Kevin Rigby

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Kevin Rigby 1965

Kevin Rigby (born Singapore 1945 - died Swat, Pakistan 1979).

Contents

Biography

  • Kevin Rigby was born in 1945 in Singapore, the only child of British Army Captain James Rigby and his wife Margot. After several moves in connection with Captain Rigby's army post, in the 1950s the family settled in Preston, Lancashire, England and Kevin attended Preston Grammar School. At 16 he left and graduated to Preston's Harris School of Art but left after a few months to develop his own very distinct style of drawing and painting which, he felt, did not benefit by his following the traditional art school course.

Kevin was interested in mystical and spiritual pursuits from an early age and had no wish to be a part of materialist society. Asked by his father what he wanted to be in life at the age of eleven, he unhesitatingly replied: "a tramp". From an early age he developed interest in such esoteric subjects as Zen Buddhism, Taoism, divination, magic and the like, researching studying classical texts in such subjects and showing a natural aptitude and talent for them. He also practiced hatha yoga, mastering all the various positions and its philosophy. Meanwhile he developed his own art style and was prolific in producing pen and ink drawings based on his own imaginative fantasies of parallel worlds peopled by fabulous creatures and mythical characters reminiscent of those in Tolkein's 'Lord of the Rings' and similar genres. Using fine Rotring pens and black ink on white cartridge paper, sitting on the floor in full lotus position and bending right over with his nose inches from the sketchbook on the ground, without any prior sketching out he would swiftly compose with perfect lines and penstrokes complex, multi-dimensional, timeless scenes of these other worlds peopled by beautiful beings, or whatever other fantastic subject entered his head. Asked to explain the pictures which emerged he would weave fascinating descriptions of the legendary doings of the characters and places depicted which would transport the viewer and listener into these imaginary and astonishing worlds. However, he was not attached to the works which flowed in a never-ending stream from his pen when he was in the mood to create; he would sometimes tear them up and throw them away or perhaps give an entire series of such drawings, filling a whole sketchbook, to someone he met in the street who would have no appreciation of it and no idea of what it was all about.

For this reason and due to Kevin's nomadic kind of lifestyle, despite his prolific production of artwork there is not a great deal which survived but what did represents a good cross-section of what he created. Certain friends patronised him as an artist and supported him for creating illustrations, on an informal basis, but it was unthinkable for him to sell his work. He would rather give it away to strangers in the street. There are two other exceptions to his aversion to gainful employment. In the winter of 1964/65 he worked for his keep and some pocket money as a cook for several friends who were working in Preston and sharing a flat in Friargate. Then, when he was repatriated from Pakistan after an unfortunate episode in the summer of 1969, he stayed with his parents in Preston and created and sold a whole series of exquisite paintings of rare and exotic birds to friends of his parents to raise the cash to regain his passport and return to India.

Sean, Kath, Kevin & Dave, 1965

There is very little known about any other paid jobs that Kevin had, apart from things like work as a pavement artist and casual washing up for restaurants in central London in the early sixties. One friend, the late David John 'Miffy' Smith who died early in 2013, a friend in Preston who was vocalist for the local 1960s cult band 'David John and the Mood', recalled Kevin parading up and down the pavement outside a pub in Preston Town Centre holding a large sign for the Salvation Army, which was paying him a pittance for this service. David recalled the sign said "Repent, for the End of the World is Nigh!", so he asked Kevin in all seriousness "oh dear; have we got time for a pint?" "Of course we have" said Kevin with a laugh, putting down the sign to go inside the pub for a drink.

Despite his unconventional interests and personal tastes Kevin always remained on excellent terms with his parents who loved him dearly for what he was, Kevin left home at about age 18 and from then on he was almost always on the move, 'on the road'; of no fixed abode and proud of it. He quickly attuned to the beatnik ideal, grew his hair long and wore a magnificent ginger beard for most of his life, apart from his period as a Buddhist monk. With the absolute minimum of belongings which he regarded as impediments to his easy movement, the main items he owned and carried around with him apart from the clothes on his back and a blanket or simple sleeping bag, were his drawing materials. Kevin loved the ideal of being 'on the road', almost making it into an artform. His ideal was the concept of being like 'a white bird that passes without trace' and was an intrepid traveller who kept going no matter what befell him. For example in the spring of 1967 he reached Istanbul with his shoulder bag and blanket and left them hidden in some bushes after sleeping by the shore of the Bosphorus whilst getting his transit visa for Iran at the Embassy with his last few Turkish Lire. He returned with the visa to find his gear had been stolen but was so determined to get to India that he pushed on, barefoot, without any belongings apart from the jeans he was wearing and his passport. And he succeeded, he got to India and installed himself in an Ashram in Rishiskesh where the Ganges comes out of the Himalayas, to further his studies of Indian Yoga.

Kevin Rigby, India or Pakistan, 1970s.

