Horace Panter Talks Art

Art & Culture

When you initially leave a band that has been with you for most of your life, what do you do? For Horace Panter you revert back to what you know: art. After doing an art A-Level, Horace was whisked away into the busy life of music as the bassist in The Specials but art has always been with him. We envy a man whose day job is playing in more than one band and getting to paint all day.

The Specials were one of the most defining British bands of the 1980s and as Horace travelled the world with the band, his art knowledge blossomed with visits to international art galleries. Once The Specials reformed in 2008 he found that he had more time in between practises and performances to focus on his art and has since produced 6 collections including 'Americana', 'Blues and Jazz' and 'Cassettes'. His artwork combines collage and painting to illustrate his subject through different mediums. With a hint of pop-art and much inspiration from Peter Blake, Horace Panter's artwork has sailed the world and been featured in collaboration by brands like Fred Perry, Club Wembley, Teenage Cancer Trust, Amy Winehouse Foundation and Screaming Records DK. 

Ahead of his artwork appearing at Liverpool: Next Stop New York, Horace Panter talks to us about his origins, not the Wolverine kind, his art inspirations and life on tour as an artist and musician with The Specials;

We know you from The Specials; were you always creative even when you were busy with the band?

Yes, I suppose so. I was always making things: airforce kits, lego and drawing! My idea of relaxing is doing something. I don’t do ‘deck chairs on the beach’. There was very little down time with The Specials back in the day but a day off on tour usually included a trip to an art gallery – and a launderette!

You use a range of creative techniques in your artwork. How do you decide which techniques to use when you create a piece of artwork?

The technique is usually informed by the subject matter. With the Blues paintings I was influenced by aspects of naive folk art and collage as it seemed appropriate to what I was trying to get across. With my cassette paintings and the Americana series, they’re regular paintings.

Pop culture has been a big part of your life in both music and art; are these some of the main topics that inspire your work?

Pop Art was the first art movement that I was interested in, both from a graphic perspective and the subject matter. The idea of ‘elevating the mundane’ appeals to me. I’d like to think that my works can be appreciated by anyone, rather than an art-educated elite.

You painted a collection of Blues and Jazz artists and songs; did these also inspire your music?

With the Blues (and Jazz) paintings I wanted to try and somehow express how the music impacted on me. I wanted to ‘paint music’. The Blues has a tremendous cultural significance on place, history and race. I wanted that to come through in the work. I didn’t want to just paint a portrait of Muddy Waters; I wanted to show his history, repertoire and socio-geographical influences (Chicago). The pictures came out of a love for the music.

Clearly, through your work, music is still a large part of your life; do you still play in your spare time?

My other day job is as the bassist in The Specials! We played in Mexico and Chile this year as well as at a handful of festivals in the UK (Mouth of the Tyne, Kew Gardens and Splendour). But yes. I have a Blues combo that plays a couple of times a month around Coventry. Also an occasional traditional 9-piece ska band (Uptown Ska Collective) and I’m currently developing an obsession with country music and, yes, I’m available for sessions!

Your art is often described as having Pop Art sensibilities; was art a large part of your childhood?

Not consciously. I did art at ‘A’ level which was when I started taking it seriously. I was always drawing when I was growing up but I always thought everyone else was too.

How has your artwork progressed throughout your life?

If anything, going to art college was something of a distraction. Conceptualism and minimalism were the order of the day when I did my degree and I got swept up in that. It wasn’t until the 80’s and an encounter with the work of Joseph Cornell at the Museum of Modern Art in New York that I started considering making my own pieces. This eventually led back to my Pop Art roots.

You took 10 years out of your musical career to be a secondary school teacher; is there anything YOU learnt from the experience?

Teaching art to children with special needs was a very rewarding experience. I had to ‘sell’ the subject to children who were not particularly adept at drawing or painting. It made me focus on my own appreciation of art and consciously decide on what was important for a piece of work. I learnt a lot about technique too, which was something my degree didn’t focus on.

Your artwork features popular cultural icons in which you choose to unravel their ethos; do you create art works in how to see the icons?

I have developed a deep respect for Icons and religious paintings. I love the way the standard rules (perspective, chiaroscuro) are thrown out of the window to make the Christ figure central and the largest subject by means of a spiritual hierarchy. My ‘contemporary’ portraits are based on those concepts and that of ‘elevating the mundane’, which is one of the basic tenets of Pop Art.

The cassette series brings back memories for me of creating my own mixtapes at home on my stereo; do you feel that it’s important to create a symbolism of music with a physical object as well as having an icon that represents a movement or a particular culture?

An actual painting of a 4’x3’ audio cassette is, in itself, a pretty boring subject. Where it works is that the subject represents a particular recording studio, or band, and what it triggers in the viewer. I’m always getting people coming up to me at exhibitions and saying “I’ve got a box load of those in my garage!”. I’ve also painting supersized pictures of the Sony Walkman – seemed rude not to! An outdated piece of audio technology nowadays, but everyone can remember where they were in 1983 when they bought one.

Do you paint autobiographically?

Hmm. I paint things that I want to paint if that’s what you mean. I wouldn’t paint an Abbe cassette for example. I need to have some connection to the subject matter. That’s why I’m generally not keen on doing commissions. I need a connection with the subject.

Who are the main audience for your artworks?

I like to think I paint for ‘regular folks’. I don’t think my works are difficult to understand – they’re not meant to be. I think it was Peter Blake who said ‘at the end of the day, people want something nice to hang on their wall’. I’m a big Peter Blake fan!

Have you learnt more about your artwork before your music career began or after it slowed down?

Has my music career slowed down?! It hasn’t from where I’m standing? Obviously, there is a lot more ‘down time’ with The Specials since our reformation in 2009 but this has given me space to establish my art career as well as other musical bits and pieces. I am always learning; without trying to sound pretentious, being an artist means constantly evolving in terms of practice/technique, always trying to make the next painting better than the last one.

Who do you wish to inspire?

People younger than me, people older than me and people of the same age!

What can we expect to see from you in the near future?

I currently have two ‘projects’ in a holding pattern in my head. One involves my 1972 Fender bass guitar and the other the result of a Specials visit to Mexico earlier in the year. My Americana series is ongoing. I have a lot of reference material to keep me producing motel, diner and roadside paintings well into the next decade if I want to! I’ve recently done the cover artwork for the past two Stone Foundation albums, designed a record label for a Danish ska label and done some illustrations for a book of lyrics for Jon McClure (Reverend & The Makers). I’m looking forward to The Specials going on tour again so I can get a rest!

See some of Horace's art at Liverpool: Next Stop New York from 7th – 23rd August at View Two Gallery, Liverpool. Find out more here.