Isherwood’s obituary in the Daily Telegraph

isherwood-family-headstoneLawrence Isherwood, the artist who has died aged 72, was driven by his muse to abandon a career as a cobbler. To begin with, he painted the woman of his native Wigan but he later found a more lucrative market with imaginary nude studies of such public figures as Barbara Castle, Field-Marshal Viscount Montgomery of Alamein and Mary Whitehouse.

“I would rather paint the women of Wigan than any film star,” he said early on in his career, “particularly old women in their shawls. Old faces have more character and colour.” His work of that time showed the characters, mills and narrow streets of the town, fitfully illuminated by eerie light of sulphur fumes.

There were hints of Isherwood’s future direction in 1962 when he exhibited a portrait of Princess Margaret with the infant Viscount Linley in her arms, dune entirely in blue. The other pictures in the show were painted over a series of “Lady Chatterley in the altogether” abandoned, he explained, because “no one seemed to appreciate them. They were pretty near the bone, you see.”

Isherwood’s first major celebrity nude was of the singer Dusty Springfield (1966) which infuriated her but was sold to a Hampshire pig farmer for 75 guineas.
Inspired by his frequent difficulties with traffic wardens, he went on to paint a nude of Mrs Castle, who was then Minister of Transport, with her body decorated by such signs as “No entry.” “No Waiting.” And “No Road Through.”

A later portrait of Mrs Whitehouse showed her with five breasts; it was bought by Sir Hugh Carleton Green, a former Director-General of the BBC which elicited the response from its subject: “I am rather surprised that Sir Hugh wished to have a full-frontal of me on his wall. I think it is unreasonable.”
Subsequent subjects for this imaginative approach included Field-Marshal Montgomery, naked save for his medals, and George Best, the footballer. Isherwood himself was plump and bespectacled, with a blond beard and moustache.

The son of a cobbled, James Lawrence Isherwood was born in Wigan on April 7, 1917 and studied art at Wigan Technical College from 1934  until 1953.
In 1956 he exhibited at Wigan to a mixed reception from the locals. Several exhibits were damaged; the titled under portraits of a Nigerian nurse and a coal miner were switched and a miniature sculpture in wire and plaster entitled “Wigan Wire Woman” was entirely crushed.

“Must have been someone who didn’t like modern art,” Isherwood said.

His output was prolific and eventually he was able to give up cobbling, though his finances remained precarious. He often paid hotel and garage bills with his work and once offered a water colour of Wigan jetty in payment of a court fine for speeding, through the magistrates declined the offer.

In the early 1960s, he asked for an average of eight guineas for his works, though he admitted: “If anyone offered me four, I’d snatch their hand off – it’s a couple of beers and bed and breakfast isn’t it?”

Isherwood would paint until he had enough pictures to fill a van and would then set off on a sales tour with his mother, Lily, who frequently sat for him. He had innumerable one man exhibitions, often at unusual sites – beneath Boadicea’s statue at Westminister, for example, or in a lay-by on the East Lancashire Road.

His regularly exhibited at Oxford and Cambridge and when the Prince of Wale4s was an undergraduate at Trinity, he bought a seascape by Isherwood.

The standard critical response to his work was epitomised by the opinion of Col Alfred Wintle (famous for de-bagging his solicitor) who championed the artist at an exhibition at The Coffee House in Trafalgar Square in 1959. “What I like about Isherwood’s paintings” announced the monocled colonel “is that there is no doubt about which way they hang.”

In the late 70s, Isherwood travelled extensive through Europe and established a permanent exhibition of his work in Torremolinos; he also showed his work in Malta, where, in 1976, he painted both the Prime Minister and Miss Malta.

In 1979 he opened the Isherwood Suite at a hotel in Southport and the next year established the Isherwood Gallery at his  home in Wigan.