The award-winning painter, stained glass and mural artist, Graeme Willson (1951-2018) was born in North Yorkshire and lived the greater part of his life in Ilkley, West Yorkshire.
Graeme Willson graduated from Reading University in 1973 with a degree in Fine Art and worked as a full-time lecturer at the North Lindsey College, South Humberside, 1973-5. From 1975 onward he worked as a freelance artist and visiting lecturer at Bradford and Ilkley Community College, Chelsea College, London, the Institute of Advanced, Architectural Studies, University of York, and at Bretton Hall College, South Yorkshire.
He exhibited his work in many group exhibitions in London and elsewhere, including at the National Portrait Gallery, London Contemporary Art Society, Harewood House, Cartwright Hall, Leeds City Art Gallery, and at the Mercer Art Gallery, Harrogate.
Solo exhibitions in London included the Sloane Street Gallery, 1981, and the Smith’s Gallery and RIBA Gallery in 1989. Cartwright Hall held a solo exhibition of his work in 1981 and solo exhibitions in other Northern England venues included the St Paul’s Gallery, Leeds; Arcade Gallery, Harrogate; Dean Clough, Halifax; and galleries at the University of Bradford (1990) and University of Leeds (1992). The Manor House Gallery staged the ‘Ilkley Retrospective: 25 years of work in Ilkley by Graeme Willson’ during 2014-15.
He was an Artist in Residence for a number of local institutions and organisations, including Cartwright Hall (1987), Leeds Art Gallery (1987 and 1996), and Ilkley Literature Festive and Ilkley Concert Club.
Past commissions included altarpiece paintings and a ceiling painting for York Minster (1980-3); portraits of senior members of the institutions for the University of Bradford, University of Hull (1991) and University of Leeds (1994).
He was the founder of the Yorkshire Mural Artists’ Group, with a view to making art, particularly in mural forms, accessible to people. His mural commissions included work for Leeds Corn Exchange, Provident Financial Group, British Rail and the William Morrison Supermarket chain at branches across England and in Scotland. In Bradford, the Farrow Medical Centre at Undercliffe displays a trapezoid mural by Willson depicting the people and work of the area. The William Morrison Supermarket at Girlington, Bradford, also has three murals in the entrance hall, titled ‘Warp and Weft’, depicting traditional industry in the city (see image at introduction, above).
Graeme Willson regarded himself, not as a community artist, but one who can work on a large scale when commissioned to do so. He said of his public art:
People who may not normally go to an art gallery get to see my art. And I like the idea of art in places where you would not expect it … I also have a belief that the general public, no matter how stressed by the daily pace of things, will register and respond in good faith.
Graeme Willson’s paintings are held in Bradford at Cartwright Hall and at the University of Bradford, as well as at the University of Hull, University of Sheffield and the Institute of Education, London. The Leeds City Art Gallery also acquired his work for their permanent collection. Stained glass work can be seen at St Mary’s, Warwick and St. Laurence, Rowington, Warwickshire.
He also received awards for his artwork, including from the Arts Council of Great Britain (1979, ‘Art in Public Places’); the London Arts Council, 1983; and the RSA Award for Architectural Collaboration, 1992. He also received the Royal Academy Award for Mural Painting for his work at St. Paul’s Church in Thamesmead in 1984.
Autobiography: Graeme Willson (1998), published by Smith Settle
See also My Art