Published: January 9, 2017
LONDON (AFP) — Influential British art critic and prize-winning author John Berger, a self-declared revolutionary who controversially backed the far-left Black Panthers, has died aged 90, his son told AFP on January 3.
Berger was best known for his art criticism essay “Ways Of Seeing,” written to accompany a BBC television series, which is credited with changing the way people viewed art.
He also won the 1972 Booker Prize for Fiction for his experimental novel G, set in pre-World War I Europe.
Berger died on January 2 in the Paris suburb of Antony, his son Jacob said.
“He died peacefully at home, surrounded by his family,” he said. He had lived in France since the 1970s.
Berger was born in London in 1926. After serving in the British army, he enrolled in the Chelsea School of Art, becoming a painter.
He then taught drawing from 1948 to 1955, becoming a noted art critic from 1952 onward, according to his French publishers, Les Editions de l’Olivier.
He wrote about artists, including Pablo Picasso, Titian, Paul Cezanne and Gustave Courbet.
Ways of Seeing, a highly influential criticism of Western cultural aesthetics, originally aired in 1972 as a four-part BBC television series and was subsequently published as a book.
“Art and the wider world seemed to make more sense after watching Berger on the BBC, with his piercing blue eyes, steady delivery and groovy seventies shirt, eloquently explain perspective or the idealization of the nude,” wrote Mark Brown, arts correspondent for Britain’s Guardian newspaper.
Besides art criticism, Berger also wrote novels, plays and poetry.
G won the Booker Prize, one of the most prestigious awards in English-language literature.
A Marxist humanist who called himself a revolutionary, he donated half of his £5,000 prize money to the UK branch of the Black Panthers, the far-left black nationalist organization.
“There is not a single book of his that is not impregnated with politics,” Jacob Berger said, adding, “He was a friend of Subcomandante Marcos [former leader of Mexico’s Zapatista rebels], a friend of the Palestinian people… who had an extremely strong political position without being a dogmatic communist.”
Berger moved to France to escape the “extremely anti-communist” Britain, his son said.
In France, “there was a balance which tended much more towards support of, if not the Soviet Union, then of Marxist and communist ideals.”
Tributes came from the worlds of art, literature and politics.
“With John Berger’s passing we have lost one of the great storytellers of our times,” said publishers Penguin Books.
Jeremy Corbyn, the veteran leftist leader of Britain’s main opposition Labor Party, said, “John Berger changed the way we see the world and each other. He was an advocate for socialism — and a more kind and generous life for all.”
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