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Eccentric who brought colour to the grey world

PUBLISHED: 11:25 18 January 2008 | UPDATED: 14:41 07 September 2010

AN ARTIST, humanist and benefactor of the arts from Kentish Town has died at the age of 81

Marc Mullen

AN ARTIST, humanist and benefactor of the arts from Kentish Town has died at the age of 81.

A funeral was held for Francis Harper this week after she lost a three year battle with cancer.

She was born Fanya Ezersky in the Crimea in 1926 and five years later she moved to Alexandria in Egypt with her Russian parents.

The prolific artist, who lived in Kentish Town for nearly 50 years, was a tremendous supporter of local artists, actors and poets.

George Eugeniou, founder of Theatro Technis on Crowndale Road where 15 of Ms Harper's works are on display, said: "I got to know her because she came to see a lot of our productions. She was a close friend of the theatre.

"She read some of my poems and wanted me to publish them. Then one day she just gave me £1,000 in cash for me to have them published. I am tremendously grateful to her."

Mr Eugeniou, who has written a poem in her memory, added: "She was such a wonderful person - an independent free spirit, a great humanist and political activist, who was full of enthusiasm and optimism in spite of her illness."

Ms Harper trained as an artist in Alexandria, which was unusual for a young woman growing up in Egypt.

In 1955 she was the first woman to have her work exhibited at the Mediterranean Biennale, which was held in Alexandria.

A beauty in her youth she once turned down the advances of King Farouk, who spotted her at the races and invited her to the Royal box. She also caught the eye of the artist Jean Cocteau, whom she modelled for.

In 1959 she moved to England to pursue her art, and initially lived in Prince of Wales Road in Kentish Town before moving to Gaisford Street.

She married George Harper, a semi-professional boxer, Dunkirk veteran and railway maintenance worker. But the marriage was tragically short lived when Mr Harper died of cancer in the 1960s.

In the 1980s she had a tempestuous affair with a Turkish man 20 years her junior.

But he was eventually deported when his visa ran out, something that further fuelled her loathing for authorities.

Ms Harper died at home on November 1 and her funeral was held yesterday at Camden and Islington Crematorium. The delay was because of attempts to track down any next of kin.

Keith Matthews, who runs the Oxfam shop in Kentish Town, met her 15 years ago when he was stage manager at the Gate Theatre in Notting Hill.

He said: "She would bring lots of bags to the theatre and some people would have thought she was a bag lady, but the bags were always full of gifts for people.

"She was eccentric, incredibly unselfish and wore her heart on her sleeve. She was a loving human being without whom a grey world will be even greyer."

FANI

The yellow leaves,

blown by the fierce wind,

falling from trees,

gathered from the streets,

set ablaze by sun beams,

fertilised the barren fields

of th' old grand - imperial city

of commercial-artistic merits,

Fani arriving from Egypt

at th' age of 33,

young , petite and care-free,

with her cryptic paintings

full of passion and mystique,

being ruthlessly dismissed

by Town Hall philistines

as a loony left Socialist,

no chance to succeed,

the recognition to achieve,

a talent so desperately needs

its potentials to fulfil

in life's harsh realities,

abandoned to her destiny

the last of the romantics,

retaining her humanity,

in solitude passes away

in her early 80's,

th' offsprings of her creativity

cherished at Theatro Technis...

the yellow leaves,

dancing with the wild wind,

set ablaze by the sun beams,

fertilized the barren fields

of th' old grand - imperial city,

die with relief,

as the black bird sings

' goodbye' to Fani.

George Eugeniou 18/11/07

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