Iain Carstairs - a reflection. / by Shaun Armstrong

The passing of a gifted and visionary man I was pleased to have known.

As I walked back to the car-park through Bedford today, having been discussing art and documenting an installation at The Higgins museum, I happened to walk past Frescoes cafe in Mill Street.

The thing that makes this building special, if you're not local, is it sits at the end of a terrace of old shops and upon that end wall is the most marvellous painted fresco and a plaque dedicated to the artist, Iain Carstairs, which I stopped and looked at more than usual, as I'd heard Iain had been ill.

I learnt some two hours later that Iain died overnight peacefully in his sleep. His battle, both physical and intellectual, with cancer had ended.

Iain Carstairs - www.scienceandreligion.com
Iain Carstairs - www.scienceandreligion.com

This fresco was the first one of three he did in Bedford, using traditional but challenging techniques; the others decorate the end of his home in Gladstone Street and which featured in the news a couple of years ago, and the last at Beauchamp School completed last month, with his daughters help I believe.

ITV News item...

"Meet the man from Bedford who's painted a fresco on the side of his house"

I am proud to say I knew the man, but also saddened that we had lost touch these last years as our paths took different directions.

I first met him when I worked at Bedford i-Lab from 2005-2009 where he based his successful travel software business. He was at once someone who had clearly had an exciting and rich life, but who embraced new ideas and pleasures. He kindly took part in a video we made about the place and talked about how he enjoyed the companionship offered by the community of small businesses and the friendships it spawned.

He was also a generous man. After a great driving day, organised for the local Mayor's charity in 2008, at Palmersport (Iain being the only person to turn up with a full race-suit for go-karting!) he invited me and James Hart back to a private driving experience. The three of us enjoyed hospitality, a tour of the garages and had the track and some single-seat racers to ourselves that glorious evening.

And I still have a Caterham T-shirt that he casually gave me as he was just passing my office one day.

A while later, after I had left the i-Lab, I went to a bar in Hitchin to meet him and some friends to see and photograph some of his early artwork, based on Jimi Hendrix, that he had on display there.

Whenever he talked of art, music, science or religion or, as was his won't, conspiracy theories, or indeed anything, I recall it was with an innate sense of awe, detail, passion and tenacity to get under the surface of whatever it was and then master it, however complicated. The research, care and dedication he put into both the science and art of the frescoes for instance, was mind-boggling.

His blog (formerly www.scienceandreligion.com, now sold on I think) which I followed with interest if not always comprehension, documented his views on many things, including his renewed battle with cancer and his global search to find a cure. I hope it is kept up for others to read.

His last post, from January 2016, was typically "Iain" and talked not only of the science of coffee (!) but his plans for the Beauchamp School fresco.

A fitting extract from another of Iain's blogs in October 2015...

It’s natural to hope your work has some influence for the good, but you also suspect it’s a very diffused thing, almost subliminal – a drop in the bucket for those drenched by TV and big budget films vying for attention.  So to find what you did with a paintbrush on a rickety scaffold has really influenced someone can be daunting, especially when you remember any shortcuts you took.  Say, during a freezing Christmas Eve snowstorm with water running down your neck and lime water eating your skin, panicking over no time to buy gifts and cards now long forgotten, as the shops began to close and the light grew dim – now you understand those hours saved hurrying up cheated someone, somewhere, out of something.

Inevitably, there are two morals coming our way.  One – if you believe in something, you must give it everything you’ve got, because someone, somewhere is going to appreciate it – and those people are precisely the ones you’re working for.  And the other – if the school wall I’m hoping for is made available, it must become the best thing I’ve ever done!

My thoughts and condolences to all who knew him and like me will remember him fondly.

RIP Iain Carstairs 2016