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William Turnbull

Sculptor;

Born: January 11, 1922; Died: November 16, 2012.

WILLIAM Turnbull, who has died at the age of 90, was one of Britain's most highly regarded modern sculptors.

The son of a Dundee shipyard engineer, Turnbull was a key figure in the post-war art world and his works features in galleries around the globe. He was also widely recognised for his paintings and drawings.

As a youngster, Turnbull learned to draw by copying illustrations from magazines. But his hopes of studying at art college were dashed when his father lost his job during the Great Depression. The 15-year-old was forced to leave school and found work, first as a labourer then painting film posters.

Turnbull attended evening drawing class at Dundee University where he was taught by landscape artist James McIntosh Patrick and in 1939 landed a job in the illustration department at publishers DC Thomson.

War got in the way of Turnbull's career plans and in 1941 he was drafted into the RAF, the young pilot going on to serve in Canada, India and Sri Lanka. On being demobbed, he enrolled in the painting department of Slade School of Fine Art in London.

Yet art and politics clashed. His love of Impressionists such as Cezanne and Monet saw him go up against the anti-Impressionist stance at the school, and the result was a switch to sculpture.

This romantic vision of contemporary continental modernist art took Turnbull to Paris in 1948, his time there punctuated by a London exhibition at the Hanover Gallery in 1950. But by the end of that year Turnbull had indeed become the cliched tortured artist. Cash-strapped and starving, he was forced to return to London, taking a part-time job working the night shift at a Lyons ice-cream factory.

Yet the setback didn't deter Turnbull. In 1952 he was included in the Young Sculptors exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, which had become the focal point for new art in London. And in 1955, the sculptor was introduced to a young American collector, Donald Blinken, who purchased one of Turnbull's works, Female Standing Figure, which helped cement the artist's reputation in the United States.

In 1960 Turnbull married the Singaporean artist Kim Lim and two years later he travelled to Japan, Cambodia and Lim's native country. A series of totemic sculptures followed, inspired by the religious sites he visited on his travels.

The artist began teaching sculpture at the Central School of Art. Having learned to weld in the foundry he created there with colleague Brian Wall, Turnbull worked with stainless steel, a medium he would champion for the next eight years.

And the colourful career continued; the artist had a major retrospective exhibition at the Tate Gallery and his work has been the subject of several exhibitions throughout the decades, notably at the National Museum Art Gallery, Singapore.

Tate director Nicholas Serota described Turnbull as "an exceptional artist, unusually gifted both as a painter and a sculptor" whose sculpture and painting "always had a humanist sensibility". The Chatsworth House Trust is to present a major exhibition of his work next spring. The artist's wife predeceased him. He is survived by his sons Alex and Johnny.

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