Bob Ballard was born in London in 1944. He had worked full time as an artist since 1989, when he won a Goldsmiths Travel Bursary (drawing and studying Romanesque art in Spain). Thereafter he was awarded many prizes, including the Bruckhaus Derringer Award from the Royal Watercolour Society. Bob’s work encompassed abstract and representative styles in a wide range of media, such as sculpture, print, oils, watercolour and pastels. Later in his career he was a senior lecturer at the University of the West of England, and senior tutor and research associate for COREOX, University of Oxford. Bob was a council member for both the Society of Graphic Fine Art (SGFA) and the Bath Society of Artists (BSA). He lived in Bristol with his wife Maggie.
Bob Ballard – a personal tribute by Christine Hopkins SGFA
Why is it that you only really learn about someone at their funeral? It seems strange to start this tribute at the end with Bob’s funeral, but I was struck by one of the readings:
What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.
From ‘Little Gidding’, the final poem of TS Elliot’s Four Quartets
This occasion was the best, most uplifting and terribly sad marking of the end of a man. Family, friends, colleagues, neighbours, artists all shared recollections of the ways Bob had touched their lives. The several formal eulogies opened windows into other parts of his life, and the later informal tributes bore witness to his exceptional talents. Most extraordinary, however was the reading of a eulogy written by Bob himself, in perhaps light-hearted preparation for his eventual demise. However, due to his innate modesty and humility, it was a pale reflection of the many other tributes, including those in Norwegian and Portuguese.
Things I didn’t know about Bob
At the age of 70 on a family holiday he climbed a tree to prove that he still could.
He was a gifted saxophonist.
He kept large hand-written journals filled with quotes that had inspired, amused and intrigued him.
During his teaching career a whole set of pupils’ reports had to be returned to him for re-writing, as the head considered them to be subversive.
He dealt with unruly students by offering to clean their shoes.
Things I did know about Bob
He was the most erudite person I knew. His vocabulary was immense, but it was never used to demonstrate his superior knowledge. Not only was he a teacher, but a true educator too. Yet he never sought praise. He had the ability to be self-deprecating at all times, and his wicked wit and humour was as often directed at himself as others. His writings for the Society’s blog, The Journal, and our members’ Bulletin would make me howl with laughter, and his ability to write fluently and entertainingly on subjects as varied as deafness and dental decay was special.
He was warm and generous in sharing his wisdom, but just as keen to acquire new knowledge. He had a magpie mind and a child-like curiosity, and this often led him to engage strangers in conversation, resulting in some of his more memorable anecdotes. His arrival at an SGFA Council meeting was inevitably accompanied by the recounting of tales of fellow travellers. I remember the story of two girls who challenged him about his beret: ‘Are you an artist, ‘cos you’ve got an artist’s hat’, and the long discourse that followed.
And of course there were those hats –- the ubiquitous black beret, and a broad-brimmed black straw hat for summer -– that marked his appearance. And for an otherwise sombre dresser, his sock wardrobe was a kaleidoscope of colour.
Bob served the SGFA Council for many years. He would sit quietly at the Council table, regarded as the wise owl of the meeting, rarely adding to the chatter but always adding value and sage counsel when he spoke. A possible reflection of his personality could be found in the email address that he claimed had been randomly generated by his internet supplier: ‘FRODUSA’, all upper case, and redolent of a character from Lord of the Rings. Perhaps after all he was more Gandalf than wise owl; a kind-hearted Gandalf with a beard and beret rather than a cloak and staff, but with exactly that presence and gravitas — and a bit less hair. As someone remarked at the funeral, the advantage of losing one’s hair was an unchanging appearance, and this was abundantly clear in Bob’s case. He always looked exactly the same during the years that I knew him.
How was it possible for one man to master so many media? Oil, acrylic, pastel and watercolour. Etching and woodcut. Sculpture in stone, wood and metal. Collage, pencil and gouache. It reads like an art supplies catalogue. Yet his work was instantly identifiable. Best described by Bob himself:
In my work I always try to place the unknown next to the known. Defamiliarisation is essence of art. The closer you look at it, the greater the distance from which it stares back at you.
He would place objects out of context, out of scale, in the foreground of his works. A series of pastel drawings depict Stalin on a beach holiday. Other works include man-sized frogs and monkeys. In 2012 the Society’s Annual Open Exhibition had the optional theme ‘drawing breath’ in reference to the London Olympics. Bob gave us ‘Informal Olympics’, a watercolour featuring a series of athletic poses and postures, but translated onto the bodies of elderly folk wearing cardigans.
His largest work was 50 metres long, drawn onto an old fax roll. He made tiny etchings too.
The delivery of his work to an exhibition was an eagerly awaited event. You knew that you would see something fresh and occasionally challenging, but always evident was the sense of mirth and delight that had gone into the making.
Bob’s emails were always accompanied by his characteristic signature, and we can do no better than to wish Bob ‘A fine cordial handshake’ on his onward journey. If you ever meet an angel with sparkling dark eyes who has mastered the harp from scratch, you will know you have found him again.
Christine Hopkins SGFA
A tribute to Bob Ballard by Myrtle Pizzey SGFA
Although Bob and I taught in Bristol in two adjacent educational establishments in the 1980s and 90s, I did not have the pleasure of making his acquaintance until I became a member of the Society of Graphic Fine Art. He taught English and humanities in a Bristol comprehensive and, having retired, became a tutor for the University of the West of England. He was an active member of the Bath Society of Artists.
It is not unusual for artists to be charismatic, but Bob gladdened people’s hearts when he entered a room, finding areas of mutual interest with all those he met. Ex-pupils speak of his empathy and inspiration, and how fortunate they were to experience his guidance.
Most artists specialise in an area of expertise, are painters, printmakers or sculptors. Bob’s versatility was expressed through drawing, collage, print and three-dimensional work. At his commemoration the notebooks he left were testimony to his deep love of life and his interest in so many diverse aspects of the human condition, always expressed through humour. It is particularly cruel that a man so full of life and connected to it should be taken away so suddenly.
Talent develops in solitude; character develops in the stream of life. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
A Final Fine and cordial handshake from Bob.
Myrtle Pizzey SGFA
“Chap wiv beard, slightly Indian lookin’, bald, you know, wore funny ‘ats and socks and quoted Kipling, Einstein, Aristotle and Monty Python. Go on, you know ‘oo I mean — full of life and imagination. Well ‘ee’s dead. Gone to face whatever made ‘im. ‘Ee’ll be allright though; long as ‘is God’s gotta sense a ‘umour and does the cordial ‘andshake thing.
It’s us ‘ooze goin’ ta miss ‘im. I know I will.”
Ha Jall (Deptford)
I always thought of Bob affectionately as ‘Bad Bollard’ much in the way that ‘Little John’ was in reality a giant. After many years on the SGFA Council with Bob, he was the guy I always looked forward to meeting: incredibly well read, an acute observer of the banal and sublime alike, all of which ended up in his witty and thought-provoking art. He was genuinely interested in and encouraging to those around him, so we will always treasure him as a talented fellow artist and friend.
Jo Hall PPSGFA