The sad death of the sculptor and artist Anthony Southwell on the 10th February last will be seen and felt as an enormous loss by his devoted family, close friends, colleagues, students and not least, by the artistic community for whom he was a central figure – a touchstone and mentor. His stature as a figurative sculptor, draughtsman and teacher was equalled by his larger than life temperament and bearing; a Jovian persona which seemed to expand and fill all surrounding space.
His passion for figurative sculpture and drawing from the life model was tempered with a profound knowledge and admiration of the work of other artists. His mastery of clay was underpinned by a strong understanding of form and a sensitivity of touch which is particularly evident in his studies of heads.
Although an inspirational teacher, he would always acknowledge that all artists no matter how experienced remain as students and must study in order to develop through observation and practice. Tony was remarkably generous when asked to view the work of others and although a discerning and frank critic, his approach was always constructive and encouraging. The fine arts were his constant preoccupation yet he was equally engrossed with ornament and crafts enjoying an almost medievalist straddling as both artist and artisan. His eclectic tastes in sculpture spanned all nations, all cultures and all periods. There was I think, a special place for the sparseness and solidity of Aristide Maillol’s sculpture and of the polychromatic Etruscan-like raw clay works of Marino Marini.
Anthony never failed to acknowledge his debt to his own art college teachers and some became his close friends such as Arnold Machin, Master of Sculpture at the Royal Academy Schools. Tony began his studies in sculpture at Kingston School of Art where he met his wife to be, Christine Hall, a marriage which has spanned 46 years. He went on to the Royal Academy Schools and finally to Goldsmiths College.
As a practicing professional sculptor, teacher and art college lec-turer, he was until recently the vice-President of the Royal Society of British Artists with responsibility for the selection of all sculpture for the RBA and for the annual exhibition of RBA work at the Henley Festival of Music and the Arts.
After his mercifully minor stroke which affected his drawing hand – the most important tool of his trade – he fought long and hard to regain enough strength and sensitivity to work again. Through time, frustration and sheer determination he began to draw and was even able to work with clay.
Tony’s large drawings of the female figure were his last works and are a wonderful testament to his enthusiasm for and enjoyment of working from life. Unquestionably made by the hand and eye of a sculptor, these two-dimensional drawings battle for three-dimensional existence.
Tony’s understanding of clay modelling was considerable. He made bold and expressive architectonic shapes in clay with interlocked as continuous forms in the round, a way of working which only comes with years of studying and drawing the life figure.
His portrait heads and smaller clay studies were subtle and fresh with each sensitively modelled form retaining its vital working sur-face. This handling of clay allowed his surfaces to remain in flux, exhibiting the forces in the sculptor’s hands rather than any veneer or imposed superficial finish.
For over thirty years, Anthony and Christine Southwell have taught and inspired students at their Aston studio near Remenham, a studio synonymous with the quality of integrated art practice and teaching which is embedded in the French atelier system teaching art by example and demonstration to professionals and novices alike.
Anthony Southwell’s memorial is also his legacy shared by all those he helped and encouraged and although this remarkable man will be greatly missed his opinions and views will continue to guide and influence if not quietly, sometimes deafeningly!