arts and design

Ken Hughes obituary

My father, Ken Hughes, who has died aged 93, was a sculptor and lecturer.

His speciality was extremely lifelike and well observed portrait heads. But he also explored other ways of making sculpture, using colour in a long series of works that were often reminiscent of scenes in plays and which, stylistically, owed much to German Expressionist painters such as Paul Klee and Max Beckmann and contemporary painters such as Frank Auerbach and Francis Bacon.

Over the years Ken had five solo exhibitions: at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham; the Festival Gallery, Bath; Victoria Art Gallery, Bath (twice), and Browse & Darby in London. His largest and best known work is the Holy Family (1981) for Southwark Cathedral in London, a large, freely and expressively modelled bronze that was cast at the RCA.

Terracotta head of Layo by Ken Hughes, 2009

Terracotta head of Layo by Ken Hughes, 2009

Ken was born in Liverpool to Welsh parents, William Hughes, a joiner, and his wife, Amy (nee Lewis), a cigarette factory worker. An only child, he passed the 11-plus exam and went to Liverpool Collegiate school.

He left school at 16 and spent six years in the navy before enrolling at Liverpool College of Art, benefiting from grants made available by the Labour government. He then studied sculpture at Slade School of Fine Art in London (1951-55), where his tutors included Reg Butler and Henry Moore. Fellow students included Craigie Aitchison and Euan Uglow (who remained lifelong friends), Michael Andrews and Robert Clatworthy.

In 1954 Ken married Jane (nee Sewell), a painter, and they had three children, Emma, Edward and me. He began to teach art to support the family, and there were posts in Manchester and Birmingham before finally, in 1965, he ended up in Bath, where he took a full-time lecturing post at Bath Academy of Art, becoming head of the sculpture department and enticing artists such as Antony Gormley, Anish Kapoor, Richard Deacon and the critic Peter Fuller to teach there. Notable students included Peter Randall-Page, Nicholas Pope, Veronica Ryan, Laura Ford, Steve Cripps and Nigel Rolfe. Ken retired from teaching in 1985, after which he and Jane moved to Bristol.

Later in life Ken lost the sight in one eye and in 2014 had a leg amputated. Thereafter he struggled to make sculpture, but he drew and painted and was productive to the very end. Examples of his work are owned by Birmingham and Bristol City Art galleries.

He was an engaging and cultured man whose enthusiasm for life and art will be much missed. Jane died exactly a month before him. He is survived by Emma, Edward and me, and four grandchildren, Tom, Peter, Oscar and Lily.


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