Eugene Fisk , founder member of Hay, Brecon and Talgarth Sanctuary for Refugees fell on the stairs at home on 7th February and died peacefully in Hereford hospital in the early hours of the 9th February. He has left many grieving friends and a wide network of people from Swansea and beyond who only knew him as a compassionate, calm, intense, immaculately dressed man who drew them and was fascinated to learn about them. Included below are some tributes.
Wayne Yare ‘Deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Eugene Fisk, local artist in Hay on Wye. He was immensely popular with the asylum seeker/refugee community here in Swansea. To be acknowledged and sketched so wonderfully was a real gift to so many who feel generally invisible. A true gentleman and humanitarian. Rest in peace Eugene ‘
Deacon Reverend Barry Taylor wrote ‘Eugene introduced me to a group involved in giving refugees from across the Middle East and beyond some respite from their temporary homes in South Wales. I had the great privilege of seeing him sketch their faces when they were out on away days in the Beacons. The faces I saw were those of people who had gone through so much, but the look on Eugene’s face was one of love for his fellow human beings. It seemed as though he saw behind each face and was always fascinated by the human beings themselves, their stories and their lives. Like all of the volunteers he was using his God-given talents to bring some comfort to people who had endured so much. And whether they were Christians or Muslims, or people of no particular faith, it didn’t matter. They were people in need of, and deserving of, love and respect.
The efforts of so many volunteers who give up their time, and often their lives, to help others from around the world epitomise the generosity of heart and soul that is being called for in the beatitudes. I am always humbled by the stories I hear from these refugees, but perhaps more by what they have to say about the wonderful people who meet them and give them hope.
So when we hear, and think about, the Beatitudes, yes of course it’s right to remember and comfort those who mourn. But let’s also think about those people who devote themselves to serving other people.
Blessed are those who take a risk and stand up for our fellow human beings.
Blessed are those who make an effort to bring the kingdom of God to his people on Earth.
I see that as Eugene’s legacy – a very Christian legacy – that we in turn should show care and compassion for anyone less fortunate, in any way, than we are. That we should take our faith outside this building and into the world. God will wipe away our tears today so that we can go out and do something positive with this message.’
Sean O’Donoghue wrote
‘Eugene Fisk- our Away Day artist in Residence. RIP
Eugene was at the very first meeting of what became Hay, Brecon and Talgarth Sanctuary for Refugees in September 2015. He offered to do portraits of asylum seekers / refugees. I thought at first that this offer was rather nice, a bit of gloss on our offerings. I didn’t see anything other than the finished portraits and was on a totally different wavelength to Eugene, who, I later came to understand, was primarily interested in the process.
We offered what we came to know as “Away-days”, or Respite Days to Swansea-based asylum seekers, bringing coach loads of them to the Brecon Beacons, where they would be hosted for the day by one of our local towns / village communities – Brecon, Hay, Talgarth, Llangorse, a farm in Crai, etc.. organised at the Swansea end by Wayne, and ably assisted by Maria and Phil, amongst others.
To date, over 20 of these awaydays have happened and Eugene turned up to nearly all of them, with his bag of pencils and his sketch pad. Eugene became well known to our guests as many of them were regulars on these outings….It didn’t take long before our guests were queuing up to be sketched.
What Eugene, the artist, the portrait painter, had in mind when offering his services was to bestow on the sitter an importance and dignity, as unique individuals, which had been stolen from them as asylum seekers: they are reduced to mere details on computer databases for Home Office bureaucrats, and to group identity … “foreigners”, refugees, taking our jobs, etc by much of the media and popular culture.
The relationship of the sitter to the artist confers on them, the sitter, great significance as the artist appreciates each and every aspect of the face he is portraying in his constant gaze and committing to pad each minute detail of that face. Nearly always when I was around as a portrait was completed, the sitter vacated his seat looking like they had won the pools, or just received their Leave to remain. Thus Eugene fulfilled his primary aspiration.
About 9 months back, the idea of putting together a book of Eugene’s portraits was broached. Neil and Cate, a couple of our active volunteers who are graphic artists by profession, offered to do the typesetting. Neil worked with Eugene over many meetings in putting together the portraits and contemporaneous drawings in book format. All meetings had to be face to face: Eugene didn’t do modern technology like computers and mobiles. I sat in on some of these meetings – many of which were held when Eugene’s hearing aid wasn’t working and communication was entirely by Neil typing on his ipad.
Eugene’s interactions with the refugee community, and indeed with all the volunteers he came into contact with, greatly energised him, especially during periods when his frailties came to the fore.
He very much lived the last six months of his life determined to get the book to the printers. How sad it is that he will not be at its official launch. However, the humanitarian and generous spirit which underpinned his life will live on and the book is a wonderful testament to this.
The book will be back from the printers next week. It will be available in Addyman’s Bookshop in Hay and will be officially launched at the upcoming Hay Independence Festival , which will be happening over Easter Weekend and following week here in Hay. It will also be available by mail order – Green Ink Booksellers in Hay have kindly offered to field internet orders for us Special launch price £12 =£3 P&P– payment by Paypal to but email [email protected] to place an order and give your address.
And from Eugene himself “Where the need to draw and paint comes from, I have never discovered, only that, like many others, I couldn’t live without it. Psychological balance requires it.
Thus it always comes as a surprise when someone asks me “Are you still painting?”, “What else would I be doing?” I think to myself.
It is a life of response like a conversation. How strange and exceptional is a familiar view, there, but always changing. How mysterious is the person seated opposite to me or glimpsed in the street.
Something must be done about it.”
13th March 1938 – 9th February 2018