Norman Neasom, RWS RBSA SAS (1915-2010) Having grown up on a farm in Worcestershire, Norman Neasom developed into a master of the figure in the landscape. However, he did so in a variety of ways, creating work that ranged from the purely naturalistic through the caricatural to the poetic and surreal, and that seemed to straddle the pagan and the pious. Norman Neasom was born on the family farm of Birchensale, near Redditch in Worcestershire, on 7 November 1915, and lived there for his first 34 years. The farm itself, and the general environment in which Neasom grew up, obviously had an enormous effect upon him, and he retained an intuitive sense of time and place. He was steeped in the history of both Redditch and the counties to the west of his home town, which he tended to make the special province of his painting.
A pupil of first a local kindergarten, and later Redditch County High School, Neasom once said that he never had much of an education and ‘staggered through school on the strength of [his] art’. He became a member of the High School’s semi-autonomous art school, which was run by Ernest Lupton Allan.
Allan encouraged him to enter Birmingham College of Art, which he did in 1931, studying most notably under Bernard Fleetwood-Walker. He had an ‘old-fashioned formal training’, with drawing from the antique and life drawing, and also lessons in illustration and design. On completing his studies, he returned to work on the farm, but continued to experiment with style, subject and technique.
On the outbreak of the Second World War, Neasom joined the Rescue Service. In 1946, he returned to the Birmingham College as a member of staff, becoming a colleague of many of his former teachers. Together with William Colley, he initiated the idea of regular themes, often of a historical nature, which would focus the attention and energy of the students and give them a context for their work. This contextual and experiential approach epitomises his own art, and was developed against both the pedantry of an academic classicism and an equally dry system based on abstraction.
Neasom confronted this newer system in 1953 when he moved to Redditch School of Art. Whatever his doubts as to its validity, he turned it to his advantage, using the example of Eric Fraser in order to integrate elements of Modernism into a more traditional approach. He experimented with printmaking (1960s) and the medium of scraperboard, varnished and then engraved (early 1970s). However, he continued to work most reguarly in watercolour and bodycolour, and began to exhibit landscapes at the Royal Academy, the Royal Society of Painters in Water-Colours and the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists. In 1977, Neasom wrote a series of articles on ‘Sketch-Book Drawing’ for Leisure Painter. This series sets out his own methods and preoccupations as an artist, and indicates something of his success as a teacher.
Following his retirement from teaching, Neasom gained in reputation, and was elected to the membership of Royal Society of Painters in Water-Colours (ARWS 1978, RWS 1989), the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists (1981), and Stratford Art Society, of which he became patron. Through the 1970s and 80s, and into the 90s, he regularly exhibited works of a consistently high quality at these venues.
Norman Neasom died on 23 February 2010.
His work is represented in the collections of Her Majesty the Queen; the Royal Watercolour Society; and Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists and the West Midlands Arts Council.