Issue date: 02 November 2001

Derek Balmer is to be awarded the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Arts in acknowledgement of his election as President of the Royal West of England Academy, as a tribute to his distinguished contribution to the visual arts; and, in recognition of the very special relationship between the Academy and the University of the West of England.

Derek Balmer is a painter and photographer by calling and a Bristolian by adoption. He was born in London and, after what he describes as an unsatisfactory formal education - he was a wartime evacuee and attended nine different schools in eight years - he enrolled at the West of England College of Art in Bristol at the tender age of fifteen. The College of Art was later incorporated into Bristol Polytechnic. By the time he was twenty Derek Balmer had exhibited at the Royal West of England Academy (RWA), the start of a long association with the Academy. In 1959 he mounted his first one-man exhibition at the Fimbarris Gallery in Bath at the age of twenty-four.

Unable to take up a place at the Slade, Derek Balmer turned to photography to earn his living. Soon he became one of Bristol’s most successful photographers, specialising in both industrial and theatre photography. Over a period of some twenty-five years he produced definitive portraits of many leading actors appearing at the Bristol Old Vic theatre, including Sir Tyrone Guthrie and Peter O’Toole.

Between 1962 and 1966 Derek Balmer was at the centre of the Bristol arts scene, writing the weekly Arts column for the Western Daily Press. But he did not abandon painting and during the 1960s and 1970s his reputation as an artist grew both nationally and abroad. He was a finalist in the Arnolfini Gallery Open National Competition in both 1963 and 1964.

In 1965 he won the Prix d’Natalie in Provence, and was included in Arts Council exhibitions touring Europe. This was followed in 1968 by a one-man exhibition, again at the Arnolfini in Bristol.

Other successes followed, and in 1980 Derek Balmer was invited to present a solo exhibition in the Sharples Gallery at the Royal West of England Academy. He was the 1983 finalist at the Avon Open Exhibition. He has exhibited in many countries, his latest one-man show being in Amsterdam. Derek Balmer’s work hangs in public and private collections in the United Kingdom, Canada, Holland, Germany, France, Switzerland, and the USA.

Derek Balmer became an Associate of the RWA and later a member of its Council, serving as the Academicians’ Chairman from 1996 to 2000. In 2001 he became the Academy’s eighteenth President in succession to Doctor Peter Thursby, who is also an alumni of the West of England College of Art and an honorary graduate of the University of the West of England.

During Derek Balmer’s presidency, he hopes to make the Royal West of England Academy a resource for the wider community and artists of all ages, and a strategic partnership with the University of the West of England is proposed. This will build upon the Academy’s existing links with the University’s Faculty of Art, Media and Design, and will foster and encourage young artists through education and exhibition opportunities.

The Honorary Degree of Doctor of Arts will be awarded to Derek Balmer at the awards ceremony of the Faculty of Art, Media and Design at Bristol Cathedral on Tuesday 6 November at 2.45pm.


Editors Note
Visual of Derek available in Jpeg format by emailing Jayne.Andrews@uwe.ac.uk

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