June 11, 2023
Conrad Atkinson obituary | Artwork

Conrad Atkinson, who has died aged 82, was considered one of Britain’s most important activist and political artists. For greater than 60 years he devoted his life to highlighting contentious sociopolitical points, together with the miners’ strikes, landmines, the Aids disaster and the Northern Eire battle. Silver Liberties, a piece commemorating the victims of Bloody Sunday, was famously outlawed by the Ulster Museum within the Seventies.

Born in Cleator Moor, Cumberland (now Cumbria), to Bridget (nee McHenry), a manufacturing unit employee, and Reginald Atkinson, an electrician, Conrad was proudly working class. After Whitehaven grammar college, in 1957 he attended Carlisle School of Artwork earlier than becoming a member of Liverpool Faculty of Artwork. Fellow alumni included John Lennon, and the explosive Liverpudlian arts scene turned a hotbed for the movers and shakers of 60s Britain. An avid banjo participant, Conrad often lent his treasured instrument to Paul McCartney, and introduced Lennon’s previous easel again to rural Cumbria, from which he would paint for the remainder of his life.

Conrad Atkinson obituary | Artwork
Portrait of Dorian Blair, a 2012 art work by Conrad Atkinson

After graduating from the Royal Academy and educating on the Slade, Conrad turned distinguished visiting professor on the Courtauld Institute, London, and cut up his time between the UK and the College of California, the place he was professor of superb artwork.

A champion of feminism, Conrad arrange the college’s first girls’s artwork group, encouraging his college students to discover past the white, male canon of artwork historical past. This was a radical transfer for a male professor, at a time when the feminist artist-educator Judy Chicago was encouraging her college students to repudiate all males.

Closely concerned within the Artists’ Union, Conrad campaigned for truthful pay for artists, and supported the London Girls’s Artwork Motion, which his spouse – the artist Margaret Harrison, whom he met at Carlisle School of Artwork and married in 1966 – co-founded.

Few individuals are conscious that Conrad was the forefather of video artwork within the UK. This new media emerged through the late 60s, however was often dismissed as an artform within the UK by the Arts Council till Conrad’s trailblazing exhibition Strike at Brannans at London’s ICA in 1972. It was his power of character that enabled the controversial exhibition – about hanging feminine manufacturing unit staff – to go forward, paving the best way for future generations of younger British artists to work in new media.

I met him in 2013 after I went to his residence in Cumbria to interview Margaret for my e book Girls Can’t Paint, and ended up together with Conrad within the e book due to the outstanding work he had completed for feminine artists by means of his educating.

Conrad’s work is held in nationwide and worldwide collections together with the British Museum and Tate, the Nationwide Portrait Gallery, and, in New York, the Whitney Museum and MoMA. He had been represented by the Ronald Feldman Gallery in New York since 1979, and a transnational legacy group has been established to point out the his work, together with a contribution from Strike at Brannans, which is now on show at Tate Britain.

His family and friends will miss his glowing vitality and sharp sense of humour.

Conrad is survived by Margaret and their daughters, Sophie and Katy.

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