Issue 206
Winter 2018/19


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Mar 20, 2019

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Richard Carr – an appreciation

I FIRST MET Richard Carr in 1991, shortly after he had taken over as the new editor of ArtWork. ArtWork was and is an idiosyncratic and independent publication but under Richard's experienced journalistic eye, it developed into an important voice producing features, reviews, articles and, often, hard-hitting editorials that pulled no punches.

Its targets were often the high and mighty of Scotland's cultural world such as the Scottish Arts Council, the National Galleries of Scotland or Glasgow Museums, and the people who ran these organisations. They rarely came away unscathed.

Richard was a 'flame-proof' journalist and below the surface of the mild, well-mannered, archetypical Oxford-educated Englishman, real passion and bravery flowed through his veins. He could eloquently dismantle the posturing and double-think of the cultural overlords, but he was equally prepared to take an angry response on the chin, which he frequently did.

Mapping the road ahead, the late Richard Carr

As a fledging writer with ArtWork, Richard took me under his wing – he was a generous and encouraging mentor, giving interesting assignments and providing the kind of insightful feedback that balanced encouragement with sometimes, hard-hitting, but necessary reproaches. On one occasion, after supplying him with rather tardy copy, he wrote a typically avuncular letter (signed with a crisp, calligraphic finish, with his beloved fountain pen, which included a gentle admonishment, quoting the words of the late Jack L. Warner: "I don't want it good, I want it Tuesday!"

I've always remembered that advice for it is better to get something to an editor on time, rather than delaying through procrastination and perfectionism. Through the pages of ArtWork, he was to offer a review of my first book, Explorations in Wood (on the wood designer and sculpture Tim Stead). As always, his words were fair, combining praise and criticism in a helpful manner. I had rather naively and arrogantly expected a paean of praise but Richard pointed out the flaws in my argument (there were many) and offered constructive comments. Later, I incorporated many of these into a series of lectures I gave on Stead's work.

Later, Richard encouraged me to take my first steps into academe, for he had been running the Design History course at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in Dundee since 1976. As with his journalistic career, his encouragement and support were generous and unstinting. Under Richard's watchful eye I began supervising and marking essays and dissertations, as well as giving a series of lectures. Again, his support here was invaluable and I have him to thank for having such faith in my abilities. What seemed impossible became, under Richard's gentle mentoring, possible and often, enjoyable.

During a period of illness, I invited Richard to take over my column at The Sunday Herald and he did this great justice and, always the gentleman, stepped back without complaint, when I was once again able to resume my duties.

I offer these thoughts, not to cast light on myself or my own career, but rather to reflect on Richard's. Richard was a pedagogue, a nurturer and an educator. His priority was to educate and develop the discourse around art, craft, architecture and design. He did this through the elegant command of the English language, in its spoken and written forms.

As well as heading up the design course at DJCAD (from 1976 until his retirement in 2007, as Honorary Professor), Richard contributed to a bewildering range of publications. He was Features Editor of DESIGN magazine, Design Correspondent for The Guardian as well as contributing to Craft Horizons (USA), Form (Sweden), Domus (Italy) and Studio International. It's worth mentioning here that when I approached The Guardian about writing an obituary for Richard, they declined. Perhaps it is a symptom of our contemporary amnesia or a general lack of cultural loyalty, but I hope that publication, will in time, reflect on its decision and feel ashamed at this omission and lapse in judgment.

His contribution to ArtWork, both as editor and critic, was immense – his articles and leaders number in the hundreds covering, as might be expected, a wide spread of concerns and interests. Most recently, for example, Richard reported (ArtWork 201, Winter 2017/18) on a conference in Oxford, 'Meeting Minds', that addressed the future of the newspaper industry in the digital age. As well as giving him an opportunity to return to his beloved Oxford, it also demonstrated Richard's enduring interest in an industry that was in his blood, for he had worked as a junior reporter at the Oxford Mail, where he learnt his craft the hard way. He was once sacked for attempting to alter the made-up lettering that had already been placed by the typesetters (there was a strict code of conduct that ensured the work of the two professions did not overlap).

In the mid-90's I worked with Richard on the book Passionate Paint, a multi-contributor publication analysing the work of the painter Lys Hansen. Richard's essay was robust and insightful but when I edited his writing (without consulting him) he did not hesitate to make his displeasure clear. I re-instated Richard's original wording and on reflection, agreed with his stance. It is one thing to have one's copy butchered by an over-worked sub-editor on a newspaper, but quite another to have a considered essay altered without dialogue. However, Richard's approach proved the maxim that sometimes our friends are there to tell us what we do not wish to hear, sometimes in a way we do not wish to hear it. He was a true friend.

I last saw Richard in Dundee in 2017, on the steps that lead down from DJCAD, eventually to the DCA and the railway station. I had not seen him for some years. He had returned from Canada and had been in ill-health but had almost recovered his former self. We chatted for a short time (as it happens, about the architect Charles Jencks, amongst other things). Richard gave me his address and contact details and invited me to call on my next trip to Dundee. I did not get the chance to do this and I regret that deeply because I enjoyed his company and greatly valued his opinions.

Towards the end of 2018, and in failing health, Richard contributed what turned out to be his last article for ArtWork, 'Newcomer on the Dundee Waterfront', about the new V & A design museum, designed by Kengo Kuma. Richard was too ill to visit the building himself, but asked friends to report back with photographs and comments.

In rather typical and robust fashion Richard offered an analysis that went against the grain of most current opinion, where he pointed out some of the many flaws (as he saw them) of the building, its policy and approach, as well as its siting on the revitalised Dundee waterfront. It's as insightful a piece as any by Richard and stands as a fitting, final testament to his career as an astute, fearless commentator and critic.

GILES SUTHERLAND.

Richard John Marr Carr
Academic, Journalist and Writer
Born Hendon, Middlesex, 1935.
Died Dundee, December 24, 2018.
A Memorial Gathering for Richard Carr is being held in the Glamis Suite, Queen's Hotel, Dundee on Friday, March 22 at 1pm. For catering purposes, Simon is keen to have an idea about numbers therefore if you wish to attend, can you please contact this email address: richardcarrmemorial@gmail.com

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