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Paternal pride: Frederic Raphael stands beside "Joe and the Freak", 1985, by his daughter Sarah

In a career spanning more than 50 years, Frederic Raphael has produced novels, plays, television and film screenplays, scholarly works and magazine and newspaper articles. But the reason I meet him in the basement of the Marborough Fine Art Gallery is to discuss his daughter, the artist Sarah Raphael, who died aged 40 in 2001. The gallery is hosting a major retrospective of her work to coincide with the publication of her biography by William Packer, artist and former art critic of the Financial Times.  

"Don't be afraid to speak up because my hearing is not all that good," Frederic says with a grin. "My hearing is not as good as my vanity." It soon becomes apparent that laughter is important to him, and it accompanies many memories of his daughter. Indeed, when I ask how Sarah would have liked to be remembered, he responds: "The first word I wanted to say to you was funny...the evocation of a smile in the work, even in the serious work, is part of what it is to be an artist who is full of life rather than against it."

Sarah was the middle child of Frederic and Sylvia, his wife of 58 years, to whom he affectionately refers as "Beetle". Sarah was their only daughter of three children. Soon after her birth in 1960, the Raphaels moved to the Greek island of Ios. Several of the sketches displayed at Marlborough are of Ios, as well as the beautifully vivid and textually stunning painting That Place-Ios (1993). Frederic smiles as he recalls how Sarah always referred to Ios as "that place". Today, in the Raphaels' house in Ios there is a painting by Sarah of a shelf with pots and other things which is so vivid that Frederic claims one almost "reaches up to put things alongside them".

As a very young child, Sarah looked at things closely, and Frederic stresses how she was very mimetic. "If you showed her things which were worth looking at, she then tried to do things that were worth looking at." He recalls her on the beach in Ios in 1963, drawing donkeys in the sand. Later that year, Frederic took the children to the archaeological site at Mycenae where the famous Gate of Lions stands. He told them stories of King Agamemnon and the Achaean heroes. When they returned to the hotel, Sarah drew lean lions, not donkeys. "She acquired very quickly an onsite knowledge of how to portray things."

After moving back to England, the Raphaels spent the summer holidays in their old farmhouse in the wooded hills above St Laurent-la Vallée in the Dordogne. Sarah would go out and paint with Frederic and the neo-Romantic painter, writer and sculptor Michael Ayrton, a family friend. They were painting on a hillside when Ayrton said to Frederic, "I suspect she's going to be better than me." Later, he turned to Sarah and said: "We can go now, you've done the landscape, you don't need to keep looking at it." But Sarah refused to leave, and continued painting.

The show contains a vast array of styles, from her textually vibrant and stunning painting The Desert Cross (I) (1994) to her Strip! sequence, large grid-based works packed with tiny shapes and images. "She did certain things to feel them through and when she got to the end of that she went on to the next thing, not because she didn't know what to do, but because there was a certain jive which eventually arrived at a certain originality." This originality, Frederic believes, stems in part from her sense of "unity", which enabled her eye to impose order on chaos. This, he argues, is what differentiates an artist from an amateur, however good.

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Lucy Beaurin
February 25th, 2018
8:02 PM
I remember Sarah as a great friend, a childhood friend. She gave me, my sister and brother, the greatest of games, so much imagination; we were pirates abord the climing frame in Suffolk, gipsies on a long trip to ... well , who knows where, on the old cart in front of the house in the Dordogne, prisoners in the old baking house, never to be released... She was Paul Macartney in Colchester - never forget breaking my finger as a chair fell back and she bandaged it up with loo roll, telling me that she'd "done first aid at school"! I think about Sarah a lot, still, and with so many happy memories and love xxx

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