Fred Cuming RA 1930-2022
There are many tributes that you can apply to Fred Cuming RA, from his raucous sense of humour, to his kindness and his sparkly blue eyes but for many who had the pleasure of knowing Fred it has been a sad and testing time.
We will of course be safe in the knowledge that the world will be left with a legacy, one that is rare and allows Fred to be in the fine company of the few great landscape painters that this country has produced. His ability to transport all who view his paintings to the experience of being in the landscape is unique and it is for that reason that his loss will truly be felt in the art world.
The landscapes are a skilled composition and like a harmonious song are clear but fading in parts, ranging as you move through the canvas. Unlike traditional landscapes where the skies are vivid or sublime, Cuming's landscapes reveal glorious skies that are never smooth or flat but are spacious and painted with infinite skill and immeasurable depth. The colours give us an indication of his scientific knowledge, there is an intensity to what appears at first to be a muted colour palette but reveal the diffusion and translucency of the sun breaking through the clouds.
This is an individual who spent time beneath the skies, watching, observing and depicting. This was an artist who supplemented his sketches with reading, there is a certainty and knowledge of the sky that the average individual would not know.
It seems strange when considering this, that whilst in discussion he would reveal he was not particularly good at school and was lucky to have been in National Service to give him some consistency and grounding. Perhaps the obliterated landscapes of South East London after the war had a disrupting effect on the young artist, it is a similar story for many others but it is also the reason he always looked upwards towards the sky.
Fred maneuvered successfully through art college eventually studying in the 1950s at the Royal College of Art under John Minton. A wonderful tutor who was a dynamic and bohemian character at the College, who often taught by example, painting alongside his students in the life room. A great loss must have been felt by Fred with Minton’s early death in 1957 not long after he had completed his studies. However, he put this knowledge to use when he began working at Walthamstow Art School, teaching drawing where he would inspire and insist on his students "drawing what you see!" Some of his protégés included Gus Cummins RA, Mick Rooney RA and Ian Dury.
He didn't rely on landscapes for inspiration but created a wonderful portfolio of still lives, prints, etchings and portraits, one of his favourites being the Stephen Hawking’s painting in the National Portrait Gallery. One can only imagine the naughty jokes they would have shared whilst this portrait was being painted. His still lives are wonderful and wispy, emotional and tactile, a gift that his son Daniel could also replicate. There was a sense when Danny’s Still Life with Lemons arrived back at the gallery after being framed a few weeks ago that Fred recognised this, viewing the painting with admiration but equally with pride.
We have been lucky to have known Fred but also to have seen and experienced his work and to get a sense of what Fred was seeking whilst he painted - perhaps John Ruskin maybe able to help us out with the words:
“Out of perfect light and motionless air, we find ourselves on a sudden brought under sombre skies, and into drifting wind; and with fickle sunbeams flashing in our face, or utterly drenched with a sweep of rain, we are reduced to track changes of the shadows on the grass, or watch the rents of twilight through angry cloud".
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