Bruce Russell Obituary

My friend and fellow artist Bruce Russell, who died at the age of 76, was one of the most original and admired abstract artists of the 1970s and 1980s. His paintings will be remembered for their striking liveliness, verve , their jazzy cubism. In 1977, he wrote that he liked “chemical, sweet, culinary, synthetic ‘tasteless’ colors, in dissonant combination with earth pigments”. He draws his patterns from “Vorticism, Bauhaus, Art Deco, those interesting and awful ‘contemporary’ fabrics and furniture of the 1950s”. Looking at his paintings in a small studio in Putney in the mid 70’s I remember thinking of those Fablon kitchen designs, the aluminum grays of the hi-fi sets and the random logos moving in a dance – Foxtrot was a title from 1978. I was really impressed.

From the 1970s Bruce had a number of solo exhibitions in London and New York, including at the Hoya Gallery, AIR, Ian Birksted, Benjamin Rhodes and the New York Studio School, with his final exhibitions at the Beardsmore Gallery. His paintings have been acquired by public collections. He was an early contributor to the artist magazine Artscribe. In 1979 his paintings were featured in the key survey of the time, the Hayward Annual (alongside works by Bill Henderson, Gary Wragg, Jennifer Durrant and me).

He became an inspiring teacher. At Newcastle Polytechnic (1975-78) he established the Newcastle Polytechnic Gallery. At St Martins, London, from 1979 his pupils included Peter Doig and Simon Bill. From 1987 to 2006 he was director of fine art at Kingston University, west London, where he founded the Stanley Picker Gallery, which has a wide range of exhibitions, some of which are international in character.

He was born in London. His mother, Betty, a young Irish nurse, gave Bruce up for adoption; his father, Kingsley Armstrong, whom Betty had met while stationed in wartime Glasgow with the New Zealand Navy, had returned home and might never have known of his son’s existence. Bruce was brought up in Hounslow, by Jean and Jack Russell, who after wartime service in the RAF returned to civilian life working for London Transport and as a butcher. Bruce knew he was adopted, and later in life discovered he had four half-siblings in the United States and six in New Zealand.

On leaving Latymer School, Hammersmith, he entered the Chelsea School of Art in 1964 and studied graphic design before moving on to painting. Future actor Alan Rickman, Latymer’s classmate and lifelong friend, was a classmate.

He married Alison Delacour in 1979. The Wiltshire wedding attracted many artist friends, including John Hoyland, whose collective dress sense – kipper ties, ill-fitting suits – convinced locals they were the Flying Squad. In 1988 Bruce and Alison moved to Liss, Hampshire with their children.

He was diagnosed with blood cancer (lymphoma and myeloma) in 2014. Alison gave him all the support he needed, thus ending his teaching career. He continued to paint until the end, commissioning canvases the week before his death. He was naturally modest, always generous with his time, helping other artists. As a friend put it, he was “great fun to be around, extremely enthusiastic, caring and always engaged with others, both with their work and with themselves”.

He is survived by Alison and their children, Jack, Amelia, Rowena and Phyllida, and eight grandchildren.

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