Ken Bright

Artist and ceramicist

Thursday 15 September 2005 00:00 BST

Ken Bright was an artist and teacher who built at Goldsmiths College in London a Ceramics department that stood as possibly the most distinguished course of its kind in England. In the Sixties, when he started out, the department was lodged in a disused concrete bunker, a former bomb-disarming facility, at the back of the college grounds. Dank, poorly lit, and cold in winter (when students and teachers huddled in its tiny staff room), the studio - directed by Bright and his colleagues David Garbett and Doug Jones - nevertheless attracted excellent postgraduates, art students, training teachers and mature students.

Born in Ryde on the Isle of Wight in 1939, Bright had, he felt, an idyllic childhood, roaming across the island, exploring the great houses abandoned by their owners during the Second World War. An avid cricketer, who played for the Hampshire Juniors, he experienced a schoolboy cricketer's thrill of a lifetime in 1950, when, aged 11, he and his friends were joined in play by members of the visiting West Indies team, one of whom proved to be the Barbadian legend Everton Weekes.

Bright took great pride in his native place. In 1996, when Anthony Minghella - also born in Ryde - won an Oscar for directing The English Patient, an exultant Bright designed his own Isle of Wight flag and displayed it in the window of his home in south London. As an artist, he considered that the particular quality of the light on the island had contributed to his love of colour and his fascination with capturing light effects.

Showing early artistic talent, Ken Bright went at 16 to Portsmouth Art School, where he studied sculpture. Five years later, he came to London and undertook the Art Teacher's Diploma postgraduate course at Goldsmiths College. There, he advanced his interest in ceramics, developing that medium for its sculptural potential. In 1960 Goldsmiths took him on to its staff and, a great and astonishingly tolerant teacher, he taught there until 1991. He also spent periods teaching in the United States, and throughout his career advised the Inner London Education Authority on three-dimensional art education in London schools. In addition, Bright's own work developed, creating sculptural pieces in ceramics and bronze using images of horses and birds of prey. He drew from life, studying the birds at the Falconry Centre in Newent, Gloucestershire. His work was admired by many, including the actor James Mason, who commissioned several pieces for his collection in Switzerland.

During his 30 years at Goldsmiths, Bright was the driving force in the transformation of an energetic but underfunded Ceramics department into one of the most dynamic and influential programmes in the country. In 1977 he became Head of Department and eventually he achieved his vision of a state-of-the-art Ceramics training and production facility. Designed to his own plan, it comprised work areas, a glaze laboratory, and kilns that were models of healthful as well as technically advanced and efficient practice. The building realised Bright's conviction that craft and fine art were parts of a single creative continuum.

This flourishing department came to an end in the 1990s shortly after he left; Goldsmiths stopped the Ceramics course and literally dismantled the department: the building was allocated to other uses and its kilns were taken apart and dispersed.

In retirement, Bright turned his attention to painting and to developing his long-held interest in colour. He was, too, drawn back to teach at the Blackheath Conservatoire of Music and the Arts, where he designed the visual art programme.

Maggie Bickford

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