Mary Cozens-Walker obituary

Other lives: Artist who combined painting, sculpture and embroidery to create a distinctive body of work

My friend Mary Cozens-Walker, who has died aged 82, was a multimedia artist whose work defied categorisation. Not strictly a painter or sculptor, or an embroiderer, she developed her own paint-stitch style on cloth, papier-mache and found objects, to chronicle the intimacies and intricacies of daily life.

The result was an unrestrained and distinctive body of work with nods to an older tradition of English art: fairgrounds and ship figureheads, Gwen John, Stanley Spencer, and the satirical comic traditions of the caricaturists James Gillray and Thomas Rowlandson.

Mary Cozens-Walker with a piece of her work. She used elements of painting, embroidery and sculpture to chronicle the intimacies of daily life.
Mary Cozens-Walker with a piece of her work. She used elements of painting, embroidery and sculpture to chronicle the intimacies of daily life Photograph: None

Her work can be found in museums and private collections worldwide, including the Arts Council in London and the Sainsbury Centre in Norwich.

Born in Harrow, Middlesex, to Gordon Cozens-Walker, a motor trade company director, and Margaret (nee Croxford), Mary was educated at North London Collegiate school, where she was taught by the artist and designer Peggy Angus.

She then flourished at the Slade School of Art in London, studying painting and etching under William Coldstream, and it was there in 1959 that she met the painter Anthony Green. They married in 1961 and settled in Anthony’s boyhood home in Kentish Town, north London, where Mary taught art at St Thomas Moore secondary school.

In 1967 they moved to the US, first to the east coast and then California, where Mary was influenced by the vivacity and freedom she discovered in the denim art that was growing in popularity there. On her return to the UK in 1969 she began investigating the rich tradition of English embroidery. With drawing the backbone of her practice, she recognised the embroiderer’s skill as being similarly reliant on a precise use of space and scale of mark.

Mary continued to make work and exhibit professionally as her family grew. In her 40s, her two children now teenagers, she studied for a postgraduate diploma in embroidery and textiles at Goldsmiths, University of London (1981-83), after which her career took off internationally.

Haircut by Mary Cozens-Walker
Haircut, 2011, hand stitch in cotton on calico and polythene, by Mary Cozens-Walker Photograph: from family/Unknown

From the 1990s she had solo shows at George Staempfli’s gallery in New York and at the Setagaya Art Museum in Tokyo, and several with her long-term art dealer Agi Katz at the Boundary gallery in London. Her work was shown in group exhibitions at Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge (1983 and 1985), the Piccadilly gallery (1990 and 1993), the Victoria and Albert Museum (2004), the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition (1982, 1993 and 2008) and at Ruthin Craft Centre in north Wales (2013).

Mary also lectured at degree level and gave workshops throughout her career; she was a fervent member of the Embroiderers’ Guild and a believer in the importance of adult education.

Moving to Little Eversden in Cambridgeshire in 1990, she had a garden studio that housed shoe boxes jam-packed with art postcards and shelves filled with regimented rainbows of threads; a monkey puzzle tree was the fierce partition between her studio and Anthony’s. It was there that she worked daily, only retiring due to ill health at the age of 80.She is survived by Anthony, their daughters, Kate and Lucy, three grandchildren, Jessica, Madeleine and Alexander, and her sister, Vicki.

Gavin Fry

The GuardianTramp

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