Patrick Procktor RA
Patrick Procktor was part of an influential group of British artists in the 1960s alongside David Hockney, and won the early support of Keith Vaughan and Bryan Robertson. His early paintings were dynamic, abstract depictions of the male nude, before he established himself as one of the leading watercolourists of his generation from the 1970s onwards. He was born in Dublin in 1936, and raised in London, taught by Kyffin Williams at Highgate School. At 21, he had a still life painting included in the Redfern's Summer Exhibition. This encouraged him to enroll at the Slade in 1958, where he became President of the Slade Society, and befriended Roger Cook, Mario Dubsky and Philip Prowse. After graduating, his paintings were seen by Bryan Robertson, Director of the Whitechapel, who helped secure a sell-out solo show for Procktor at the Redfern in 1963. Often depicting male nudes, the work focused on the physical performance of painting. The figures were deformed, affected by his time as an art therapist working 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, these paintings were shown in The New Generation at the Whitechapel, a survey of twelve young artists (including Patrick Caulfield, Hockney, 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 in 1965 at the Redfern. These paintings failed to inspire the same level of acclaim that greeted his debut, and so the artist left England to take up a temporary teaching residency at Iowa State University. There, 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. His work from this period was painted in thin acrylic washes, and this naturally led to his adoption of watercolour in 1967, a technique for which he would become famous. His 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. These formed part of his next show at the Redfern, consisting entirely of portraits of his friends, completed in watercolour on paper. His portrait of Cecil Beaton was purchased by Joan and Lester Avnet, who amassed a superb collection of twentieth-century drawings, including Braque, Chagall, Picasso and Schiele. Procktor was one of a small number of contemporary British artists in their collection, highlights from which were shown at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1978.
After the premature death of Gervase Griffiths, Procktor spent much of his time travelling the world. He first visited India, and the landscapes he painted there were brought back and exhibited at the Redfern. These proved immensely popular, to the extent that Procktor was encouraged to make aquatint prints of a number of the watercolours. After painting trips to Morocco and Egypt, in 1980 Procktor became the first modern artist to visit China since the Cultural Revolution. The resulting landscapes were executed in both watercolour as well as aquatint, and once again received critical and commercial acclaim, when unveiled at the Redfern. In 1973, Procktor married his neighbour, Kirsten Benson. They had a son together, but the union was ended by Benson's sudden death in 1984. By the mid-1990s, despite election to the Royal Academy, Procktor had become depressed and an alcoholic. In 1999, a fire destroyed his Marylebone flat and much of his art, and after brief spells of incarceration and homelessness, his final years were spent painting simple still lifes in temporary council accommodation.
Since his death, there has been a resurgence of interest in Procktor. He has been included in a number of important group exhibitions organised by the Tate, such as Tate Britain's huge survey show of watercolourists, in 2011; in Glam! The Performance of Style at Tate Liverpool, in 2013; and in Queer British Art at Tate Britain, in 2017. He was the subject of a major monograph by Ian Massey, who curated a well-received retrospective at Huddersfield Art Gallery in 2012, while a near-sell-out show of works on paper was held at the Redfern in 2017.
Patrick Procktor's estate is represented by the Redfern Gallery.