Obituary: Jimmy Furneaux, artist and teacher

Jimmy Furneaux
Jimmy Furneaux
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Born: 7 June, 1935, in Aberdeen. Died: 11 February, 2013, in Aberdeen, aged 77.

Jimmy Furneaux was an Aberdeen artist and teacher who made the Granite City his muse.

Whether he was scouting out a new site to set up his watercolours or simply walking home with his children, his enthusiasm for its character and his unique take on its features were self-evident.

Accompanying his youngsters through the streets, he would keep up a constant dialogue of observation, acutely aware of his surroundings and highlighting how things seemed, how they really looked, the varying colour combinations.

“At times, the most mundane could take on a new light through what I could only describe as a poetic eye,” said his son, Paul.

It was that eye for a new angle that set him apart as a north-east artist. Trained initially in architecture, he captured Aberdeen’s less well-known buildings and landmarks from unusual perspectives, looking up alleyways, over rooftops or into back yards.

His distinctive style would never create a picture postcard beauty but instead conjure up an atmosphere and encapsulate the mood of the most ordinary, often unlikely, choice of setting.

Born in Aberdeen, to James and Frances Furneaux, he lived at Castlehill Barracks before the family moved to the city’s North Anderson Drive. Educated at Hilton School, he was a bright child and won a scholarship to Aberdeen Grammar School where he was influenced by art teacher Charles Hemingway. Having nurtured his talents, the teacher was sorely disappointed when, on leaving school, Furneaux took up an apprenticeship with architects Jenkins & Marr.

However, Hemingway continued to work on his former pupil, eventually persuading him to give up architecture and enrol at Aberdeen’s Gray’s School of Art where he studied sculpture.

After completing his degree, he did teacher training in Aberdeen and began his career as an art teacher with a peripatetic post, visiting schools in rural Aberdeenshire. A full-time job followed at Ellon Academy.

While at Gray’s he had met fellow student Mavis Davidson, whom he married in 1958.

They lived in Tarves, where they had a family of four sons, before his work took them into Aberdeen in the mid 1960s when he began teaching at the city’s College of Commerce, always referred to by him as the College of Comedy.

One former student and lifelong friend, sculptor James Castle, recalled his teaching as “intense, dynamic, perceptive, inspiration and crazy”.

“He would patrol the art studio like a man possessed, dressed in the School of Paris style: artist’s smock, goatee beard, floppy hair and Hush Puppies – a force of nature.”

When the college closed in the 1980s, he continued to teach students for a short time before taking early retirement in his 50s. It enabled him to devote himself to his art and for several years he shared a studio in Guild Street with artists under the auspices of Workshop and Artists’ Studio Provision Scotland (Wasps). He enjoyed being part of the Wasps community of artists but also worked from his home in the city’s west end and had been involved with Peacock Printmakers.

Although he had virtually given up sculpture while living in Aberdeenshire, in retirement he returned to it as well as ceramics. But he also produced drawings and a huge range of works in many other media – watercolour, oil, gouache, printmaking.

Though he painted some portraits, the majority of his paintings featured scenes of Aberdeen, often hidden away corners that would not normally attract an artist’s attention, his images reflecting his early training in architecture.

He was never happier than when engrossed in a new piece, often working outside and following a good day’s drawing and painting with a congenial visit to the pub.

A raconteur who loved company, he had a great sense of humour and a legendary delivery and was a familiar sight in his favourite haunts – latterly the Prince of Wales – holding forth, cigar in hand.

He was also a complex man, one who did not suffer fools easily and who had an aversion to hypocrisy, phonyism and pomposity, his sense of the sublime and the ridiculous illustrated by his fondness for both the classical music of Rachmaninov and the eccentricity of Monty Python and the Goons.

Though he had lived with diabetes for 30 years, and latterly became increasingly debilitated and frail, he still had the ability to delight in the opportunity to see things anew.

And his images of Aberdeen, seen through his unique viewfinder, are now his enduring legacy.

Celebrating an exhibition of his father’s cityscapes last autumn, his son Paul, also an artist, observed: “He cannot deny his love for this city… it comes across in his work.” He added: “I can never walk around Aberdeen without seeing a Jimmy Furneaux.”

He is survived by his wife Mavis, sons Gerry, Paul, Mark and David, granddaughter Silvie and his sister Doris.