Patrick Procktor RA
Patrick Procktor, part of an influential group of British artists in the 1960s alongside David Hockney, won the early support of Keith Vaughan and Bryan Robertson. However, his theatrical persona often undermined the seriousness of later works - delicate watercolours with an elegant palette - and alcoholism marred his later years.
Procktor was born in Dublin in 1936, and raised in London, taught by Kyffin Williams at Highgate School. At 21, he had a still life included in that year's Redfern Gallery Summer Exhibition. He enrolled at the Slade in 1958, along with others such as Roger Cook, Mario Dubsky and Philip Prowse, and became President of the Slade Society.
Bryan Robertson, Director of the Whitechapel, helped secure a solo show for Procktor at the Redfern Gallery in 1963, most of which sold before the opening. This show comprised entirely male nudes, his subject matter influenced by Vaughan's own homoerotic studies. However, Procktor's work focused on the physical performance of painting. The figures were deformed, affected by his time as an art therapist with paralysed patients, of whom Procktor commented: "I came to gradually accept their physical deformities [...] in my paintings I want to convey the feeling that such distortions, far from being grotesque, are part of life and therefore acceptable".
In 1964, Procktor featured in Robertson's The New Generation at the Whitechapel, a survey of twelve young artists (including Patrick Caulfield, John Hoyland and Bridget Riley) which heralded a new, colourful era for British art.
Inspired by his Camberwell teaching colleague RB Kitaj, Procktor produced new oils that featured complex imagery, with biblical and political overtones, and monkeys as recurring motifs, which he exhibited unsuccessfully in 1965 at the Redfern. This failure prompted Procktor to take up a teaching residency at Iowa State University, after which he met up with Hockney in Colorado, on a road-trip with Colin Self and Norman Stevens.
Spending time with Hockney inspired Procktor to simplify his subjects, looking at newspaper photographs and painting them in thin acrylic washes. Procktor adopted the use of watercolour in 1967, a technique for which he became famed. Procktor's first watercolours were especially distinctive for the elegant, elongated depiction of his sitters, recalling El Greco and Parmigianino. On a trip to New York, Procktor spent an evening taking drugs with Gervase Griffiths (his model and the object of his affections), Ossie Clark and Eric Emerson, which resulted in a series of vague, hallucinatory images. His relationship was Griffiths was traumatic, and Procktor's sexuality troubled him throughout his life.
In 1970, Procktor left for India, with the subsequent landscapes exhibited at the Redfern. After painting trips to Morocco and Egypt, in 1980 Procktor became the first modern artist to visit China since the Cultural Revolution.
In 1973, Procktor married his neighbour, Kirsten Benson. Although they had a son together, the union was rather turbulent and culminated in Benson's sudden death in 1984. As for his work, the watercolours were overwhelmed by the emergence of 'Bad Painting', as practised by Georg Baselitz and Julian Schnabel.
By the mid-1990s, despite election to the Royal Academy, he had become depressed and an alcoholic. In 1999, a fire destroyed his Marylebone flat and much of his art, forcing Procktor to live uneasily with his mother. After brief spells of incarceration and homelessness, his final years were spent painting simple still lifes in temporary council accommodation, dying in 2003.
Patrick Procktor's estate is represented by the Redfern Gallery.
*The quote by Procktor about working with paralysed patients is from the artist's statement, in The New Generation: 1964 exhibition catalogue