….. and a loss to art. Ian Simpson, born in 1933, has died.
Jim Cowan, long time OCA tutor, who knew and worked with Ian, writes:
Many OCA students will know Ian Simpson’s book ‘Drawing, Seeing and Observation’ which has become a standard text. Ian was a great believer in disseminating knowledge and as a lecturer in various art colleges his practical advice in drawing and painting was widely recognized and appreciated. His organizational abilities and clarity of mind marked him out as a force to be reckoned with and he inevitably progressed through the art school system to become Principal from 1972-88 of St Martin’s School of Art.
In 1988, Michael Young (Baron Young of Dartington), who had just founded the Open College of the Arts, persuaded him to become involved with his new venture. As Ian had a parallel distinguished career as a writer of books on art and design, the onus fell on him to write the painting and drawing course manuals. After the success of the first year, there was a demand for a second book and Ian would obligingly write that one and so on until the complete set was realized.
I first met him when tutors were required to assess the students’ work. Ian would either drive the art works down to the OCA’s London base or else we would travel up to the first headquarters of the OCA, an old farmhouse on the edge of Barnsley, where we would assess the work in a cleared out cowshed. The assessors would decide on the marks while Ian, acting as External Assessor, would be ready to give the final opinion. It was never an onerous occasion since Ian had great charm and would keep us entertained with stories of the extraordinary number of artists he had known, while at the same time effortlessly organizing the whole proceedings.
Ian also managed to continue his art practice as a painter, exhibiting regularly in one man and group exhibitions such as The Suffolk Group as well as appearing in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. He was primarily an urban and landscape painter working on views from his studio window at St Martins and later in Cambridge where he chose a high vantage point to paint the colleges and market stalls of the town centre. My particular favourites were paintings of Swedish winter landscapes that would appear as his annual Christmas card. The stark white of the snow set against the winter trees and the painted red houses showed an economy of line and mastery of composition that added greatly to the presence of the image. They are paintings that draw attention to themselves in a quiet and authoritative way and with their economy of means and certainty of touch seem to represent a late style.
It is as a painter that Ian would like to be remembered. He was talented in so many ways, but his career as a teacher and administrator kept him out of the competitive ever-changing world of art. Ian will also be remembered as the, kind and unassuming yet confident man who brought so much to education and was a driving force in the early development of the OCA.