English painter and draughtsman of Egyptian birth. Having moved with his family to England in 1932, he studied at the Guildford School of Art (1948–9), and at the Slade School of Fine Art, London (1949–54). His early paintings are figurative. In 1957 he moved to Portugal with Paula Rego, whom he married in 1959. He painted very little during his time in Portugal and subsequently destroyed much of the work of that period. When he and his family returned to London in 1974, settling permanently there, he began to paint again as a way of supporting himself. The paintings from the late 1970s were made after hallucinating the images, possibly a side-effect from the drugs he was taking at the time for multiple sclerosis. Primitive shelters and furniture, as settings suggestive of the isolation of the artist, are motifs that he explored in many works of this time. Willing also drew, not only preparatory sketches, but finished works, on a smaller scale than the large paintings, as in Untitled 14.12.82 (1982; Cambridge, U. of Cambridge, Kettle's Yard), which shows an unstable pile of objects in a bleak landscape. In the 1980s Willing was recognised as an important and established artist, but his health was worsening. He painted on a smaller scale at this time, with a series of women's heads being the last series that he completed before his death from multiple sclerosis. Some of these were clearly conceived in homage to Picasso.
Victor Willing: A Retrospective Exhibition 1952–85 (exh. cat., ed. R. Kirby and N. Serota; London, Whitechapel A.G., 1986)
Victor Willing: Recent Paintings (exh. cat., essay by L. Cooke, London, Karsten Schubert, 1987)
F. Bradley, ed: Victor Willing (London, 2000) [includes selected writings by the artist]
CATHERINE M. GRANT
28 September 2001