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Fred Cuming RA in his studio  ©John Cole

Fred Cuming, artist: 1930–2022

Very sadly, Fred Cuming died in the early hours of Sunday morning. This article by John Cole is being re-published as a tribute to one of Britain’s very finest artists.

The artist Fred Cuming, considered one of the finest landscape painters of his generation both in the UK and internationally, is of a generation that experienced the German Blitzkrieg, a generation that is sadly dwindling in numbers, writes HOT photographer and reporter John Cole.

I recently had the privilege of meeting Fred at a friend’s party. As the conversation turned to events in the Ukraine – as it invariably does these days – Fred began telling stories of how as a young boy, he and his family survived the Blitzkrieg.

I met with Fred a few weeks later to talk more about those days. My interview with Fred, along with extracts from his book, Another Figure in the Landscape, is more a vignette than a full blown article, a snapshot if you will, of five dramatic and dangerous years in Fred’s life that were crucial to his growth as an artist. His memories of that time, and their influence on his artistic life, are reminders of a hugely important period in British history. At 92 years old, his memories of that time are still vivid.

Fred Cuming RA in his studio  ©John Cole

Fred was born in 1930 in Welling in Kent. Although the air raids were sporadic at first, by the time he was ten the intense Luftwaffe bombing began and Fred and his family suffered as so many people did then. During the worst of the bombings, Fred and his parents evacuated to Cornwall, Yorkshire and Buckinghamshire, but eventually they returned to Welling in 1945.

“In the early days of the bombings,” remembers Fred, “we could tell by the sound of the engines which planes were German, and which were ours. And we watched dogfights in the air above us. One afternoon we saw a huge swastika over London made by the smoke of a German plane.

“But as things became more dangerous we spent more and more time in our air raid shelters, which in the winter were miserably freezing cold.

“When we came out of our shelters, large gaps appeared in the rows of houses around us. There were days when we didn’t see friends and for some of them, we never knew whether they had been evacuated or killed in the bombings and later the V-2 rocket attacks.

“Once, we came out of our shelter to find that an incendiary bomb had landed right next to the gas mains. My friend Jack Faulkner, whose dad worked in the Woolwich Arsenal, knew a lot about explosives. We’d file down the bombs, dig out the magnesium, add a bit of this and that and make our own bombs. Once we even made a rocket! We’re lucky none of our homemade bombs exploded on us!”

“At that young age, it was all very exciting to me because I survived. But not until years later did I realise the full implications of what had happened.”

Fred Cuming RA in his studio ©John Cole

Fred knew from an early age that he wanted to be an artist. “I didn’t really enjoy school, and to be honest, I was an undisciplined boy, who really only enjoyed drawing, painting and sport. My granddad Reese was a lithographic artist, and my uncle Charlie Wilson liked to draw pictures and encouraged me to draw from an early age. By the time the war had ended, with all the dislocation and upheaval it brought to our lives, art school seemed the only avenue left to me.” At the age of 15, Fred applied to and was accepted to the Sidcup Art School.

“Had it not been for the war,” writes Fred in Landscape, “I might never have got the early training I did or the determination to make my living as a painter. As it was, by the war’s end I found myself with no choice but to do the thing I wanted to do.”

And so began the career of one of Britain’s finest painters.

To read more about this remarkable artist, please visit his website.

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Posted 15:08 Monday, Jun 13, 2022 In: Arts News

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