Born: March 9, 1941;

Died: April 13, 2021.

THE death of Chris Carrell, not long after his 80th birthday and after Parkinson’s and age-related illnesses, has deeply saddened countless artists across the UK and beyond, while stirring magical memories among those who experienced his insightful practice of bringing art into the lives of people wherever he worked.

His time as director of Glasgow’s Third Eye Centre (1978-1991) was undoubtedly a significant factor in Glasgow achieving its 1990 European City of Culture status, just as Sunderland and Portsmouth both gained a renewed sense of cultural identity from his astutely managed creative projects.

He was born Ronald Christopher Carrell, at Barnard Castle, Co Durham, in March 1941. His father, Pilot Officer Ronald M. Carrell, died on a bombing raid in Germany in October 1940, before Chris was born, and is buried in the Commonwealth war cemetery at Charlottenberg, Berlin.

After the war, Chris moved to Kent with his mother Enid, stepfather Frank Hutchins, and his younger brother John. His parents became hoteliers and publicans. He was educated at Worksop college in Nottinghamshire.

At art school in Newcastle, he was taught by Victor Pasmore and Richard Hamilton: several pieces of Chris’s abstract work were chosen by Pasmore for inclusion in the Young Contemporaries exhibition in London in February 1962 which launched pop art, and for the London Show at the Whitechapel in 1962 – Chris was exhibited there alongside RB Kitaj, Hockney, Peter Blake and others.

In 1969, after a brief stint teaching and lecturing in art, Carrell, itching to break free of institutional enclaves and boundaries, opened The Bookshop in Sunderland’s Fredrick Street. It proved an oasis and a portal for anyone interested in contemporary culture.

Before long, the increasingly popular Bookshop had moved, morphing into the Ceolfrith Arts Centre – subsequently Sunderland Arts Centre – and hosting exhibitions, poetry readings, music nights and running a book press publishing artist monographs, poetry books and exhibition catalogues.

Local artists and writers felt empowered, able to participate alongside visiting professionals. The legacy of his work there was celebrated by Circa Arts in 1989, which marked The Bookshop’s 20th anniversary with archival materials, merchandise and a day of events.

When, in 1978, Chris arrived in Glasgow as director of the fledgling Third Eye, he wanted the post-industrial city to recognise that it had a distinctive cultural identity worth celebrating and supporting.

The team of specialist programmers he drew together shared his enthusiasm for showcasing local talents, and the 1980s saw Third Eye play an important role in the rise of the new Glasgow painters Ken Currie, Peter Howson and Steven Campbell among them.

But Third Eye was never given to navel-gazing or tunnel vision. Soon the gallery space was hosting instances of future-forward developments in the arts by national and international practitioners.

Those spaces also embraced a rich array of music events, poetry readings, theatre pieces and dance.

When Carrell recruited Nikki Milican as his events programmer in the late 1980s, she brought with her the National Review of Live Art, which she had curated since its inception. Now cutting-edge performance, increasingly bypassing London, was helping to put Glasgow on a worldwide map attuned to radical arts innovation.

There was a truly happening buzz about the place: it was cool but, like the innately genial Carrell, friendly too.

People would pop in for a cheap and cheerful lunch in the cafe, then casually wander into the adjacent gallery where free sheets would provide the lowdown on the who and what of the work on show.

Elitism upped and left the building as Carrell, quietly stylish in habitual black, mixed and matched tradition and counterculture across the arts before setting his sights further and further afield, forging fruitful connections with what was then the “Eastern bloc”. Projects such as Polish Realities (1988) and New Beginnings (new art from Russia) the following year brought work to Glasgow that, more often than not, hadn’t even been seen in the artists’ homeland.

Not just paintings and drawings, but music and theatre, performance and even food, with various restaurants beguiled into serving appropriate menus that added to the flavours of places that had

mostly been closed off from the West.

Carrell, meanwhile, was on the board of Mayfest, ensuring that Third Eye was a major asset to the festival’s international programme. There was Third Eye input into Glasgow’s Garden Festival, too.

The origins of Project Ability can be traced back to a Third Eye season centred on artists with disabilities. Third Eye’s specialist arts publications were leaders in that field, taking account of cultural history and current directions alike.

Sadly, financial difficulties overtook the organisation: it closed in 1991 and Carrell left Glasgow for Portsmouth where in his role as the city’s arts officer, he oversaw the annual festival and kept faith in his belief that art should be of, in and at the beating heart of communities.

His commitment to that ideal is, perhaps, succinctly embodied in The Wymering Public Art Project, located in a much-neglected council estate on the margins of the city and described by one local paper as “a brave and heartening celebration of community self-belief”.

Carrell’s prescient engagement with the Soviet bloc has also continued to bear fruit, with his Points East projects the subject of a multi-faceted symposium held late last year by the Institute of Advanced Studies at UCL. He was already very ill but news of this really lifted his spirits.

If Chris Carrell ever thought in terms of legacy, it wasn’t about claiming such accolades for himself. He wanted the legacy to be the ongoing and vital place of art – all kinds of art and creativity – in people’s lives.

He will be much missed, but warmly and gratefully remembered.

Chris Carrell is survived by his wife Carole Carrell, his children Severin, Shanna and Lucy (from previous relationships), and his brother, John.