Life & Culture

Paying tribute to the artist who made Londoners iconic

Simon Black died aged 49. We welcome an exhibition celebrating his career.


Every so often, the press debates whether the art of painting is dead. One artist who proved that painting is still with us was Simon Black, whose career was cut short in March this year by his death from cancer, just a couple of weeks before his 50th birthday.

His widow, Raina Sheridan, has worked with friends to organise an exhibition of his last works in London, which will then travel to Manchester Jewish Museum.

Black was born in 1958 into a close-knit Jewish family and he grew up in Prestwich, Manchester. Raina, whom he married in 1986, recalls: "He had a very strong sense of being Jewish - I actually met him on a kibbutz. At the time, he was doing a lot of watercolour and etching connected to the Israeli landscape. He was always responding to the environment he was in." Perhaps Black's most important commission were a series of six paintings he made for the Royal Free Hospital, in North London, to celebrate the hospital as it entered the new millennium.

"The huge irony about those paintings," says Raina, "is that everything he painted he then went on to experience himself as a patient. Those paintings are very powerful and they are now on permanent display at the Royal Free, a huge testament to his talent."

Early on in his career, Black's work tended towards surrealism, but in his last years he found what he said were "enough surprises in reality". Art critic Philip Vann says: "When you look at some of his early paintings, they have Chagall-like effects. But latterly, I think he came much more down to earth and realised the magic of the ordinary."

Vann is particularly impressed with the last body of work currently on show, which reveal different sides of London life ranging from policemen and newspaper vendors to rats and pigeons. "In the last couple of years of his life, Simon immersed himself in the myriad aspects of the city and we are seeing for the first time now the proofs of this quest to reveal the spirit of the city today. I think there are some really iconic pictures of modern London," Vann says.

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