NISOPROJECT

30.05—20.07.24

110 New Cavendish Street

London

A Life in Watercolour: Patrick Procktor and The Swinging Sixties

Installation view of "A Life in Watercolour: Patrick Procktor and the Swinging Sixties"


In participation with this year’s London Gallery Weekend,  NISO is pleased to present a monographic exhibition of works by the esteemed British painter Patrick Procktor, shedding light on one of the seminal figures of the Swinging Sixties art scene through candid watercolour depictions of everyday moments. Curated by art critic and curator Ophelia Sanderson, “A Life in Watercolour: Patrick Procktor and the Swinging Sixties”  will be on view from May 30 to July 20, 2024, showcasing a selection of 18 oil paintings and watercolours spanning three decades of artistic practice (1963-1991) displaying celebrity portraits as well as unguarded moments of queer experience.

 

A virtuoso in portraiture and travel painting – Proctor’s mostly autobiographical works freely depict the artist’s surroundings.  Delicate renderings in watercolour relate quotidian scenes ranging from the landscapes he encountered on his bohemian wanderings from the Middle East to Asia “Kyoto, Golden Temple, Rain” (1991) to the intimate portraits of friends, lovers and colleagues made from the comfort of in his living room “Portrait of Richard Buckle” (1968), “Peter Hinwood”(1969). A chronicle of daily life as an artist, a dandy, and an integral member of the swinging sixties, Procktor’s honest reflections deeply resonate with the modern-day documentation of life in the digital Age.

 

Marked by a unique and understated painterly language that blends traditional and contemporary influences – Procktor’s portraits  reveal a subdued and pasty palette and lingering atmosphere redolent of the pre-pop ‘Euston Road’ artistic movement, combined with an audacious use of white space that parallels the aesthetic modernity of the time. Marked by a non-hierarchical way of seeing, extraneous detail is opted out, figures carefully poised within the white space of the paper - some with mannerist distortions – coming together in a gentle and elegant quality that is muted in its transparency and deliberate areas of unpainted surface.  

Balanced with an equal measure of finesse and flair – the subjects of Procktor’s portraits unveil a colourful melee of artists, musicians, designers, photographers and socialites that relay to the audience a generational snapshot of the milieu of art, theatre, fashion and rock music the artist inhabits.  

Among them, some of the greatest figures of the era as well as many queer icons such as his friend the artist David Hockney and fashion designer Ossie Clark, interior designer Christopher Gibbs, Richard Beer, Peter Schlesinger, Mo McDermott, David Gwinnett, Francis Bacon, Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix, and Cecil Beaton; making up an almost complete cast of the ‘swinging’ London of the 60s and 70s.

 

Seemingly unguarded, Procktor’s portraits and renderings show a recurring - almost voyeuristic - depiction of the male figure – as carefree bodies recline half-naked “Brittas Bay” (1968), baking in the summer heat in parks “Lawn” (1975), or on the decks of boats “Tropic of Cancer”(1974). Conjuring airs of queer eros and nonchalance, these epitomise much of the liberal revolution of the time, where accepted norms of behaviour, sexual and otherwise, were being jettisoned for a new age of social freedoms.

 

A charismatic dandy renowned for his Wildean theatricality and wit, Procktor

was one of the UK’s most controversial and enigmatic figures. Spanning several decades, his work compassed diverse styles and mediums, subject to significant acclaim as well as controversy over his lifetime. First gaining recognition the year after his graduation, his first show at the Redfern was a sell-out before it opened. The following year, Bryan Robertson selected him for the seminal 1963 exhibition “New Generation” at the Whitechapel, exhibiting his early paintings – dynamic, abstract depictions of the male nude – alongside those of the most promising artists of his time Patrick Caulfield, John Hoyland, Bridget Riley and David Hockney. With subsequent tendencies that included the out-of-vogue medium of watercolour, paired with the thematic monotony of his 1968 ‘One Boy Show’ fiasco - Procktor’s acclaim would never reach that of his close friend and muse David Hockney. By the mid-90s, doomed by alcoholism and a series of personal disasters that included a fire that destroyed his home and much of his art, brief spells of incarceration and homelessness quickly ensued, blighting the later years of his life.

Today, his prints, watercolours, and oil and acrylic paintings sit in private and public institutions including the British Museum, the Tate, the National Portrait Gallery, The Los Angeles County Museum, the Metropolitan Museum (NY), and the MoMA (NY), subject to a particular resurgence since the publishing of Ian Massey’s major monograph “Patrick Procktor: Art and Life” in 2010. Spotlights include Tate Britain's survey show of watercolourists in 2011 and Queer British Art exhibition in 2017, as well as his acclaimed retrospective at Huddersfield Art Gallery in 2012, and the eponymous exhibition at Palazzo Bentivoglio (Bologna) “A View From A Window” in 2022.