Sean Jones recalls the occasion six months later, in the autumn of 1967 when, having been separated crossing the Germany/Austria border illegally on the way to Istanbul and India, and going back and forth between India and Istanbul, they literally bumped into each other in a crowd in Teheran having just arrived from opposite directions. This was decades before the days of mobile phones, email and cyber cafes. Deciding to resume their journey to India together at last they arrived at the border of eastern Afghanistan after crossing 10 miles of no-man's land from Iran by foot in the middle of the night, having been forced by an Afghan border guard at rifle point to get down from the cab roof of an ancient petrol tanker that was giving them a lift from Taybad to the border. After climbing up the ladder and peering with his fading pencil torch at their Afghan visas while holding their passports upside down he decided to turn them back to Iran. They dismounted from the cab roof to show the guard their visas the right way up in the headlights of the truck, but the Afghan guard threw their meagre luggage down onto the ground and ordered the driver to leave on his way, which he did. The guard then told the pair to walk back to Iran in the night, threatening to shoot them with his gun if they disobeyed. Sean and Kevin calculated that this poor guard would not dare to shoot two western tourists in cold blood, so they abused him roundly, turned their backs and walked the opposite way towards Afghanistan. He shouted, but held his fire of course. They reached the border at Islam Qala late in the evening and were welcomed by the Afghan customs and immigration staff who gave them food and a room and told them to report for checking in the morning. Waiting for the customs officer outside the his office next morning Kevin unrolled his blanket and lay propped up against the wall. The officer arrived late, with a smart peaked cap and gold braid on uniform. "Where is your luggage?" he brusquely demanded of Kevin. "You are standing on it" Kevin retorted, indicating his blanket on the ground. The officer laughed, stepped back and then glowered at them menacingly. "Have you got hashish?" he demanded. "What, us?" they said, trying to look innocent, "no way, of course not!". "Oh dear" said the officer, pulling a handy piece of the stuff out of his pocket and changing his threatening scowl into a friendly grin. "Here, have some. Welcome to Afghanistan, country of hashish!"

Kevin Rigby, Glenmore 1975.

Earlier, in the early 1960s after leaving college and travelling between Manchester and London Kevin gravitated to the 'beat scene' of drop-out, bohemian tramps and dossers living in Central London, around Trafalgar Square and St James's Park. At the age of about 19 he hitchhiked to Istanbul and stayed there for some months. A free spirit, with his natural aptitude for the esoteric, his artistic talent and his revolutionary views he inspired many young people of his generation to rebel against materialist society and ambitions. One of these was an accountancy student named Sean Jones, also from Preston, whose father taught art and geography at Preston Grammar School and had included Kevin amongst his pupils there. Sean and Kevin became the best of friends and in 1965 they decided to leave the UK and travel to India together in search of a new way of life based on spiritual values.

After many adventures on the road Kevin eventually reached India in June 1967, and Sean got there two months later after various diversions. Both spent most of the following dozen years in the subcontinent, living separate lives for the most part but always keeping in touch from time to time. Kevin was mostly based in northern India during this time. After studying Hinduism, Jainism, Yoga and Buddhism Kevin spent some years living as a Shiva Saddhu wandering in the foothills of the Himalayas. He would also visit Pakistan's NWFP where Sean Jones established himself, firstly, from 1968 to 1972 as an expatriate worker at the Tarbela Dam site with Italian contractors who were building a dam across the River Indus, and later in Swat Valley where with Kevin's help Sean built a house by the Swat River near the village of Madyan after they had ridden a string of horses over the mountains from northern Afghanistan together with another friend, the Italian photographer, film-maker and adventurer Raffaele Favero aka Rafiullah Khan, from Milan. He had also worked a spell with the same Italian company at the Tarbela Dam site, where he met Sean. The three were great friends and had various adventures together, including being captured by Afridi tribal bandits and held to ransom when they were crossing the Afghan-Pakistan border across wild and unregulated tribal territory, an episode which ended well thanks to Rafiullah and Sean's useful knowledge of Pushtu language and customs. The three ended up being feted by the clan of the bandits who had captured them on the pass, and afforded an armed escort of six guides to take them and their seven horses down to the comparative safety and civilisation of Landi Kotal in the Khyber Pass, centre of smugglers, drug dealers, bandits, kidnappers and outlaws of colour and every local tribe of Pashtoons.

Kevin & Wulibuli, Glenmore 1975.

Before this incident, Kevin had come into contact with the Tibetan exile community based in Dharamsala, which gave him the opportunity for, probably, the most seriously productive, inspirational and satisfying period of his short life. He realised that what he had originally set out to India for was there; the Buddist teahcers who in 1969 had escaped to India from the Chinese invasion and occupation of Tibet. They were alive and well in Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh. Kevin remembered that several years before when he had left for India with Sean the intention had been to find spiritual gurus or guides who would teach him and help him meditate in order to get enlightened in the Buddhist tradition, and there they all were, the great Tibetan masters. He suddenly found his purpose in life and committed himself completely to the study of Tibetan Buddhism for several years.

