Appreciation: Richard Carr, journalist and writer passionate about design and the arts

Academic, journalist and writer Richard CarrAcademic, journalist and writer Richard Carr
Academic, journalist and writer Richard Carr
Richard John Marr Carr, academic, journalist and writer. Born: 1935 in Hendon, Middlesex. Died 24 December, 2018 in Dundee, aged 84.

Richard Carr lived a very full and ­purposeful life and much of this is recorded in an unpublished autobiography, to which I have not had access. These thoughts, recollections and impressions have been gleaned largely from my own experience of working with Richard over the past quarter century or so and from a rather fragmented collection of notes and ­recollections, by others, including Richard’s son, Simon Carr and his ­second wife, Marlene Ivey.

Consequently, there are gaps in my knowledge and because of the complexity of his ­family life (he was married twice, on both occasions for 26 years) there is much that should remain private.

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Richard was born in ­Middlesex in 1935 and spent the early years of his life in Oxford with his adoptive mother, Dora Minnie Butler Carr, his stepfather John Henry Carr and his nanny, Herta. From 1944 to 1954 he attended St Christopher’s School, ­Letchworth, England, and in 1954 joined the National ­Service as a Lance Corporal, re-entering civilian life in 1956 to attend St Catherine’s ­College, Oxford from where he graduated with an MA in 1959.

Richard successfully ­combined a number of careers, all of which became intertwined in one evolving strand – he was a successful journalist and critic, an author, an academic and an editor.

His passions were fine art, craft, architecture and design, especially that practiced by the Modern Movement whose exponents included Saarinen, Le Corbusier, ­Gropius, Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe.

In 1976, Richard moved to Scotland with his young ­family to head the new design course at Duncan of Jordanstone ­College of Art and Design in Dundee, where he remained until his retirement in 2007 as honorary ­professor.

He was a highly successful, and popular, teacher and ­academic, lending weight and content to a course which greatly benefited generations of students.

Over the decades, Richard contributed to a bewildering range of books and ­publications. He was features editor of DESIGN magazine and design correspondent for The Guardian, as well as ­contributing to Craft Horizons (USA), Form (Sweden), Domus (Italy) and Studio International. He also wrote frequently for The Scotsman as well as The Herald and The Sunday ­Herald

However, it was in connection with another publication, ArtWork, the independent art newspaper covering Scotland and the North of England, that I first came into contact with Richard.

In 1991, Richard had recently taken over as the new ­editor and under his experienced journalistic eye, it developed into an important voice, ­producing ­features, reviews, articles and, often, hard-hitting editorials that pulled no punches. Its targets were often the high and mighty of Scotland’s cultural world, such as the Scottish Arts Council, the National ­Galleries of Scotland or Glasgow Museums, and the people who ran these organisations.

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They rarely came away unscathed – below the surface of the mild, well-mannered, archetypical Oxford-educated Englishman, real passion and bravery flowed through his veins. He could eloquently dismantle the posturing and double-think of the cultural overlords, but he was equally prepared to take an angry response on the chin.

Working with Richard, as a young writer on Artwork, I soon discovered that he was a generous and supportive mentor, offering interesting assignments and supportive criticism. This also turned out to be the case when he employed me as a lecturer at DJCAD – his comments and criticism were always well-judged and couched in an appropriate tone, and were neither angry nor admonitory. I became aware that this was Richard’s modus operandi and his modus vivendi, for he was often generously ­supportive of others and he looked for no financial or political recompense.

But he was also no pushover. If others met his displeasure, he was firm in his response, and this approach applied to colleagues and students alike. I suspect that those who attempted to cross him did so only once because his rebuffs could be as forceful as they were fair.

At his core, Richard was a pedagogue, a nurturer and an educator. His priority was to educate and to develop the ­discourse around art, craft, architecture and design. He did this through the elegant command of the English ­language, in its spoken and written forms.

His contribution to ArtWork, both as editor and critic, was immense – his articles and leaders number in the ­hundreds covering, as might be expected, a wide spread of concerns and interests. Most recently, for example, Richard reported (ArtWork 201, winter 2017/18) on a conference in Oxford, Meeting Minds, that addressed the future of the newspaper industry in the digital age. As well as ­giving him an opportunity to return to his beloved Oxford, it also demonstrated Richard’s enduring interest in an industry that was in his blood, for he had worked as a junior reporter at the Oxford Mail, where he learnt his craft the hard way. He was once sacked for attempting to alter the made-up lettering already placed by the typesetters (there was a strict code of ­conduct that ensured the work of the two professions did not overlap).

I last saw Richard in Dundee in 2017, on the steps that lead down from DJCAD, eventually to the DCA and the railway station. I had not seen him for some years. He had returned from Canada and had been in ill-health but had almost recovered his former self.

Towards the end of 2018, and again in poor health, Richard contributed what turned out to be his last article for ArtWork, Newcomer On The Dundee Waterfront, about the new V & A design museum, designed by Kengo Kuma.

Richard was too ill to visit the building himself, but asked friends to report back with photographs and comments. In typical and robust fashion, Richard offered an analysis that went against the grain of most current opinion, where he pointed out some of the many flaws (as he saw them) of the building, its policy and approach, as well as its siting on the revitalised ­Dundee waterfront. It’s as insightful a piece as any by Richard and stands as a fitting, final testament to his career as an astute, fearless commentator and critic.

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A memorial gathering for Richard Carr is being held in the Queen’s Hotel, Dundee on 22 March at 1pm. There will not be a service but his son, Simon, will do a slide presentation on Richard and his interests. If you wish to attend, contact [email protected]


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