As both a painter and printmaker, Frank Archer combined his talent as a draughtsman with a sensitive understanding of light. His early work was highly structured, being rooted in his experience of the British School at Rome. Later, his handling became looser and his approach more personal, as he absorbed the inspiration of historic stained glass and mosaics in order to produce vividly-coloured visual parallels to music. Frank Archer was born in Walthamstow, Essex, on 30 June 1912, the second of three children of the dispensing chemist, Joseph Archer, and his wife, Alberta (née Blackledge), the daughter of a warehouseman. From the time of the First World War, the family lived in Eastbourne, Sussex, and Frank was educated at Eastbourne Grammar School.
Showing a talent for art from an early age, Archer received the encouragement of his parents, and his father made him some of his first paints. While studying at Eastbourne School of Art (1928-32), he painted landscapes and buildings in watercolours, and figure subjects in oil.
He then trained for an Art Teacher’s Diploma in Brighton (1932-33), while taking evening classes in design at the local School of Art.
In 1934, a Free Studentship enabled Archer to take up a place at the Royal College of Art. While there, he experimented with a wide variety of media, and began to etch as well as paint. The prints that he produced as a student won him the Prix de Rome in Engraving (1938), and led to his election to the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers (ARE 1940, RE 1960).
Though his stay in Italy was cut short by the outbreak of the Second World War, Archer was still greatly influenced by the artistic tradition and appearance of the country. So in his early paintings, he employed decorative, fresco-like compositions, into which he injected an edge of menace appropriate to the times. The strategy now seems to parallel the contemporary Neo-Romantic approach of an artist like Michael Ayrton.
In 1939, Archer married Celia Cole in Hailsham, Sussex. They would have one son and one daughter. He was called up in 1940, and served in the Royal Pioneer Corps.
At the end of the war, Archer began to teach at Eastbourne School of Art. In 1949, while he was considering a post at Leicester, Wilfred Fairclough suggested that he might join him on the staff of Kingston School of Art, which later became Kingston Polytechnic. He replaced Fairclough as head of the School of Fine Art in 1962, and remained in the position until 1973. His students included Charles Bartlett, who would become President of the Royal Watercolour Society.
Though Archer continued to use some kinds of printmaking, his essential development was as a painter with a breadth of vision. He harnessed his love of the intense colour of mediaeval stained glass and Byzantine mosaics in order to create visual abstractions of favourite works of music. However, he worked concurrently in a figurative mode, depicting a range of musicians in performance, from orchestra to soloist, and sustaining an interest in landscape. Regular visits to Italy, and a trip to Ghana in 1970, provided further inspiration.
Following his retirement from teaching in 1973, Archer bought a derelict school in a valley of the Brendon Hills, within Exmoor National Park. While there, he produced a large number of watercolours. Seven years later, he returned to Sussex, and eventually settled back in Eastbourne.
The Royal Society of Painters in Water-Colours elected him as a member (ARWS 1972, RWS 1976) and mounted retrospectives of his work at the Bankside Gallery (in 1990 and 1992).
His wife, Celia, died in 1990, and he himself died in Eastbourne on 31 March 1995.