He went there and was introduced, amongst others, to Glenn Mullin who had recently arrived from Canada on a similar mission and they immediately became great friends. When Geshe Ngawang Dharghey was appointed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to teach Buddhism to westerners at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives Kevin enrolled for the classes, attended them with Glenn and others and studied under Geshe Dharghey over several years. He was eventually ordained as a novice monk early in 1974. Glenn learned Tibetan language and started translating and publishing Tibetan Buddhist texts in English, requesting Kevin who was also studying the art of Tibetan Thangkha painting under Jhampa La, the State painter of Tibet, to draw illustrations for his pamphlets and books. Kevin was happy to oblige and a number of Glenn's early publications contain many examples of his work.

Je Tsongkhapa postcard.

Kevin's personal style of drawing was perfectly suited to traditional Tibetan iconography and he showed great talent for it under his teacher, making rapid progress and also integrating his own creative themes, motifs and backgrounds into the strictly traditional format of Tibetan thangkhas, where permitted.

BUDDHIST PAINTINGS A small cross section of sacred Tibetan Buddhist art drawn and painted by Kevin Rigby.

After spending two to three happy and productive years in Dharamsala as a Buddhist monk Kevin undertook a particular meditation retreat, during which he suddenly decided to give up being a monk and give back his robes. From then on, as a layman he gravitated between Dharamsala and Swat Valley in Pakistan where Sean Jones still maintained his house by the riverside. Two years later, in early January 1979, Kevin died there, not far from Sean's house in Swat, under somewhat mysterious circumstances after spending the best part of a dozen years in India. He was buried on Sean's land by the riverside, but the entire place was obliterated by the devastating floods in July 2010 which completely swept away Sean's house and all the land it was built on including Kevin's grave downriver, into the Indus River and eventually, to the Indian Ocean.

Family / Children

  • Parents James Rigby, a Captain in the British Army and his wife Margot. James fought with Field Marshall Montgomery's 8th Army against Rommel in the WW2 North African campaign, including at the famous battle of El Alamein. He was one of the so-called "Desert Rats". He was a demining expert and remained with the army for his entire career. After retirement they moved to live in Tenerife. Despite the bohemian lifestyle adopted by Kevin he would say that he loved the army and its meticulous military-style organisation and this was reflected in a small way in the manner he kept his precision drawing instruments and a portable Buddhist altar in beautifully crafted and compartmentalised wooden boxes which he custom made to his own requirements.

Tristan Rigby Rishigallery son. Before leaving to India, Kevin had a son, Tristan, born of a love affair he had with Rosemary 'Rosie' Coddington when Kevin was a pavement artist in Trafalgar Square. Tristan retained various letters and cards that Kevin sent him and remembers Kevin visiting them in Anglesey when he was five years old. It was the last time they were together. Rosie sadly passed away when Tristan was 6 and he was then brought up by his aunt Grace Coddington, creative director of Vogue magazine.

Kevin to Tristan/Karin 1975.

However Tristan lost touch with his father and did not know when he passed away in 1979. He was brought up as Tristan Coddington but always wondered about his father, whom he knew had become a Buddhist monk with Tibetan teachers. At the age of 21 he changed his name to Rigby by deed poll. At the age of 39 in 2006 he decided to carry out a Google search and entered "Kevin Rigby Tibet". This led him to several of Glenn Mullin's books on texts by the Dalai Lamas which had been illustrated by his father and he wrote to the publisher for information. His enquiries were passed to Glenn who passed them to Sean. At last he found out that Kevin had died 27 years earlier. He visited Sean, by now retired in the south of France and they became friends. With Sean's help he pieced together his father's life and times and travelled to India and Nepal in his footsteps, twice. Sean also directed him to his paternal grandparents who were still alive and well in Tenerife and he visited them twice. By then James Rigby was 91 and Margot 86.

After visiting his grandparents (i.e. Kevin's parents) in this way at the age of about 40 and getting to know them, Tristan notes as follows regarding 'the Captain': "Volunteered at the outbreak of the war for the Royal Artillery, as a gunner abandoning 6 years studies as an apprentice grocer, and begin his fighting in the Sudan with the Royal Artillery anti-aircraft battery and later supporting artillery barrages as the 8th Army swept along the North African coast. After training in Cairo was promoted to Lieutenant. Before the Italian campaign he was transferred to the Royal Engineers and was in charge or mine clearances. Was awarded MBE with the citation 'For Gallantry and leadership in the face of the enemy'. A week before he received the award he was critically wounded on a mine clearance drag by shrapnel from an Italian wooden box mine, very hard to detect, which killed his good friend who stepped on it.He was shipped back to the UK. After 9 months he recovered sufficiently well to take a fighting role in the D-Day landings and assault on occupied France. Then, he was sent to SE Asia to fight the Japanese but arrived in Malaysia only to find that the Japanese had surrendered."

Photos


See also Kevin Rigby album in The Flower Raj Photos.

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