INTERVIEW: Horace Panter

Most of us know him as the bassist of the well-known band The Specials, but Horace Panter is also an accomplished and very well received painter. His art journey began when he was still a student at the Coventry’s Lanchester Polytechnic where he studied Fine Art, and though he later on became a professional musician (and a very successful one!), his inclination towards art and painting never ceased. There seems to be this artist working in a parallel passage to that one of the musician in Horace Panter’s character were sometimes their paths can overlap or be compared but the two never meet or interrelate.

In this interview he tells us about the time when he was 17, his University years and his early influences. He also talks about how he prefers to work and how he uses the same approach to showcasing his art as he does with his music.

‘I was swept up in the trend of conceptual and minimalist sculpture. I started visiting the Tate Gallery, attending their Sunday afternoon lectures and spending time in the Rothko room.’

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Where did your interest in painting stem from?

At 17, all the pupils at Kettering Grammar School were given UCAS forms and were told to go away and choose a university course to do. I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do, other than listen to Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Free and John Peel. I wanted to be ‘creative’ in some form and Art School seemed as near to creative as I could get. I got a place at Northampton School of Art to do a one-year foundation course and then got accepted at Coventry’s Lanchester Polytechnic to do Fine Art. I still didn’t have a clue, but it put me in the right direction!

Who are your inspirations and what influences your work?

My first influences were the Pop Artists. I liked the flat colour paintings of Robert Indiana – American gas stations and freeways. When I got to Art College I was swept up in the trend of conceptual and minimalist sculpture. I started visiting the Tate Gallery, attending their Sunday afternoon lectures and spending time in the Rothko room. I was very taken with the Abstract Expressionists, and also what was termed ‘Post-Abstract Expressionism’: Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland. I became a professional musician in 1979 and, while touring, was able to visit some of the world’s top art galleries. A visit to MOMART in New York brought me into contact with the work of Joseph Cornell. It was my ‘St Paul on the road to Damascus’ moment. The grand gesture was replaced by the mystery of objects. I’ve recently returned to my Pop Art roots, but heavily influenced by traditional iconography. I think all my works have a kind of quasi-religious aspect.

How would you describe your unique style? How do you feel it has developed over the years?

The work I was doing ten years ago had a lot to do with folk art and what is termed ‘outsider’ art. It has moved significantly to a more representational style although I still use a very limited palette. I describe myself as ‘the borg’ because, like the fictional species, I absorb and appropriate almost anything I see! This used to bother me as I felt I should be finding and sticking to one particular style of painting. However, I now value the freedom I have to merge styles or even to have several going on at the same time! In the studio, Monday could be ‘icon’ painting, Tuesday, ‘pop art’, Wednesday, ‘music’ … I should have a different painting apron for each day of the week! Of course, it doesn’t work like that in a literal sense because I’m lead by what is uppermost in my mind on any given day. At the moment, I’m working on a piece called ‘Land of 1000 Dances’, based on soul music, so I’m immersing myself by listening to the music while I research and plan ideas!  When I’m painting portraits though, I like to work in silence. I paint portraits as icons, the subject as the central focus without distractions, so I don’t like to be distracted while I’m working on them.

‘If you’re in a good band, there’s no point leaving it in a rehearsal room; you’ve got to go out and get gigs. It’s the same with paintings. They need to be seen.’

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Do you feel playing in The Specials has been a big influence in your art work?

Only inasmuch as playing in The Specials and touring enabled me to visit some of the world’s best art galleries and, since 2009, has given me more time to spend on my painting. I use the ‘music industry’ model in the marketing of my art. If you’re in a good band, there’s no point leaving it in a rehearsal room; you’ve got to go out and get gigs. It’s the same with paintings. They need to be seen.

 What can we expect to see from Horace Panter in the future? Do you have any exciting upcoming projects after ‘The Writing is on the Wall’?

Following this, I will be painting towards an exhibition at Reuben Colley Fine Art Gallery in Birmingham in February 2014. Reuben Colley is an artist with a gallery and I’m honoured that he has chosen to represent my work. Before that though, I’ll be taking a break in Los Angeles to stay with an old friend and artist Vicki Berndt, ostensibly to cat sit while she takes a vacation! I will be making the most of my time there by visiting galleries and looking for inspiration!  In June 2014 I also have a solo exhibition at ‘According to McGee’ in York which is another great gallery. There are also some exciting possibilities on the horizon with a couple of corporate spin offs being discussed. I’m a lot further forward in my art career than I was this time last year so I guess I’m moving in the right direction. However, you’re only as good as your last collection so there’s much work to be done!

You can see Horace Panter’s current exhibition ‘The Writing is on the Wall’ at the Strand Gallery until the 10th of November.

Visit his website here for more information.

All images © Horace Panter

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