From The Archive - Pop Art: An Interview With The Specials' Horace Panter
This article was originally featured on the One&Other website.
Horace Panter is a name that resonates in the artistic world. Born Stephen Graham Panter he adopted the pseudonym of Sir Horace Gentleman as a founding member of the seminal ska band The Specials. After a musical career that has seen him rack up 7 consecutive top 10 singles as well as a ten year teaching career where he taughtart to children with special needs. As well as this he also has a successful career as an artist. As he brings his new exhibition to York’ very own According to McGee gallery, One&Other decided to ask Horace a few questions about his art and his new exhibition.
O&O: What was your first love art or music?
HP: I was in The Searchers’ fan club when I was 11 but I do remember drawing pictures of pop groups around the same time. Both music and art entered my consciousness around about the same time!
O&O: You were studying art when you first created The Specials. Are art and music two separate entities or do they inspire one another?
HP: There is playing an instrument and then there is playing music to an audience. People not only listen to music but they see it as well so it has always had a visual side to it as far as I’m concerned. I always had ‘stage clothes’ whether it was a Batman t-shirt or a tonic suit. Art, or at least a visual presence, has always been important to me. But yes, I would say that my art is strongly influenced by my love of music.
O&O: Are there any artists you base your work on? Which artists inspire your work?
HP: As a child of the 60s I was influenced by Pop Art: Andy Warhol, Roy Lichenstein, Robert Indiana and, in the UK, (Sir) Peter Blake. I like to think I’m still working in that tradition. I’m also impressed by religious paintings, especially icons. I’m a bit like the Borg (in Star Trek) – I assimilate everything; resistance is futile!
O&O: What concepts inspire your art?
HP: The Pop Art trope of ‘elevating the mundane’. In Iconography, the paintings have a border around them which symbolises their separation from ‘the mundane world’. That word again. I like the idea of reverence towards everyday/normal people/things which subverts the original concept of iconography … making the ordinary extraordinary!
O&O: Your cassettes are an interesting concept. What are they trying to document?
HP: The cassettes are what I call ‘repositories of memory’ (pretentious, moi?). In themselves, they were disposable, mass-produced recording devices. It wasn’t what they were; it was what was recorded on them. I like that as a concept. Also, as a musician, there is the other narrative of the ‘backing track’; the skeleton of a song which perhaps later went on to become a classic but which, at the time, was just ‘work in progress’. Again, it’s not what it is, it’s what it represents. The idea came when I found a box of old studio demo tapes in a box in the attic; these tapes had history/context so I decided to paint a couple of them and it just developed from there.
O&O: As well as cassettes you have painted numerous musicians. Are you attempting to pay homage to these people or is there another reason for this?
HP: I think all my pieces in some way are religious paintings (although I’m not at all religious). They all pay reverence to something whether it’s B.B. King or a Sony Walkman. So yes, they are an homage to the musicians … I wouldn’t do one of a band/musician I didn’t admire!
O&O: You’ve created art both in a group and solitary. What are the pros and cons of each and which do you prefer?
HP: With music I’m a team player. I need other musicians to make the music work (I play bass guitar). I refer to my art as my ‘solo album’. It is impossible to choose which one I prefer! I consider myself to be extremely lucky that I can practice both.
O&O: What can people coming to your exhibition expect to see?
HP: A dirty great big red Sony Walkman and some cassettes that could, supposedly, have been played on it. Quite a few music-related pictures and even some regular portraits. All of these in full colour!
O&O: Do you have a favourite piece you’re proud of?
HP: Each new painting I do is always the best painting I’ve ever done in my life! If it isn’t, I start again or dump it. In this exhibition I like my ‘Elvis with Badges’. I was commissioned to do it as part of a project to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Elvis’s hit song ‘I love you because’. Rather than do a traditional portrait, I used (Sir) Peter Blake’s ‘Self Portrait with Badges’ as a starting point. In that painting, he is holding a magazine showing Elvis on the front cover and he is wearing a denim jacket covered in badges. I put PB on the cover of the magazine and changed all the badges! It is a genuine bow to PB with a touch of humour!
O&O: What do you have planned for the future?
HP: Art-wise, after the York show, there’s an exhibition at Pete McKee’s gallery ‘A Month of Sundays’ in Sheffield, then in November the Specials do a UK/European tour. Next year is starting to shape up with the prospect of a major London exhibition in the Spring and some exciting collaborations on the horizon. I’m not a Gemini, which is weird, because I definitely wear two hats!
Horace Panter’s “Icons and Iconoclasm” is the final exhibition of According to McGee’s ‘trailblazer’ series. With a style reminiscent of Pop Art and cataloguing some of the world’s best musicians as well as other subjects this exhibition is one that shouldn’t be missed.