John Foster obituary

Other lives: Artist and art teacher who spent the early part of his career drawing antiquities in Egypt

My father, John Foster, who has died aged 88, was an artist and teacher. “With hindsight I have never been a creative enough or dedicated enough artist to make a niche,” he told me in 1985, but he was in thrall to his craft. Always distracted by the landscape around him (he fortunately never drove), in retirement he created a substantial body of beautiful work primarily from walks on the Quantocks – where he worked alongside his close friend David Macfarlane – the Brendons and West Penwith. His art speaks for this thoughtful, complicated man.

Born in Thornaby-on-Tees, then in the North Riding of Yorkshire, to Robert, a policeman, and Doris (nee Kemp), a domestic servant, he and his three siblings moved regularly around the region. Bright – Ampleforth primary school got the day off when he won a place at Malton grammar school – sensitive and clearly artistic, he did not fit in easily.

John Foster on the Island of Philae, Egypt, in 1961
John Foster on the Island of Philae, Egypt, in 1961 Photograph: provided by family

Two years of national service (1954-56) interrupted his artistic training, which began at Constantine College in Middlesbrough and ended with a diploma in fine art from the Slade School (1958). John was hardworking and conscientious; his teacher Frank Ormrod described his graphic arts as “far above the average”. He then won a scholarship (1959) provided by the Norwegian state to study botanical drawing. Plants and gardening remained a passion.

Working for the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago (1959-61), he travelled to Egypt to draw facsimiles of ancient reliefs and hierographic inscriptions at Luxor. When the archaeologist and writer Jacquetta Hawkes turned up, only John was around, so she took him to dinner with her friend “Jack”, who turned out to be JB Priestley. Hawkes teased the reserved John as he guided them on a moonlit tour of the statues at the Karnak temples – for not shining his torch on the penises.

With the Aswan Dam about to flood antiquities, John was transferred to recording the Beit el-Wali temple of Ramesses II in Nubia, living on the paddle steamer Memnon, a former Thomas Cook luxury boat, later used for filming Death on the Nile.

Lydeard Hill, Somerset, painted by John Foster
Lydeard Hill, Somerset, painted by John Foster Photograph: from family/Unknown

He then taught fine art at Plymouth, Lincoln (where he went through a geometric phase) and Kidderminster (where he took to carpet design) – and was latterly deputy head at Somerset College of Art in Taunton. Administrative woes drove him to early retirement in 1990. Now focusing on landscapes, he motivated himself by submitting work for exhibitions in London (Griff Rhys Jones bought a picture he selected for the Discerning Eye exhibition at the Mall Galleries) and south-west England. He also staged three one-man exhibitions.

John’s marriage to Jonquil Alpe broke up in 1979; he is survived by their children, Robert, Mary and me, grandchildren, Polly, George and Ruben, and his partner, Jo Poynter.

Sally Foster

The GuardianTramp

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