Biography for John O'Connor RCA RE RWS (1913 - 2004)
The work of the painter and wood engraver John O'Connor, who has died aged 90, is filled with a profound - almost romantic - love of the natural world. He had a pastoral vision, albeit one imbued with melancholy, at the passing of time and a changing world.
He saw his favourite painting places in Suffolk - the ponds, willows, briars and honeysuckle - disappear beneath the bulldozer and combine harvester, and eventually moved with his wife to the emptier spaces of southwest Scotland.
O'Connor was born in Leicester where his father, whose family had come from County Tipperary, was an optical instrument maker. After Wyggeston school and Leicester College of Art, he attended the Royal College of Art (1933-1937), where his teachers included Eric Ravilious, John Nash and Robert Austin. Each influenced him, but from Ravilious he learned a great love of wood engraving. This was a golden age for private presses and, at 23, O'Connor made engravings for an edition of Joan Rutter's poems, Here's Flowers, the first of many books.
From 1940 to 1946, he served in the RAF, still managing to cut a few wood blocks. He arrived with the allied troops during the fall of Berlin, and sketched the ruined city. Back in England, but still in his flight lieutenant's uniform, he met his future wife, Jeannie Tennant, who was a teacher, in Filey, North Yorkshire. They married in 1945, and spent their honeymoon cycling around the Yorkshire dales.
After war service, O'Connor taught at Hastings School of Art, before moving, in 1948, to become principal of Colchester School of Art (later the Colchester Centre for Art, Design and the Media). His colleagues included Richard Chopping, who designed dust jackets for the James Bond novels, his own former teacher John Nash, and Edward Bawden, one of the finest British printmakers.
O'Connor was an enthusiastic teacher, full of intellectual curiosity; he held that artists had a duty to teach, and that contact with younger artists and students fed the imagination, protecting one from banal isolation. In the staff room, he was remembered for his humour, his approachability and his anecdotes - and for letting it be known that he preferred the prettier girls as his models. After leaving Colchester in 1964, he was a visiting lecturer at St Martin's School of Art until 1975, and at Glasgow School of Art from 1977 to 1984.
Despite these commitments, O'Connor continued a varied output of illustrations and writing. In 1948, he produced illustrations for The Funeral Oration Of Pericles and The Young Cricketer's Tutor; two years later, he provided text and engravings for Canals, Barges And People (1950), subjects dear to his heart. His later books included Landscape Painting (1968), a guide to the practical techniques and intellectual aspects of landscape painting from the 15th century onwards, which covered everything from the use of insect repellent to the theatrical element in landscape art. He also contributed to Harper's Bazaar, House And Garden and the Radio Times.
In an area with a long tradition of landscape painters, O'Connor's vitality and sheer enjoyment at work made him much loved by the Colchester Art Society. He worked in both oil and gouache, though perhaps his best paintings were done in watercolour. He believed watercolour should be experienced as a taste, and that a viewer should be able to sense a quenching of thirst, as if coming upon a pool or a stretch of water on a warm and tiring walk. Although he also painted children and domestic scenes, his most typical works are landscapes. These reveal a more introspective side to his nature; it was as if he used the imagery of marsh lands, rivers, setting suns and harvest moons to explore his most private thoughts.
In the 1950s and 60s, O'Connor exhibited at the Zwemmer Gallery, in London, and had many exhibitions throughout Britain. His work was purchased by the Arts Council, the Tate Gallery, the British Museum and the Contemporary Art Society, as well as by several local education authorities; it can also be found in the Oslo Museum, the Zurich Museum and at New York central library. He was elected to the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers in 1947, and, in 1974, to the Royal Watercolour Society. He was an honorary member of the Society of Wood Engravers.
The O'Connors left Suffolk in 1975 for Kirkcudbright, a part of Scotland to which his wife belonged. Here, they found a single-storey farmhouse in which to live with their cats; the byre beside the house was made into a three-room studio.
Until 2001, O'Connor produced a monthly wood-engraving for Richard Ingrams's Oldie magazine, work which involved considerable physical effort. This drive to create was typical, however, and he remained active as an artist - and full of energy - despite using a wheelchair and suffering from increasing deafness. An exhibition of his watercolours opens at Abbott and Holder, in Museum Street, London, in April, and the Whittington Press is currently producing The Country Scene, a selection of his early wood blocks.
He is survived by his son Michael.
· John Scorrer O'Connor, artist and teacher, born August 11 1913; died March 5 2004