INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
The Guardian DECEMBER 19, 2003 - by Patrick O'Connor
GLYNN BOYD HARTE
Brilliant artist who brought colour back to the London art scene
Glynn Boyd Harte, who has died of leukaemia aged fifty-five, was one of the most brilliant and influential illustrators and painters to emerge in the post-pop world of London in the early 1970s. Reacting against the predominant fashion for abstraction and brutality, he developed an instantly recognisable - and often copied - style. His work had a delightful mixture of humour, firmness of line and, above all, extravagant colour. The dullest room, in Glynn's vision, might be transformed into a riot of mauves, pinks and yellows.
Born in Rochdale, where his father, Herbert Harte, worked as a commercial artist, designing labels and later teaching (his books included The Roof Of Lancashire), Glynn maintained that "print was in his blood". His grandfather had worked at a printing firm, and one of his earliest memories was of a garden path laid out with old lithographic stones.
Glynn attended Rochdale School of Art, later transferring to St Martin's in London, where he was particularly influenced by his teacher Fritz Wegner and fellow pupil Nicola Bayley. She gave him a set of crayons, and encouraged him to experiment with colour - all his work until then had been in black and white. At the Royal College of Art (RCA), he was taught by Brian Robb, and, although his subject was graphic art, at his final show in 1973 he sold all his work - somewhat to his surprise. For the rest of his life, he mixed the careers of an illustrator, a poster designer and a painter.
Among the early works he showed at the RCA were a series of coloured drawings, using images culled from postcards, newspaper photographs and food packaging. Gertrude Stein With Alice B Toklas Wallpaper, Nice: Jetée Promenade Avec Biscuit and Lady Cunard And Pig all sold. Among early enthusiasts for his work was the playwright Tom Stoppard, who wrote the introduction to the catalogue of Glynn's first one-man show, at the Thumb Gallery in 1976: "Living with the drawings, with their confident assertion of shared humours, breeds as much respect as affection."
Stoppard recalled his surprise, at first meeting the artist, to find him dressed "rather like TS Eliot during his Lloyds bank period" - and, indeed, this formal, slightly dandyish manner was part of Glynn's attraction.
During the 1970s, Glynn drew a series of striking portraits of, among others, Stoppard, John Wood, Brian Eno, novelist Isobel Strachey, the aged Duncan Grant and the American composer Virgil Thomson, who became a staunch friend and later composed a piano portrait entitled Glynn Boyd Harte Reaching.
After his RCA show, the filmmaker and publisher Jonathan Gili encouraged Glynn to begin making lithographs, and together they published several books, including Weekend In Dieppe, Sardines à l'huile and Metro-Land, John Betjeman's verses for a television film about the Metropolitan railway. When Glynn set the verses to music, the poet took part, speaking through a megaphone.
In 1979, Glynn produced a set of lithographs of London power stations, Temples Of Power, with an introduction and architectural notes by Gavin Stamp, and a foreword by Betjeman. This venture was the beginning of the great interest that historians took in power stations, which led eventually to the remodelling of Bankside as Tate Modern.
In 1975, Glynn joined the children's author and illustrator Ian Beck in a workshop in Garrick Street, which, for three years, became a magnet for bohemian writers, painters and musicians. With Beck as lyricist, Glynn began to compose songs, which they sometimes performed together as Les Frères Perverts.
Earlier, while at St Martin's, Glynn had met the historian and painter Caroline Bullock, and, in 1971, they married. Living at first in a tall house in Cloudesley Square, Islington, they were the most congenial hosts, with a wide-ranging group of friends of all ages and artistic persuasions. "Glynn loved design and architecture," says Carrie Boyd Harte. "It is this sense of layout and purpose that I think distinguishes all his work. Everything is organised, the use of white space in the background, even for the simplest still life."
Both Glynn and Carrie were pillars of the Art Workers Guild, the brotherhood founded in the 1880s as part of the arts and crafts movement. Glynn was the guild master in 1996, organising lectures and inaugurating alternative Christmas pantomimes, the last being Jack And The Bean-Sprout (2001).
After 1980, Glynn abandoned portraiture, complaining that too many of his subjects seemed to experience marital break-ups as soon as he drew them. On holiday in the Scilly Isles, the painter Barbara Middleton encouraged him to use water-colour, after which he worked mostly in that medium, or in tempera and pastel. His fascination with the architectural details others might ignore - a New York crossing sign, the backdoor of a disused theatre, piles of deckchairs, the contrast between a concrete road sign and an ancient wall - made exhibitions into intensely personal statements.
Glynn's manner and conversation were often frivolous and ironic, sometimes combative, but his passion for art, music and architecture shone through all his endeavours. A tireless worker, he exhibited almost annually, most recently at the Curwen Gallery in Fitzrovia, a part of London he loved. Recently, the Hartes divided their time between a house at Veules-les-roses, in Normandy, and a flat in Gower Street. His delightful, award-winning book, Mr. Harte's Holiday, evokes nostalgia and joy for the seaside towns of northern France.
In the last few years, two large projects engrossed Glynn's energies. He was artist-in-residence during the rebuilding of the Royal Opera House, and his paintings of the work in progress were exhibited on the re-opening night in December 1999. He followed this with studies of various millennium projects, exhibited at the Museum Of London in 2000.
Last year, when diagnosed with leukaemia, Glynn wrote that "colour drained from my life - I saw everything in monochrome - the beige of the hospital ward". Recuperating in France, he began to paint again, using a technique involving watercolour with pastel rubbed in. The scale was large and bold. The thought of the friendly market-stall owners inspired him and, back in London, he painted "with an urgency, as if to make up for all the beige blankness". The paintings that emerged have a luminosity, the arrangements of vegetables, fruit and packaging taking on a surreal quality.
On December 9, Glynn's last exhibition, Apples And Artichokes, opened at the Curwen Gallery, and he greeted friends and patrons with his characteristic laugh and throwaway wit. In October he had had a heart attack, and, back in hospital, he sustained himself with memories of the last painting jaunts. "Different ward, same beige. Staring up at the ceiling tiles, I now had memories - and momentos - of glittering fish, a shimmering sea, pink watermelons and a golden summer's sky." He is survived by his wife and sons.
Glynn Boyd Harte, painter and illustrator, born April 28, 1948; died December 16, 2003