Volume and exhibition help put overlooked figure in rightful place
ALTHOUGH he exhibited often with both the Penwith Society of Arts in St Ives and the Newlyn Society of Artists, and for several years, from 1958 to 1984, as principal of Exeter College of Art and Design, was "one of the captains of art education in the West Country", Clifford Fishwick, who died in 1997 at the age of 73, has long been overlooked, not to say underrated, as an important figure in post-war British painting.
A somewhat sad situation which is now remedied not only by author, art historian and painter Peter Davies's welcome book on his life and work but also by the exhibition, Fishwick and Friends, that opened in Falmouth Art Gallery on November 26 to coincide with the book's publication.
Peter Davies dedicates his book to Brian Stewart (1953 to 2010) "the saint-like Director of Falmouth Art Gallery who is missed by all", while Louise Connell, the gallery's current director, says: "Fishwick's art really captures the essence of the great outdoors.
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"The exhibition features his delightful paintings hung alongside work by some of his artist friends including Arthur Ballard, Trevor Bell, Michael Garton, William Gear, Peter Lanyon, Michael Mayer, Jack Pender, Karl Weschke and Bryan Wynter."
An artist and teacher who is fondly remembered and deeply respected, it is significant that the people who have proved most helpful to the author during the writing of his book have been colleagues and friends of Clifford Fishwick "who knew and loved him."
Talking of his temperament, former teaching colleague Lesley Kerman who has written the book's foreword, says: "His strategy was to contain conflict. He would allow the tide of anger and grief to wash over him while he looked out of the window, puffing his pipe and watching the light move through the trees."
I've always regretted that I never had the chance to get to know Clifford Fishwick, but I did have the benefit of knowing Mousehole artist Jack Pender who shared a flat with him when at Exeter and who told me so many stories of their unusual student/staff relationship – they had both been to war – that I sometimes felt I knew him well,
Born in Lancashire but raised in Cheshire, he attended Liverpool School of Art where his studies were interrupted by the Second World War and a period spent serving in the Royal Navy on the North Atlantic convoys.
As Peter Davies tells us: "Returning to Liverpool in 1946 to complete his Art Teachers Diploma, war-hardened, he was ideal material for the long and distinguished teaching career that would ensue in Exeter where he subsequently spent his entire 50-year professional life as painter and teacher."
In five informative and incisive chapters, Peter Davies tells just about all one needs to know about this quietly remarkable man, who was not only an accomplished painter and teacher but also a considerable rock climber and sailor.
A living part of the landscape he loved so much, one who, along with such as Jack Pender, Paul Feiler and Alex Mackenzie "shared a commitment to wild, remote or pagan landscapes which were interpreted in different, though complementary, abstract ways", this book and exhibition must surely not only place Clifford Fishwick firmly in the St Ives group of artists, but also single him out as one of its best.
Generously illustrated, from its front cover illustration Figures By The Water, 1957, by the artist, to the rear cover photograph of him sketching on Anglesey in the 1960s, this book, published by the St Ives Printing & Publishing Company at £12 paperback and £15 hardback, is a must for all with an interest in post-war British painting in general and, in particular, that associated with St Ives.
The same can be said for the exhibition, Fishwick and Friends, which can be seen, admission free, in the Falmouth Art Gallery, Municipal Buildings, The Moor, Falmouth, from 10am to 5pm Monday to Saturday, until February 4.