Francis Hewlett RWA
26th September 1930 – 22nd February 2012
As well as being Head of Painting at Falmouth School of Art(1958-1981), Francis Hewlett will be remembered for his extensive body of work, including portraits, still life, landscapes and large ceramic sculpture.
That the School of Art flourished during his long tenure as Head of Painting was no doubt due to his intellect, magnanimity and liberality as well as to the brilliant group of artists who came together with him on the staff, during the formative years of the sixties.
Hewlett was born and raised in Bristol. His childhood was difficult. From an early age he could draw well and this marked him out.
At the age of 17 he was awarded a scholarship to the West of England College of Art in Bristol. There he was greatly encouraged by George Sweet, who ruled the painting department. Hewlett and Sweet had a mutual respect for each other, which later developed into an extremely close and warm friendship, which lasted until Sweet’s death in 1997. During his studies there Hewlett would attend evening performances at the Bristol Empire Theatre. The Empire was in decline due to the rise of television and cinema and was often half empty. He drew obsessively in the auditorium, acutely observing the audiences, architecture and performances. It would take more than forty –odd years before the drawings would be turned into successful paintings.
In 1952 Hewlett was awarded a scholarship to the Slade School of Art in London. Just after, he won first prize in a promotional competition for the MGM film “An American in Paris”. This allowed Hewlett a year’s study in Paris. The Slade authorities willingly held his place open. He enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. In Paris he drew extensively around the area near Ile Saint Louis. The Cathedral of Notre Dame replaced the Empire as his obsession. On his return, Hewlett continued his studies at the Slade. Claude Rodgers was his Tutor and William Coldstream was the Slade professor. Among his fellow students were Robert Organ, Phillip Sutton, Euan Uglow, Tom Cross and Michael Andrews.
His student days came to an end in 1955 and National Service loomed. As a Conscientious Objector Hewlett worked in a children’s home in Surrey, with his wife Liz for just under two years.
In 1958 Hewlett became Head of Painting at Falmouth whilst under the principle Michael Finn, who had a vision for the school to become a place of serious creativity. With the beginning of the degree structure, Hewlett spearheaded new methods of teaching and with Michael Finn introduced the basic design course (later Foundation). Numbers went up, students flourished and Falmouth School of Art became nationally famous.
Hewlett described his own work in the early sixties as “Thick Pop”. A reaction to the Euston Road School, he began making larger and larger ceramic sculptures, mainly consisting of large hands, Y fronts and string vests.
1997 saw Hewlett appointed by the Welsh Arts Council and University of Wales to the Gregynog Arts Fellowship. He quickly returned to painting landscapes, whilst surrounded by the glorious countryside of central Wales.
At the age of fifty, Hewlett was offered early retirement on medical grounds and decided to go. The large top floor of his family home in Falmouth was converted into the ideal artist’s studio. It was there that he returned to the Empire Theatre Drawings, the Notre Dame sketches, and slowly but surely enlarged them into full-scale successful paintings.
In this time his family life blossomed and he continued painting up until a stroke in 2009. After a three-year illness, Hewlett passed away peacefully.
He will be remembered not only for his prolific work, but for his wit, humour and integrity by friends, students and artists alike.
– Seamas Carey
An exhibition of Francis Hewlett’s ‘Thick Pop’ polychrome ceramics from the sixties, together with paintings from 1953 onwards, was held at The Art Room Topsham from 22nd April to 20th May 2012.
His work is in public collections in Newlyn, Bristol, Plymouth, Southampton, Portsmouth, Belfast, Aberystwyth, Leicesterand Duisberg. His work is in private collections in the UK, Holland, France, Belgium, USA and Australia.