Patrick Procktor: Art and Life come together at Huddersfield Art Gallery

By Richard Moss | 27 September 2012
an abstract painting of figures and forms
Figures in a Corridor - oil on canvas, 1963© The Redfern Gallery, London
Exhibition Preview: Patrick Procktor: Art and Life at Huddersfield Art Gallery until December 1 2012

There’s something about these wistful paintings from the 1960s and 1970s that conjures images of Soho parties, hedonistic London boozers, the relaxed literary bohemia of Tangiers and other gin soaked, nicotine stained nostalgias.

Some of them are so slight they seem as though they were rattled off on a napkin between courses at Langan’s Brasserie - perhaps in the company of Francis Bacon, Kitaj or Lucien Freud. It’s quite possible some of them were.

But for all of their wistfulness the watercolours and occasional oils of Patrick Procktor have a quality that belies his relatively low profile today.

In his heyday he was lauded for portraits of London's faces of the swinging sixties, among them designer Ossie Clarke, musicians Jimi Hendrix and Mick Jagger and the filmmaker Derek Jarman, but he also painted landscapes from his many foreign jaunts to climes as varied as India, Greece and Morocco.  

He also had a great love of ballet and a fascination with popular music that saw him flirt with designs for murals and album sleeves and it’s tempting to be drawn as deeply into the back story of these attractions as Procktor evidently was himself. 

Happily, Ian Massey the curator and author of the book with the same name as this show, strikes a balance between Procktor's pictorial, stylistic and technical developments and the broader artistic and social contexts of the times.

Looking at these pictures today – they do seem ‘of their time’ and there’s more than a whiff of Hockney to some. The two were after all close friends who featured together in Bryan Robertson’s 1967 Whitechapel show New Generation, which also launched the careers of Bridget Riley and Patrick Caulfield.

Yet a closer examination reveals the wispy influence of Proctor’s teacher at Highgate School, Kiffyn Williams, and in the earlier oils the brooding figurative landscapes of Keith Vaughan and his tutor at the Slade, William Coldstream.

Much has been written about Procktor’s larger-than-life personality, his camp theatricality and his homosexuality, but this show, the first substantial retrospective since his death in 2003, looks at four decades of work to capture both the magic of his times and the essence of his talent. 

More Pictures:

a waist up watercolour portrait of a man with short hair wearing a polo short
Derek Telling me about Orpheus (Portrait of Derek Jarman). Watercolour, 1967© The Redfern Gallery, London
a watercolour in triptych of three people seated people
EGO (Eric Emerson, Gervase Griffiths, Ossie Clark) - watercolour, 1968© The Redfern Gallery, London
a watercolour of people reading in a park
The Guardian Readers (study for enamel) - watercolour, pencil and ink, c.1976© Private Collection/Copyright The Redfern Gallery, London
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