Patrick Procktor’s Understated Painterly Language – commissioned by Elephant magazine online.
Patrick Procktor RA (1936-2003) is a key figure within the legendary set that epitomises the bohemian glamour of Sixties London, a set that also includes his great friends the artist David Hockney and fashion designer Ossie Clark. A star student at the Slade School of Fine Art, he graduated in 1962, and less than a year later held his first exhibition, at the Redfern Gallery in Mayfair. A near sell-out, it opened to huge critical acclaim in May 1963, immediately making Procktor one of the most sought-after artists on the contemporary scene. Along with his obvious talent, he was fiercely intelligent and, at six–foot–five, physically imposing. He was also a charismatic dandy, renowned for his Wildean theatricality and wit, very much at home within the heady milieu of art, theatre, fashion and rock music that he inhabited. The subjects of his watercolour portraits of the Sixties and early Seventies–often painted from life in Procktor’s Marylebone flat–are mostly from this world, taken from the artist’s wide circle of friends and acquaintances. Many are gay, and include both establishment figures and those associated with the counterculture. Some are famous, whilst others are footnotes within the period’s histories.
Procktor first took up watercolour seriously in the summer of 1967, finding it ideal in translating the transient effects of light and colour that so beguiled him, and gradually achieving great mastery in the medium. He very rarely made any preliminary drawings, but instead began with washes put down with a fully loaded brush, in a carefully judged process involving great fluency and lightness of touch. In a telling phrase, the artist John Craxton described Procktor’s gift as that of “the chic of facility”. His portraits arise from a highly idiosyncratic brand of stylised artifice, in which extraneous detail is often edited out, the figure carefully poised within the white space of the paper. The subject is often depicted with some kind of distortion, of limbs and/or visage – in results that are both mannerist and psychologically acute. Taken together the portraits serve as a social document, of an era in which accepted norms of behaviour, sexual and otherwise, were jettisoned in a new age of social freedoms. The revolution didn’t last, but reverberates still: as does Procktor’s understated painterly language, which now looks conspicuously relevant, wholly at one with much of what contemporary figurative painters seek to emulate.
© Ian Massey 2018
This text, along with further images, can be found here: https://elephant.art/the-approach/
Commissioned to coincide with the exhibition Neil Haas, Patrick Procktor, at The Approach, London, 24th May 2018 – 17th June 2018.
Illustrated: Patrick Procktor, Eric Emerson, watercolour, 1968. Painted in New York. Image courtesy The Redfern Gallery, London. © The Artist’s Estate/The Redfern Gallery.