Colin Failes obituary

Other lives: Mural painter with specialist skills in perspective and trompe l’oeil techniques

My friend Colin Failes, who has died aged 72 of pulmonary fibrosis, was one of the most accomplished mural painters in the UK, with specialist skills in perspective and trompe l’oeil techniques.

Large public and private commissions included the Vanbrugh Club at the Yvonne Arnaud theatre in Guildford, Surrey, the Everyman theatre in Cheltenham, Arlington House in London, the P&O liners, the Vintners’ Company in the City of London and his contribution to the great Spanish Armada series at the House of Lords.

Working in situ, and designing compositions to the architecture and the fall of light, Colin could deal expertly with the many challenges of scaffolding, security and client demands. For a private commission, Colin, a witty artist, painted the illusion of shutters on a conservatory wall, with a monkey opening the right-hand shutter to reveal an oriental interior, exquisite in every trompe l’oeil detail. He also painted on canvas, romantic landscapes he would invent from a memory or dream, exhibiting these widely at private galleries and in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibitions.

Colin Failes was a master at trompe l’oeil techniques, as demonstrated by this mural, a private commission for a conservatory wall
Colin Failes was a master at trompe l’oeil techniques, as demonstrated by this mural, a private commission for a conservatory wall Photograph: none

Born in Orpington, Kent, Colin grew up in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, the son of Cyril Failes, who worked for GCHQ, and his wife, Violet (nee Kipps). He went to Kingsmead school and, after an apprenticeship as a draughtsman, became a sculpture student at the City and Guilds of London Arts School, graduating in 1972.

With the Beckwith travel scholarship he was able to travel to Egypt to study ancient Egyptian art for several months. This was followed by the postgraduate course in sculpture at the Royal Academy Schools, where he was encouraged by the academicians James Butler and Willi Soukop.

Technically already accomplished, after graduating in 1976 Colin was soon to find work as a sculptor on film productions, including The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Omen III and Inchon (all 1981).

While at the RA Schools Colin had made simple abstracted sculptures on which he would paint more complex figurative images. With his growing mastery of painting techniques, he went on to blossom as a mural painter.

Also in demand as a teacher, Colin worked at Harrow School of Art in the 1980s and 90s, and, in the past decade, at Morley College, south London, where he taught specialist trompe l’oeil techniques. He also gave several lectures on Sir James Thornhill and the Painted Hall of the Old Royal Navy College, Greenwich – delivering one of them at the Royal Academy represented a personal triumph in the light of his dyslexic tendency.

After the diagnosis of his lung condition a decade ago, he became something of a “poster boy” for the British Lung Foundation, for whom he made a short film describing the effects of the disease on his life.

Colin lived in Herne Hill, south London, with his partner, Nicholas Morrison, a musician, whom he met in 1977 at the London University gay disco.

Nicholas survives him, as do his son, Jonathan, from a previous relationship, a granddaughter, Sophia, two brothers, Bryan and Peter, and a sister, Margaret.

• This article was amended on 13 June 2021 to correct Colin Failes’ age at death.

Stephen Duncan

The GuardianTramp

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