Obituary: George Hooper

Michael Parkin
Tuesday 09 August 1994 23:02
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George Winston Hooper, artist: born Gorakphur, India 10 September 1910; married 1941 Joyce Gayford; died Redhill, Surrey 18 July 1994.

PERHAPS the fact that he was born and spent his early childhood in India might explain why George Hooper was a contradiction, an English colourist who was devoid of the restraints normally associated with his contemporaries.

His father was an auditor for the Bengal North Western Railway and his first understanding of the exotic was being conscious of the visual delights of the Bazaar and India's strong and vibrant colours. Aged 12 George was despatched with his brother to England to be educated in the care of his grandfather, an architect in Redhill. Even though his Indian education left him academically ill-equipped to cope with the demands of his English boarding school, the art master saw a talent and encouraged him, so that when he left school and worked for the Westminster Bank for two years he prevailed upon his father to let him enter the Slade School of Fine Art where, being too old for a bursary, he was only to remain a year. However, he was not too old for a bursary at the Royal Academy Schools, and there, between 1931 and 1935, his gifted draughtsmanship won him two gold medals, a travelling scholarship and the Rome Prize which gave him an extra two years abroad.

He returned to England with war clouding the horizon and his future as a painter. In Redhill he was drafted into the ARP, where he met his wife Joyce, a gifted musician who he married in 1941. The American 'Pilgrim Trust' asked him to produce work for their 'Recording Britain' scheme, where he worked alongside John Piper, William Rothenstein, and Kenneth Rowntree. He was also chosen to work for Esso and Shell Petroleum, Lyons Tea Shops, the Southern Railway and the Post Office. At the end of the Second World War, after a short period teaching at Watford School, he joined Brighton Art School, then under the enlightened direction of Ernest Sallis-Benney. He found teaching rewarding with ideas of his own and his students being 'bounced' off each other. My former wife Molly Parkin, who was one of his students, remembers him: 'Although rather distant he was a special and brilliant teacher who taught by example. However, often he also communicated by banging one on the head with his pencil.'

A visit to Italy in 1958 opened a window on and introduced him to a Fauvist vision which characterised his work from then on. Vibrant colours dominant since his childhood in India brought revelatory new depth to his work. Matisse, Dufy and contemporaries such as Jean Hugo and Ivon Hitchens were all added influences that brought him delight.

Living the major part of his life in 'Loxwood', Redhill, he was in many ways a loner. He made an exception for Duncan Grant, a friend whose old-fashioned courtesy and charm he very much enjoyed. He despised artistic London's pub life, preferring the countryside in England and France, English ceramics which he collected and a home always full of music and the colours of India - perhaps another Bloomsbury, but in Surrey. Independent and perhaps slightly eccentric, he once pointed out over tea that one must always cut a cake still in the tin: in this way not so much air gets at the cake and crumbs from the cutting help to keep the remaining piece fresh and young. And so in his teaching he stood out amongst many who were brilliant academics by his constant searching for new ways to look at subjects and objects, so that for student and teacher alike the idea was always fresh and young.

Although George Hooper exhibited with success at the Leicester Galleries ('Artists of Fame and Promise') in the Forties and at Wildenstein's in the Fifties and Sixties, and more recently in the Eighties in Motcomb Street with Sally Hunter and in Cork Street with Odette Gilbert, it was an entirely happy salute to a life in painting that his recent retrospective was held at Charleston, where he had often painted and visited his friend Duncan Grant. His work is in the Victoria & Albert collection, the British Museum and public galleries in Brighton, Hove, Eastbourne and Hull.

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