By Dan Thompson
Artist Steve Lobb, who also performed poetry as Emile Sercombe, has died in Ramsgate.
Born in Ilford, Essex in 1936, Steve was the oldest of four brothers. With the outbreak of the Second World War, the family moved to Surrey. After grammar school, he went to Guildford School of Art and then to the Royal Academy Schools. He became an art teacher at Ravensbourne College of Art, and in 1964 married his first wife, artist Carol Kenna. They had two children.
At Alexandra Palace, and for Summer Show (4) at the Serpentine Gallery in 1972, Steve and Carol made environmental structures of vinyls and fabrics. But after she visited the USA in 1974, and saw murals in New York and Chicago, Carol decided to bring the practice to the UK.
The pair formed the Greenwich Mural Workshop together, and pioneered large-scale and gable-end murals in a series of paintings across London. Together, they wrote the Mural Handbook which was published by Artists’ Newsletter (now known as a-n) in 1985. Their work is also recorded in the film Morgan’s Wall, held by the BFI.
In 2019 Steve published For Walls With Tongues, a history of the London mural movement which is seen as the definitive book on the subject. It was accompanied by an exhibition at the University of Greenwich.
The couple also ran the Greenwich Poster Workshop, and one of Steve’s designs for that group is held in the V&A’s collections.
As well as painting murals and making posters, Steve started to appear under the name Emile Secombe as a performance poet.
He met his second wife Berni Cunnane in 1980 performing with Worthless Words, a group of eight poets including comedian Mark Steel, who performed at various venues in South London including Battersea Arts Centre and Croydon Warehouse Theatre.
Emile also appeared with the fledgling Apples and Snakes from their second event in 1982. They have continued to promote poetry, and become one of the most important poetry organisations in the UK.
Emile’s poetry performances were surreal, often using homemade props and elements of costume.
Emile was described as a ‘cornerstone of the early Apples and Snakes events’, and he appeared more than thirty times with poets and comedians including Benjamin Zephaniah, Brian Patten, Porky The Poet (aka Phil Jupitus), and Henry Normal, later to write Mrs Merton and The Royle Family and produce all of Steve Coogan’s shows.
Emile’s poems have been published in a number of collections and anthologies, by publishers including Apples and Snakes and CoolTan Arts.
Steve and Berni moved to Ramsgate in 2013, where in recent years both Emile and Steve’s careers had something of a revival and his work found new fans.
He regularly appeared at local poetry events, including the Landing Place afternoons at Turner Contemporary. In 2017, he was one of four poets who performed the poems of the early-20th century Dada group at that gallery’s exhibition of Dada paintings.
He co-organised regular poetry nights at Eats ‘n’ Beats in Ramsgate, and performed with poetry collective Dodo Modern Poets, run by Berni’s brother Patric Cunnane and PR Murry.
And from 2015 onwards, he exhibited his chaotic, colourful paintings a number of times at the Pie Factory Gallery in Margate’s Old Town.
Steve is survived by Berni, by his two sons and five grandchildren, and his death has been marked by tributes from dozens of the Isle of Thanet’s writers, poets, and artists.
Ellie Jones, director of Looping The Loop, said, “Emile was a beautiful, funny and wise man who always made me smile and my day brighter.”
Artist François Matarasso, who trained with the Greenwich Mural Workshop, said, “All my memories of him evoke kindness, humour and a lack of self importance with an unwavering commitment to art always.”