Thursday 27 April 1995
After three years in the design school of the Royal College of Art during which he had also studied engraving on Fridays and Saturdays with R.S.Austin, the latter suggested he put in for the Prix de Rome, which he won in 1938. A previous winner, Andrew Freeth, encouraged him to take out a stock of F.J. Head's paper, which he used for his drawings. He was a fine draughtsman, his style, whether in pen or pencil, reflecting his neat cursive handwriting.
As a result of the Munich crisis, Archer did not arrive in Rome until 4 November 1938; but he fell in love with Italy and the Italians. "It has always given pleasure to have seen pre-war Italy," he wrote,
and to have been into the houses of people of all kinds, a forester living in a primitive home with earth floors, the chickens and animals wandering in amongst the children or a cultivated Florentine in an exquisite flat furnished with lovely things. The variety of people or the urban environment they inhabited was stimulating material for the kind of painting I was doing.
By the next spring he had ready for exhibition seven etchings and four monochrome studies for The Wedding is Ready, Bring in the Poor. These resulted in a large oil-painting, with contemporary figures in the foreground against a frieze of white oxen in a Poussinesque landscape with distant vineyards and a hill town. In stark contrast to such idyllic landscape was his study Peasants Fleeing Stuka Bombers, also from 1939. Into the studies which he had made from the train window between Rimini and Ravenna he introduced figures and aircraft from his imagination and the accounts of the invasions of Finland and Poland and the hounding of Jews.
Archer was called up in December 1940; after war service in the Pioneer Corps, he turned to teaching, initially at Eastbourne where he had been brought up and had first studied. In 1949 he was considering a post at Leicester when Wilfred Fairclough, another Rome prizewinner, suggested that he might join him on the staff of the Kingston Polytechnic. Archer taught there until he retired, and was head of the School of of Fine Art from 1962 until 1973. One of his pupils, Charles Bartlett, found him "an inspiring teacher", "a very quiet sensitive man". Wilfred Fairclough's considered judgement was that Archer was "a very good man".
It was during these years that Archer discovered the importance of light - "not just illuminating but imparting luminosity, radiance, and intensity of colour, making it a positive and integral part of a painting". A visit to Ghana in 1970 proved an exciting stimulus. Although he recalled that his work had begun with abstract areas of colour, he felt "too great an interest and curiosity in the world of experience to confine painting to a non- figurative state", as can be seen in his warmly coloured, loosely handled painting Piazza del Duomo, Santa Margherita (1989).
He also made numerous studies and watercolours of concerts (his first portrait in oil at the age of 18, he said, had been a self-portrait playing the violin), preferring to paint people in movement rather than a posed model. "The player wedded to the instrument when in movement is a superb subject to study" - as he proved in Double Bass Player (1989).
Archer's active last years were spent in Eastbourne, where he had passed his childhood during the First World War and where he found he was happiest, loving the "illusive" quality of the sea, its changing moods, subtle colours, its "unchanging timelessness" which he caught in Sea Happenings, Eastbourne (1988).
Frank Archer had been with the Catto Gallery since its inception over 10 years ago, writes Gillian Catto. He was one of the finest artists we represented; his strong palette was highly influenced by his father's chemist's shop, with its large Winchester jars of iridescent colours.
Archer's musical paintings are in collections throughout the world and his landscapes are a vivid reminder of his journeys through Europe. He was a profoundly religious man who gave no thought for himself and was only concerned for others. He was a mild, gentle and highly talented artist. I was fortunate to start my own collection of his work before I represented him: I shall treasure the paintings as much as I shall treasure the memory of the man.
Frank Joseph Archer, artist: born Walthamstow, London 30 June 1912; ARCA, 1937, ARE 1940, RE 1960; ARWS 1972, RWS 1976; Head of School of Fine Art, Kingston Polytechnic, 1962-73; married 1939 Celia Cole (died 1990; one son, one daughter); died Eastbourne 31 March 1995.
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