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Larger-than-life painter of Cornwall and the sea

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: August 15, 2012

A typically jovial Jeremy Le Grice in his studio above Newlyn Harbour

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Fellow artists and art lovers throughout Cornwall will be shocked and saddened to learn that much-loved painter Jeremy Le Grice has died at his home at Trereife near Newlyn, writes Frank Ruhrmund.

One of Cornwall's most prominent artists, larger than life in every sense, while he may have painted and padded around in bare feet in his garden studio high above Newlyn harbour, no-one took his art more seriously than he did.

An old Etonian, he also attended the Guildhall School of Art and Peter Lanyon's celebrated St Peter's Loft School in St Ives. He later moved on to the Slade in London, where he studied for four years. It was there that he met fellow student Mary Stork, who was to become his first wife and who died in 2007.

Although he made little of his days at Eton, when invited to present the inaugural exhibition in its new gallery, Jeremy revealed that during his visit there he was asked to take a couple of A-level classes, one of which was attended by none other than Prince Harry. With a smile as broad as Newlyn harbour, Jeremy also recalled being put over the thrashing block and beaten as a student, but could not remember what he had done to warrant such punishment.

Coming of age at a time when the post-war avant garde art movement in Penwith was at its height, almost inevitably he was influenced by the leading modern lights of the period, in particular by Peter Lanyon and Roger Hilton and to such a degree that, as he freely admitted, it took him a while to realise that he was not destined to follow in their footsteps and walk the road towards abstraction.

It is likely that the break from his work which occurred in the mid-1970s to mid-1980s, when he devoted his time and energy to teaching others and to helping his second wife Lyn to develop her business and career as an interior designer, was instrumental in strengthening his resolve to go his own way and, regardless of fashions and trends, to paint what he saw and felt.

Neither purely representational nor abstract in approach, his work concerned the actual process of painting as much a sense of place or a depiction of subject matter. As real as paintings can ever be, they reflect the desire he had to "stick to his guns", his wish and proven ability to say what he liked using his own powerful language.

Although in no way depressing, the word "dark" has often been used to describe his work, and his use of the colour black to create light within his work was a built-in paradox which added to its mystery and magic. He was at his very best when exploring the "dark of the moon", when contemplating both the granite navel of Cornwall and of himself.

One who worked with a boyish enthusiasm which belied his vast experience, Jeremy Le Grice approached, or rather attacked, his compositions with a gusto which was infectious. Within minutes of talking to him in his studio he made one feel like picking up a brush and joining in the fun. While he loved life in the fast lane, exhibiting extensively, many will remember with pleasure his magnificent retrospective held in the Royal Cornwall Museum in celebration of his 70th birthday.

A man of the ocean, his seafaring experiences included an Atlantic crossing under sail, and his marine paintings are as salty as they are solid. As cargo they carry all the contradictory elements that make up the fatal attraction of the ocean and convey a sense of the speed with which it can switch from being delightful to deadly.

A member of Penwith Society of Artists in St Ives and Newlyn Society of Artists, with which he exhibited often, he was also a trustee of Newlyn Art Gallery, fighting hard for all it stood for.

To say that Jeremy Le Grice will be missed is an understatement. He leaves a huge gap in the art fabric of Cornwall: although impossible to fill, it brings to mind something he once said when talking about how much he missed Newlyn: "When I was first sent away to school my protesting mind was left behind to listen intently at night for the howl of a gale down the Coombe."

It is comforting to think that, just as his paintings, in which sensitivity, subtlety and substance come together in a satisfying whole, are still with us, so, too, is Jeremy Le Grice's protesting mind.

He is survived by the children of his first marriage, Anna, Tom and Harriet, and his second wife Lyn and their son Jude. The funeral service will be held in St Buryan Church at 2pm on August 23.

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