TRIBUTES have been paid to an Ilkley based artist who died on Saturday aged 67.

Graeme Willson, who was an important figure in the Public Mural and Public Art Movements with a broad spread of work, had recently been treated for cancer of the oesophagus.

His work included prestigious ecclesiastical commissions, as well as many murals for Morrison's Supermarkets.

Leading tributes his daughter Lucy Wright said on behalf of the family: "Graeme was a much loved father, brother, husband and grandfather, whose love, warmth, sense of humour, passion for and contribution to the arts, will be greatly missed."

It was only last month Mr Willson presented a stunning stained-glass screen to consultant surgeon James Halstead and his team at Bradford Royal Infirmary, who treated him for cancer of the oesophagus.

Mr Willson began treatment and surgery at BRI, part of Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, in January this year after his diagnosis in December 2017.

The screen was designed by Mr Willson back in 2003 after being commissioned by his sister, Christine Davenport, on behalf of the company where she worked. It is called ‘Offering’ and depicts an intricate floral bouquet pattern incorporating lilies.

He explained that the idea of presenting it to the hospital came about while convalescing, describing it as a “lightbulb moment”.

Speaking in September Mr Willson said: “When Christine’s company moved out and tenants moved in to the premises, the screen was relegated to the basement where it has been languishing ever since. When I was convalescing the idea came to me that it should be resurrected and put to good use and Christine wholeheartedly agreed with me.

“Much of my working life has been devoted to the principle of public art and the role that visual arts can play in the backdrop of people’s lives, and indeed as part of the healing process in a hospital.

“Obviously, compared to the mainstream activities of surgery, medicine and nursing, this role is very minor and peripheral.

“But nevertheless I do believe that it sends out a signal – that the authorities care about the environment and its impact on both patients and staff.

“In all sorts of subtle ways this can contribute to the convalescence of the patient and the well-being of staff.

“While I was gradually getting better in BRI, I couldn’t help reflecting on the quality of the care from which I was benefitting. I felt such gratitude for the kindness and compassion of all the staff.”

The screen, which has been installed in the hospital’s main atrium, was unveiled at a special ribbon-cutting ceremony, which was also attended by the trust’s Church of England chaplain, Joe Fielder, who Mr Willson also wanted to thank.

Mr Willson was committed to Public Art; bringing art out of the gallery and into public spaces where more people could see and appreciate it.

The importance of his contribution to this field and the quality and diffusion of his work make him a national figure.

He graduated from Reading University in 1973 with a degree in Fine Art and worked as a full-time lecturer at the North Lindsey College, South Humberside, 1973-5. From 1975 onward he has worked as a freelance artist and visiting lecturer at Bradford & Ilkley Community College, Chelsea College, London, the Institute of Advanced, Architectural Studies, University of York, and at Bretton Hall College, South Yorkshire.

Graeme exhibited his work in many group exhibitions in London and elsewhere, including at the National Portrait Gallery, London Contemporary Art Society, Harewood House, Cartwright Hall, Leeds City Art Gallery, and at the Mercer Art Gallery, Harrogate.

Solo exhibitions in London were at the Sloane Street Gallery (1981); Smith’s Gallery and RIBA Gallery (1989). Cartwright Hall held a solo exhibition of his work in 1981 and exhibitions in other Northern England venues include the St Paul’s Gallery, Leeds; Arcade Gallery, Harrogate; Dean Clough, Halifax; and galleries at the University of Bradford (1990) and University of Leeds (1992). An ‘Ilkley Retrospective: 25 years of work in Ilkley by Graeme Willson’ was shown at the Manor House, Ilkley, 2014-15.

He has been Artist in Residence for a number of local institutions and organisations, including Cartwright Hall (1987), Leeds Art Gallery (1987 and 1996), and Ilkley Literature Festive and Ilkley Concert Club.

He was the founder of the Yorkshire Mural Artists’ Group, with a view to making art more accessible to more people, particularly in mural forms. His mural commissions have included work for Leeds Corn Exchange, Provident Financial Group, British Rail and the William Morrison Supermarket chain at branches across England and in Scotland. In Bradford, the Farrow Medical Centre at Undercliffe displays a trapezoid mural by Willson depicting the people and work of the area. The William Morrison Supermarket at Girlington, Bradford, also has three murals in the entrance hall, titled ‘Warp and Weft’, depicting traditional industry in the city.

Graeme Willson’s paintings are held in Bradford at Cartwright Hall and at the University of Bradford, as well as at the University of Hull, University of Sheffield and the Institute of Education, London. The Leeds City Art Gallery has also acquired his work for their permanent collection. Stained glass work can be seen at St Mary’s, Warwick and St. Laurence, Rowington, Warwickshire.

He has said of his public art: “People who may not normally go to an art gallery get to see my art. And I like the idea of art in places where you would not expect it … I also have a belief that the general public, no matter how stressed by the daily pace of things, will register and respond in good faith.”

In Leeds, Graeme did the mural, “Cornucopia” (1990) which still occupies the four-storey wall, at the junction of New Market Street and Call Lane, outside the Corn Exchange, referring to the architecture of the Corn Exchange and Second White Cloth Hall and to local industries both historic and contemporary.

Many will also remember the enormously long mural, “Inner City Development” (1978-1979) demolished during the development of Millennium Square. (It backed onto the Electric Press Building and faced onto the site which had been occupied by Cuthbert Brodrick’s Oriental Baths, Cookridge Street.)

Within walking distance of the city centre are also two murals, “Fragments from the Post-Industrial State” (1981-1984) at Oddy Locks, Leeds Liverpool Canal.

He was a member of the Yorkshire Mural Artists’ Group from its foundation in 1978 until it disbanded in 1988.

Graeme is survived by his widow, Polly; elder sister, Christine; younger sister, Rosemary; son, Jacob; daughter, Lucy; and three grandchildren, Rudy, Vita and Freda.