Bernard Gay, 1921-2010

April 1, 2010

A painter who helped to steer the major transformations of post-war British arts education has died.

Bernard Gay was born in Exmouth on 11 April 1921 and left school at the age of 14 to join the merchant navy.

It was not until 1947 that he returned to education, when he began studying at the Willesden and St Martins schools of art and quickly established himself as a painter.

A parallel career in arts education eventually led him to become principal of the London College of Furniture and, in the late 1960s, a member of Her Majesty's Inspectorate.

An artistic all-rounder, Mr Gay wrote a book about one of the most acclaimed artists of the Renaissance, Masterpieces in Colour: Botticelli (1961), curated a number of bold exhibitions and co-founded the Camden Arts Centre, which would become a celebrated exhibition space. He was chair of the trust running the centre for 25 years.

His eminence was also recognised rather farther from home when he was asked to join the council of the British School in Rome.

At a time of rapid change within the sector, Mr Gay set up the Committee for Higher Education in Art and Design and, in the early 1970s, helped expand art and design programmes in many of the polytechnics, which later became universities.

Although he retired as an inspector in 1981, he continued to teach at the Royal College of Art for seven more years. He played a pivotal role in the discussions that led to the amalgamation of six prestigious London arts schools as the London Institute of the Arts - now the University of the Arts London, the largest arts university in Europe.

He was later asked to chair a committee to establish the court of governors with overall responsibility for the institution.

Although Mr Gay and his wife Kate moved to Herefordshire in the late 1980s, he maintained his commitment to arts education by taking up a position on the board of directors at Hereford College of Arts.

Last November, the college held an exhibition to celebrate his six decades as a practising artist.

Richard Heatly, principal of the college, described Mr Gay as "a warm, caring and supportive friend" who impressed everyone with "the sheer range and quality of what he'd achieved in his life as an artist, a teacher and an educationalist; the mental acuity he retained even at a very advanced age; his attention to detail; and his genuine care for the students and for the quality of their work".

Mr Gay died on 15 March 2010 after a short illness and is survived by four children.

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