Tom Lubbock, artist, critic and 'Independent' great, dies at 53

Cahal Milmo,Rob Hastings
Monday 10 January 2011 01:00

Tom Lubbock, the chief art critic of The Independent for the last 13 years and a respected illustrator in his own right, has died after a battle with cancer which he chronicled with characteristic candour. He was 53.

The Cambridge-educated writer, who was admired by his peers and his subjects for his vast knowledge and unaffected insight into artists from Francis Bacon to Pieter Bruegel, was diagnosed with a rare brain tumour two years ago and continued to work virtually throughout his illness, submitting articles even as he incrementally lost control over his speech.

His last piece, written while staying in the south London hospice where he died yesterday afternoon, appeared in November, shortly before the opening of the first solo exhibition of his collages which appeared every Saturday between 1999 and 2004 in pages of The Independent. In a review of the exhibition, Mark Wallinger, the Turner Prize-winning artist who was a close friend, said: " He addressed the world in many different registers – sardonic, caustic, erudite and celebratory, with instinct, intelligence and wit."

Renowned for the precision and occasional terseness of his commentary, Lubbock, who went to Eton and read philosophy at university, was regarded as a particular authority on contemporary art, unafraid of putting noses out of joint.

Fellow critic Brian Sewell, who described Lubbock's death as a "wretched loss", said: "He really is amongst a very small body of English art critics – he was an outspoken and honest writer. He could tackle intelligently both Old Masters and contemporary art. I don't think he cared about offending or not offending and that's where the honesty came in."

Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate, said: "Tom Lubbock was an original thinker who could always be relied upon to come up with a fresh and independent view. He will be much missed as a writer who could make plain the meaning behind even the most complicated art."

As his illness progressed, Lubbock wrote a memoir describing the slow loss of the grip on language that defined his life. "This life is unbelievable," he wrote. "At moments it is terrible and outrageous. But in other ways I accept what it brings, in its strangeness and newness. This mortality makes its own world... And then again, I try to live as normally as I can."

Lubbock leaves his wife, the artist Marion Coutts, whom he married in 2001, and their three-year-old son, Eugene.

'Unfulfilled dreams don't go away': Tom Lubbock, master of the review

In March 2006, Tom Lubbock reviewed the Dada and Bauhaus exhibition at Tate Modern for 'The Independent'. Here is an extract from his piece:

unfulfilled dreams don't go away, and the dreams of art are especially persistent, because art is always bringing up its past, even when it doesn't know what to do with it. Political systems that are founded on a revolution tend to commemorate the event, once a year, with speeches, gymnastic displays, a military parade. It can be an awkward occasion. It may only remind people of how far things have strayed from the original ideals being honoured.

It's not so different with art. In some ways, it's more awkward. Art is continually looking back upon its forebears, and trying to celebrate them. But those forebears, quite recent ones, too, can turn out to have ideas and ideals remote from our own. The things they wanted from art, or hoped that art would do, we don't believe in now. Still, we can't quite put them behind us.

Take two modern-art movements that emerged from the wreckage of the First World War: Dada and the Bauhaus. They make a complementary pair. Dada was a sporadic series of anarchic performances, declarations, exhibitions, staged across Europe and the USA. The Bauhaus was an innovative school of art and design founded in Weimar Germany. One was devoted to an art that would break everything up, the other to an art that would make the world anew. Destructive: constructive. In both cases, their desires leave us rubbing our eyes.

If anything, the Bauhaus looks the more lost cause. If you're an artist today, you can just about pretend you're a Dadaist. The art world will offer you a playground for disruptive acts, and pat you on the back for being transgressive, and beyond that, Dada was never very clear what was supposed to happen anyway. But in the Bauhaus game plan, the big world has to collaborate. The visual arts are to be integrated with industrial manufacture. The creative values of the school will spread throughout society. Every home will have them. The project has definable goals. You can't play at Bauhaus.

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