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For bohemians everywhere

Robert Farqhuar (Bob the Brush) 1937 – 2013

Written by Jonathan Broughton, July 2013.

'Bob the Brush' Robert Farquhar

Bob the Brush Robert Farquhar

Bohemia resident, Robert Farquhar has died at the age of seventy five. His gaunt frame, strong features and, up until a year ago, hair down to his waist, he cut a striking and familiar figure trundling up and down Bohemia Road in his electric buggy.

Diagnosed with pneumonia and admitted straight to hospital, he died the same evening.

Eccentric, quirky, a true Bohemian, Robert Farquhar enjoyed success as an accomplished and highly regarded artist.

He achieved recognition after treading a long and very rocky path.

“I lived in the fast lane, have now and pay tomorrow. I didn’t care.” To make a quick buck, he burgled. Jewellery, antiques, he even robbed Wells Cathedral. Six years, seven years, the prison sentences followed. As a young burglar he could “run up the side of a building.” In all Robert spent thirty-two years in gaol.

Relieved of everyday responsibilities and encouraged to take part in a wide range of activities, his artistic talent came to the fore. His first paintings featured abstract works: later, Expressionism became his preferred medium. His subjects concentrated on prisoners and prison life. “With a different background,” the head of education in one prison told him, “you could have been an academic.” Robert possessed a very high IQ.

His paintings won three Koestler awards. These are presented to prisoners who produce exceptional works of art in gaol. The late Sir Hugh Casson, President of the RoyalAcademy and Chairman of the Koestler Trust became one of Robert’s patrons. He liked Farquhar’s ‘anarchic’ spirit and thought his paintings captured the ‘claustrophobia of prison life.’

On Robert’s final release from prison in nineteen eighty-five, Sir Hugh Casson supported the hostel-cum-gallery for ex-prisoners that Robert ran in Waterloo. At this time Robert became a Koestler judge, touring prisons. When the landlord of the Waterloo building wanted a share in the gallery, Robert left and toured around Great Britain in a London Cab, in which he also lived.

Fourteen years ago, as an artist and as a person, Robert disappeared.

In August 2009, Sue Norton of Cafe Sixty Seven, Bohemia Road asked her friend Josie O’Rourke to deliver a meal to a ‘miserable old sod, who doesn’t speak.’

The ground floor bedsit appeared derelict, until Josie discovered ‘a little old man with a beard.’ On a string above his bed hung photocopies of paintings.

Once Josie established that he was Robert Farquhar, the artist, she approached local art galleries to suggest holding an exhibition of his works. All his originals had long since been sold or given away. The Hastings Arts Forum agreed and backed by local sponsors, she raised enough money to buy paints, frames and canvases. Robert promised twenty paintings, though he hadn’t picked up a paint brush in nine years.

As he worked, his old enthusiasm returned. “I’ve seen terrible villains whose lives changed when they picked up a paint brush – I believe in what the Koestler Trust is about: helping people.”

The show’s success galvanised Robert. “I’ll meet old friends again, who once believed in me. A lot of people have my paintings – maybe I’ll get a West End show like I had years ago.”

Over the years Robert painted hundreds of paintings. “Those he didn’t sell, he gave away,” explains Susan Farquhar, his niece. “He was such a kind soul and lived a very simple life. Material goods didn’t interest him. He ate like a sparrow.”

One Christmas, Susan saved his life. “He developed pleurisy. So I took him home with me to Wolverhampton and nursed him. It took three months.”

A wealthy patron from Robert’s London days bought the one bedroom flat for him in Bohemia Road.

Susan says, “He called it ‘The Hovel.’” Unable to pay his bills, Robert kept warm in the local bookmakers. “He lived for his paintings. Any money he made he gave away.”

Susan held Robert’s wake at Cafe Sixty Seven. “The funeral at the crematorium was so nice, because the Reverend Ron Baker began by saying that it was an honour to take the service.”

Robert leaves behind two children. The first one born when Robert was sixty. Asked once about any advice he might give to a young person at risk of wasting their life, he replied: “Learn, read, study and listen to classical music – it touches the soul and makes us question who we are and where we are going. There’s more to life than gold chains and Bentleys.”

Robert Farquhar memorial

Robert Farquhar memorial in window of his flat in Bohemia Road, Hastings.

RELATED ITEMS

Sources: The Observer 27th June 2010

Susan Farquhar

Pigeons – a short story by Robert Farquhar, 2011.

4 Comments

  1. What a sad surprise I had when I saw the write-up for Bob ,that he had died .he was such a lovely gentleman . I knew him when we spent time together at Blundeston ,Lowestoft ,Suffolk.We left there and went to pentonville for work release programme . a funny story came out of it because he was given a job with Westminster Council as a Road sweeper . but it did not take bob long to , realise that he had better things to do , so he unloaded the brooms and shovel , put has canvas easel and paints on the cart and done what he enjoyed most , of course it only took a few days before he was found out and lost the job ‘. MEMORIES AYE .as for his nick name [ Bob the brush , it came about because he was always painting ,a brush in hand ] As for his 2 children they can rest assured that as a father ,he had many faults , but a real gentle man.

  2. I have been reading everything I can find on the internet about Bob but as yet, nothing about how he came to get his name. Joe, who spent many years in the same or similar institutions told me that Bob was called “Bob The Brush” because he used to paint with a shaving brush . . . . . In the words of Michael Caine, “Not a lot of people know that” . . . .

  3. Hi,

    I was very sorry to learn that Bob is no longer with us in body, although he will always be here in spirit. I was lucky enough to meet Bob quite a few times through his good friend Joe Lambert . . . . . I am also lucky to have a few of Bobs paintings. Along with Joe and Jimmy Gilbert, Bob represented some of the best of what I call The Prison school of art .. . . Talented people all of them and very under rated . . . . . . . . He will be greatly missed . . . .

  4. Hello, im one of robert’s children… Me and My brother miss our father so much… even tho we havent spent much time with him we wish we could of… because are father is so kind.
    My brother has his talent, a very good artist. My dad is now a grandad… i was going tout tell him that he was finaly going to be a grandfather. but he past away.
    I havent got much to say, Just that i hope he is happy where he is. “Daddy you are my hero”
    ps. i’m sorry for my spelling, I live in france now so i forget my english.

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