A loss to painters in the making….

….. 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.

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5 comments for “A loss to painters in the making….

  1. 3 January 2012 at 3:59 pm

    I am so sorry to read of the passing of Ian Simpson.It is about ten years since, I spoke to Ian himself and although his opinion collided with mine – I now believe that he was right.

    Times and processes have changed, not in every way for the better – I still prefer to speak on the telephone to a friendly and helpful voice, especially as my ten years old Apple is, like me
    slowing up.

    This year I hope to work towards my final course and the B.A Hons
    I was born in 1933 – as was Ian Simpson. BAHU

    I shall probably gain my degree at about the same time as my youngest grandson Jack who is proving to be a competant painter.

    My best wishes to all those people the helpful folk at OCA Barnsley Jeannette Coleman BA HU

  2. AmandaJ
    4 January 2012 at 9:46 am

    Really sad to hear about Ian Simpson’s death. I had the great pleasure of meeting him at an OCA exhibition about 10 years ago. He was a truly inspiring teacher and artist. A sad loss to us all.

  3. Neil Walker
    5 January 2012 at 11:29 pm

    Very sorry to hear of the passing of Ian Simpson.Never met him but was the proud possessor of,”Drawing, Seeing and Observation”, a very useful book.Sad day.

  4. David Harrison
    9 January 2012 at 12:38 am

    I am very sorry to hear of the passing of Ian Simpson. I knew Ian and his parents as we were neighbours many years ago in Sunderland and remember their help over the years.
    I always remember Ian mentioning to my parents that he was once told by an older colleague that if his father Herbert had been living in London rather than in the North of England, he too would have been a very famous artist.

    David Harrison

  5. 26 January 2012 at 5:36 pm

    David Davies, who himself is a former Chief Excutive of the OCA has written Ian’s obituary in the Guardian here

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