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Bernard Kay obituary

·2-min read

My mentor and friend Bernard Kay, who has died aged 94, was an inspirational painter and etcher. Over the past 50 years or so, he produced a large variety of work, ranging from landscapes to abstracts.

Bernard was born in Southport, Merseyside, above his father’s cycle shop. Encouraged by his parents, Elsie and Teddy, he studied at Liverpool School of Art and subsequently at the Royal Academy in London in 1948-49. In 1954 he won a French government scholarship to study in Paris, for painting at the Académie Ranson and etching at the Atelier Friedlaender. Later that year, he travelled to Vallauris in the south of France where he met Picasso’s model and muse Sylvette David, who introduced Bernard into the circle of artists around Picasso.

On returning to London Bernard worked for Robert Savage, the London picture framers. In 1955, he exhibited at the Archer Gallery, London and the Gallerie La Hune in Paris and his work featured in the Daily Express Young Artists Exhibition. His presence increased with showings at the Obelisk Gallery and in an exhibition mounted by Roland, Browse & Delbanco, who would represent him for some years. His first major show was held in 1959 in tandem with Norman Adams and a further show followed in 1962 with Philip Sutton. Examples of his work are now in museums and galleries across the world, including the government art collection.

I met Bernard in the 1970s when he gave a lecture on drawing at Byam Shaw School of Art in London, where I was a student. As he was not one to trumpet his own achievements, it was only gradually that I came to understand that he had been quite a prominent member of London’s artistic community in previous decades.

He was living then in Shepherd’s Bush, west London. We had many spirited discussions over the years, mainly in the characterful pubs that Bernard had a knack of finding. We particularly liked pubs located by water, and would travel up and down both sides of the Thames between Woolwich and Richmond putting his knowledge to good use.

Bernard was a challenging but open-minded critic who was able to get to the essentials of what the work was about. He was interested in a vast range of subjects from natural history to Egyptian art and religion. His house was filled with objects of all sorts - strange fossils, ikons, books on every subject and music.

In 1984 Bernard moved to Oundle in Northamptonshire, ostensibly to “retire”, to a 16th-century house that “was chosen to house his large furniture”. He continued to paint, working on portraits of friends and a series of large canvases of the town. He was well known in Oundle, taking a daily walk to his favourite shop.

Bernard’s two brothers predeceased him. He is survived by a cousin, Brenda, and second cousin, Robin.

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