Today, my interview is with Artist Horace Panter – who you may well also know as Sir Horace Gentleman, founder and bass player with Iconic Ska band The Specials.
Horace already had a Fine Art degree under his belt when he joined The band in 1977 and so it was just a matter of music, tours and an interesting teaching role, before he would produce his own icon inspired artwork. The first public exhibition of many took place in November 2011 with great response and there are plenty more to come.
News of a 2013 tour with The Specials is out, so all in all, next year is sounding good too.
I could’ve asked many questions to someone with such an interesting and varied life to date – but I managed to narrow them down and hope you enjoy …
You studied art before even joining the Specials – you had your first exhibition at the Strand in London only last year – what has the reaction to your work been so far ?
I think it has surprised people. There have been a lot of positive responses and Iʼve been taken a lot more seriously than I was expecting, you know, the ʻsemi – retired rock star with too much time on his handsʼ reaction, but itʼs been more like ʻwow, this guy can actually paint !ʼ
Do you think it’s important to study your craft at college or university, be it fine art or whatever you choose in life ?
If youʼre going to be a doctor or an architect, then yes ! I suppose it depends on what sort of artist/musician you would like to be. Francis Bacon, for example, never went to art school. It has helped me, I know that, by giving me a credibility I would not otherwise have had. Also, a grounding in Modern Art History has helped but you donʼt need to go to university to study that.
Has working as a musician developed you as an artist – and vice versa ?
Only in as much as it has enabled me to travel and visit art galleries and find inspiration from around the world. No, thatʼs not all, if I wasnʼt a professional musician with lots of ʻdown timeʼ I wouldnʼt have the excess of free time to paint. When Iʼm rehearsing in the studio or doing a gig, I have to fit into a team and concentrate on what works best for the group; when Iʼm painting, Iʼm solo, making all the decisions.
Preparing boards and preliminary stuff I can listen to music, but I canʼt multitask very well; I could never do my homework in front of the TV so, when Iʼm painting, I like solitude.
Did you design The Specials logo ?
Not entirely. Jerry did the two-tone man and I did the 2 -Tone Records bit.
You were Head of Art at a school for autistic children for ten years – how did this come about and did any of the students work inspire you ?
I went into the special needs school as support for one specific pupil. As he settled back into the school, I was ʻabsorbedʼ into the staff and once it was discovered that I had an art degree (the art teacher was really a PE teacher who took the job because no-one else wanted it … yes, school is like that! ), I was offered the job so a bit ʻunder the radarʼ really. It was a fantastic experience, especially dealing with children on the autistic spectrum. It made me change the way I viewed art – to make it more immediate.
Who and what are your biggest influences ? Is this ever evolving ?
Musically, most stuff on Tamla/Motown and Stax/Atlantic, Chicago Blues and Dub Reggae. Artwise, the list is longer – Henri Rousseau, (Sir) Peter Blake, Wayne Thiebaud, Mark Rothko, Kenneth Noland, Robyn Denny, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichenstein, James Rosenquist – mainly American 1960s artists, but they, the 60sʼ, were my formative years. Lately, I think Iʼm like the Borg out of Star Trek inasmuch as I accumulate everything and it becomes a source for work. I like the phrase ʻappropriation and subversionʼ!!
As a bass player and teacher you are in a supporting role – how does it feel to be the front man ?
The art career is my ʻsolo albumʼ. It is a different kind of creativity.
Are there certain galleries that you look forward to visiting when you’re on tour ?
Oh yes ! There is a probability we will be in New York towards the end of summer. I have never been to the new MOMART. The year before last, we were in Europe and the Ludwig Museum in Cologne was fantastic, as was The Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin.
Is you work influenced by pop art ? What do you love about it ?
To my way of thinking, Pop Art was to Art History what Punk Rock was to Rock and Roll. You had Abstract Expressionism, which was very elitist and metaphysical ( I love Rothko by the way ) and then along comes a guy with a soup can ! My work is heavily influences by traditional iconography and the word ʻmundaneʼ is used a lot in iconography as it is in Pop Art. ʻElevating the Mundaneʼ is one of the tropes of Pop Art and a lot of my work looks like Pop Art. Peter Blakeʼs technique and his use of colour are also big influences.
1. Road Runner, Junior Walker and the All Stars
2. All Down the Line, Rolling Stones ( off Exile on Main Street ) !
3. Too Much Alcohol, J.B. Hutto and the Hawks
4. A Little Bit of Love, Free
5. Outta Space, Billy Preston
6. Dub Tree, Joe Gibbs ( from African Dub Chapter 3 )
7. Trampolene, The Spencer Davies Group ( worldʼs greatest B-Side )
8. PCH, ZZ Top ( great driving music )
9. China Girl, David Bowie ( with Stevie Ray Vaughan channelling Albert King )
10. Pour Me One More Drink, Robert Ward ( the Blues – for real )
I had these two diaries from our US and Japanese tours and my parents had collected 11 scrap books full of Specials and Two-Tone related press. I was always the one that people were being directed to: ʻAsk Horace, he remembers stuff like thatʼ. There had been a couple of ʻfan-relatedʼ attempts at writing about the band but I thought they were far from accurate and no-one in the band had done it … so I did. Also, I twisted my ankle during the summer holidays and had fuck all else to do !!
Could you offer some words of advice for any aspiring artists and musicians reading this on how to fulfill their dreams ?
Self belief and persistence. Oh, and a good manager. Thatʼs A GOOD MANAGER!!
Do you have any exhibitions coming up ? .. and will The Specials be touring next year ? I will look forward to both..
By the time you publish this, The Specials May 2013 UK Tour Dates will have been announced. In 2012 I had 14 exhibitions – great fun but too much! In 2013 I am discussing exhibition dates in Liverpool and Glasgow in the early months and have one pencilled in for Number 9 Gallery in Birmingham for the summer. As soon as I have confirmation of any exhibitions the dates are published on Twitter and Facebook and also in the ʻHoracePanterArtʼ quarterly newsletter … all the logistics are handled by Clare, the woman I love !
A massive thanks to Horace ( and Clare ! ) …it is an honour to interview someone whom I have grown up listening to and loving their music, and now am very inspired by Horace’s artwork too.
All images copyright Horace Panter 2012.
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