the gallery was always a high-risk financial endeavour, but both partners were totally committed to the project.

A varied and imaginative exhibition programme ranged from academic drawings, many done in studio life classes, to exhibitions of delightful, but little- known work by Cecil Beaton, and studies of the male figure by Keith Vaughan, introducing these distinguished artists to a new audience. Shows featuring the work of young or little-known painters included David Hutter's delicate, sensitive watercolour studies of landscapes, flowers and nudes, contrasting with the fresh, homoerotic and sexy oil paintings of Philip Core. Notable artists showing in a gallery for the first time included Peter Samuelson, Gavin Murghfling and Stuart Bullen.

A combination of inflated business rates, general recession, and a fickle audience which often preferred to support by looking rather than buying brought the gallery to an end in the late 1980s. This also coincided with an HIV diagnosis for Stephen Boyd. Undeterred by what seemed overwhelming odds, Philip Graham set up his own gallery, Philip Graham Contemporary Art, in a spacious basement in the upcoming area of Old Street, just round the corner from the Independent's old City Road offices, extending his brief to include artists such as Jacqueline Moreau and Sandra Fisher. Despite its tucked-away location, patrons found their way, and the gallery was able to survive, mounting one-person as well as themed shows. Increasing ill-health, combined with the trauma of Boyd's death in 1995, brought a temporary halt to the programme, and the gallery closed earlier this year.

Philip Graham achieved his ambition in setting up a gallery showing work which crossed the conventional boundaries of gay/straight, male/female, historical/modern, choosing work for its quality and style as well as its content. He and Stephen Boyd supported and encouraged each other in the "shark-infested waters" of art dealing, succeeded in maintaining a gallery few thought could survive, and did so with flair, wit and imagination.

Emmanuel Cooper

Philip Graham, gallery director and actor: born Shardlow, Derbyshire 24 July 1947; died London 19 October 1996.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: HR and Payroll Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This dynamic outsourced contact...

Recruitment Genius: Production & Quality Control Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity for a ...

Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor - Kettering - £32,000

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor with an established...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Generalist

£40 - 50k (DOE) + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a HR Manager / HR Genera...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor