I am writing with sadness to tell you that Susan Engledow, a much-loved member of our teaching staff and former Director of the Portrait Diploma at Heatherleys, passed away peacefully at her home on May 28 after a long illness. She leaves her family, precious daughters Alice and Clare and four young grandchildren.
Susan began her career as artist and educator at the Slade School of Art in London where she studied painting in the late 1960’s. There she discovered a lifelong affinity for the work of Piero Della Francesca and Alberto Giacometti. Tutors Euan Uglow and Patrick George were exponents of the value for the artist of learning how to look properly and with honesty. This ethos would define and shape her own teaching and practice as an artist whose drawings were exhibited in Britain and Europe.
At the invitation of John Walton, then Principal, Susan joined Heatherleys in 1972 and devoted the next 40 years of her life to the school, devising and leading the Diploma in Portraiture, which has since become a mainstay of our course programme, attracting students from all over Britain and achieving an international reputation.
Susan passed to her students her own fascination with the mysteries of human perception, with the challenge of depicting the relationship of one human being to another or in expressing the indefinable presence of simple objects arranged as a ‘still life’ to which she could return again and again. Portrait Diploma alumni will remember her for the contribution she made to the development of their personal creativity, for her clear intelligence, patient and compassionate pastoral care and for her natural warmth which was always seasoned by a very special sense of fun.
Susan loved taking long walks in wild landscapes, she loved her garden (which was also quite wild), possessed the great gift of friendship and enriched the lives of her many friends, supporting those around her with qualities of generosity, care and kindness which will continue to inspire our affectionate memories of her life.
It was with great sorrow that we recently received the news of the death of our much beloved colleague and friend, Susan Engledow. Having known Susan since I began teaching at Heatherleys in 1984, I would like to add to Veronica’s statement my own tribute to her, based on our long friendship and many recent conversations. I first met Susan, when I arrived to lecture for the first time. Daphne Todd had told me “Susan Engledow will help you to find the projector” and thus began my long friendship with her. She has truly helped me more than I could ever have imagined that Autumn day 38 years ago. Susan was a teacher in the Open Studio and the Foundation course, and she ran the Pre-Foundation Course. She was Course Director of the Diploma in Portraiture, which she ran for 21 years, from its inception in 1994. Without her the Diploma would have been quite a different course. She was one of our most popular teachers. This is not to say that despite her tact and empathetic disposition she was soft on her students. Far from it- she managed to instil something of the “hard-won” tradition of art which she had gained from her time Slade School of Fine Art (1965-71).
At the Slade, Susan had been taught by leading British contemporary figurative artists including Frank Auerbach, Euan Uglow and Patrick George and her conception of art gained an intellectual rigour there. Susan’s long association with Patrick George began at this time, when as a student she sat for him for the first of several major portrait paintings. In it she appears serious, present, timelessly elegant, forever young.
Herself, the beneficiary of inspirational teachers, Susan had a gift for friendship and for mentoring. Many of us tutors at Heatherleys, have benefitted from her unstinting kindness and support over the years. Countless students benefitted from her selfless devotion to teaching.
Never one to blow her own trumpet, Susan was nevertheless an excellent artist. Her work displays a rigorous and analytical commitment to working from observation, and a determination to avoid easy effects, to go beyond the apparent.
Susan’s work was shown three times at the National Portrait Gallery’s Portrait Award exhibition. Her work was also exhibited at the Whitechapel Open in the Whitechapel Art Gallery, at the Mall Galleries, at the Hayward Annual and in the Ruth Borchard Self Portraits exhibition and elsewhere. She had solo exhibitions at the University of Bonn, Germany (2008), at Heatherleys (2012), and in the Convento Santo Domingo in Ronda, Spain (2016). Her work is in collections in this country, Spain, Italy, Denmark, and the U. S. A.
In 1973 Susan married Leonardo Castillejo, Professor of Physics at U.C.L., and they had two daughters, Alice and Clare, and subsequently four grandchildren. Through the distinguished Spanish side of her husband’s family Susan and Leonardo developed a cultural organisation, the Fundación Cultural Olivar de Castillejo, based in Madrid. On sabbatical from Heatherleys Susan travelled to America three times in the 1970s where she taught at the State University of New York (Long Island) and visited exhibitions in New York including memorably Henri Matisse, Edward Hopper and Richard Diebenkorn. These were to have an enduring influence on her own work. They broadened her idea of what figurative art could be in an age of abstraction.
Susan maintained a close connection with the Royal Society of Portrait Painters for the benefit of the Diploma and its students, but privately her attitude to portraiture was in keeping with her own character, more quietly subversive. Fiercely independent-minded, Susan spoke of a “refusal to portray” in her “paintings of people” (not portraits). Patrick George described her as “an abstract painter who paints figuratively”. So deeply did she share George’s artistic vision that in 2020 she edited “The Likeness is in the Looking. Collected Writings of Patrick George.”
Susan spoke of drawing as “the real bones of everything”. I remember the extraordinary results of her life drawing projects with the students at Heatherleys- somehow she transmitted the vitality of this sparse energetic line, simultaneously disciplined and abstract, yet capable of conveying the intense experience of bodies in space. Students became able to see more profoundly. To be taught by such an engaged practitioner was to enter a genuine chain of artistic connections.
Susan’s character was distinguished by her evident intelligence, humour, and good looks. She wore her seriousness lightly. One sensed a legacy of morality, and austerity. To the end Susan enjoyed being kept up to date with the goings-on at Heatherleys. We will miss her so much. She was loved so much. No one can fill her place.
(Art History Lecturer)