AHSW's Director, Trustees, and Members reflect on various aspects of arts, health and wellbeing.

Ray Smith

A Blog by Guy Eades  about the recent passing of the artist Ray Smith.

The artist Ray Smith (b.1949) who lived at Tintinhull in Somerset has recently died. 14th September 2018. Ray was a highly versatile visual artist working across media, formats and dimensions. More especially he brought to his work and for those he worked in partnership with, lots of humour, creativity, generosity and a great sense of fun.

Ray was a highly versatile visual artist working across media, formats and dimensions. More especially he brought to his work and for those he worked in partnership with, lots of humour, creativity, generosity and a great sense of fun.
His work is in many public collections across the UK and his work for public buildings is well documented. He also wrote the ‘Artist’s Handbook’ in 4 editions published by Dorling Kindersley.

Ray worked on many health buildings and in schools. From 1997 – 2002 he worked as Lead Artist with the Project Lead Lesley Greene on the Bristol Royal Hospital for Children, Bristol BS2 8BJ. Together this team of artists worked in partnership with the Architects and Interior Designer and NHS Trust from the development stage to produce one of the most definitive ‘artist imprints’ into the working life of a hospital.

In 1987 with a grant from the Gulbenkian Foundation via Southern Arts/Hugh Adams I was able to commission Ray to make an artwork using the skills of Portuguese Ceramic Art Workshops / Studios for the new St. Mary’s Hospital on the Isle of Wight. Our initial idea was to commission a ceramic tile mural for the altar wall of the new Chapel inspired by a rare and beautiful 14th century wall painting in the parish Church of Shorwell, IoW (A must visit if you are on the Island). To achieve this we had to convince the Archdeacon. Ray had made a recent ceramic tile work for the kitchen of West Dean College, near Chichester – the former home of surrealist Edward James and surrealist artworks by Salvador Dali etc. (West Dean also has one of the most extraordinary kitchen garden, orchard and flowering borders you are ever likely to see – so also go visit!). The date we arranged for our visit was a couple of days after the 1987 October hurricane. The Archdeacon consented as long as he returned in time for his evening engagements. The ferry was delayed, the roads were diverted, the garden, ancient trees and woodlands at West Dean were devastated and the November gloom of late afternoon turned into darkness. The Archdeacon never expressed an opinion on Ray’s West Dean ceramic however he was very late for his evening meeting and did not consent to the St. Mary’s Chapel mural commission. So we had to rethink. Ray was very good at this. We found a new location – a stairwell in the unfinished building that stretched over 3 floors so tall you could not see the top from the bottom or vice-versa. So he developed a narrative of Island flora and fauna starting with fish and ending with birds that evolved and youdiscovered as you walked up the stairs from level to level. Made in just blue and white glaze with sgrafitto it is the perfect piece of artwork for this architectural space. He made it at the Alleluia Ceramic workshop near Lisbon – I was always envious of the opportunity and experience and only made it over to Portugal several years later.

Another must place to visit – the Portuguese know how to integrate really great design into the everyday built environment and Ray was absolutely in tune with this. The only remaining problem was finding a tiler to install it. All made in handmade tiles – and no repeating pattern. All the tilers I approached on the Island turned it down. Ray found a tiler near him who installed tiles by the thousand in motorway hotel bathrooms and he did a perfect job in just a few days. So again come over to the Island and have a look. I assure you you will like it.

So in memory of Ray and the many exemplary public and personal artworks he made I would just like to say thank you again and hope the celebration of life he sought to express lasts a long time still to come for others to enjoy at least as long as the buildings remain.

Guy Eades
(Healing Arts, Isle of Wight)

October 2018

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