Horace makes art centre stage – by Hannah Tobin, BBC Coventry & Warwickshire
He’s known to millions as Sir Horace Gentleman; making intricate basslines seem effortless – but there’s another string to Horace Panter’s bow…
Before The Specials reunited, Horace, their cool and collected bass player, had another life as an art teacher at a Coventry school.
Art has been a constant throughout his life, and this time it’s come to the front of the stage.
BBC Coventry & Warwickshire have caught up with Horace to find out more…
For those that don’t know, and possibly think you were born playing a bass guitar, you actually studied for a degree in Fine Art at Coventry Lanchester Polytechnic, which is what bought you to Coventry. So you’re now going back to your roots. Can you remember the first time you picked up a brush and discovered a love of painting?
I started with drawing. My father’s brother was a commercial artist; he was killed in July 1944 in France. As well as some of his paintings on the wall, we had a big folder of his drawings and paintings, which I used to enjoy looking at and copying. I then moved on to the Pop Artists. They used such simple images and bold colours. I also went through a phase of being into abstract impressionism.
There has been a fair amount of down-time in The Specials recently, which has allowed me to get a folio together
At school I was more interested in the graphic design aspect of art; it wasn’t until I went to Northampton School of Art in 1971 for my foundation year that I got into painting.
You must get lots of inspiration while touring the world. Do you work from photographs or physical and mental sketches?
I get lots of reference material from touring – postcards, photographs, artefacts, books, all kinds of stuff. I’ll then tip it all out and sort out what looks ‘paintable’. Sometimes, stuff suggests itself straight away. Other times I’m combining several different images.
How would you describe your work? It certainly has a distinctive style with bright colours and carefully constructed subjects.
I like practical art, which is why I admire icons. You want a safe journey? Here, take a picture of Saint Somebody-or-Other with you. You want your crops to grow good this year? Draw a picture in the dust and go kill a goat (I don’t kill goats by the way!). Symbolism and propaganda posters are big influences on my work too.
There’s a picture called The Stalingrad Madonna in Coventry Cathedral – it has its own little chapel. There’s a story of a modern icon… Fascinating. That picture had a great effect on me.
Where did the idea for the series of Robot at the Beach paintings originate?
I originally did a series of Robot drawings around five years ago, while I was still an art teacher. I’d recently rediscovered the jungle paintings of Henri Rousseau and decided to integrate the two. I think Rousseau would have loved 1960s Japanese tin robots.
You list Peter Blake as one of your influences. Have you ever been tempted to create an album cover or a series of music related paintings – maybe documenting life on the road?
I’ve never done any album covers, although I designed tour t-shirts for General Public, Special Beat and the Mark Two Specials. As for a ‘documenting life on the road’, I wrote a book about it! Ska’d for Life by Horace Panter or, if you prefer the French translation, Rudie pour la vie.
Art has always been part of your life – from studying it, to teaching it – why only now have you decided to share the portfolio of Horace Panter?
There has been a fair amount of down-time in The Specials recently, which has allowed me to get a folio together. Art had to take second place to teaching when I was at the school, so I didn’t have a lot of time (or inclination) to do a great deal.
Some of your artwork can currently be seen at HM Graphics Gallery in Leamington Spa. Do you have plans for a full exhibition in the future?
Of course, I’d love to have an exhibition but at the moment I’m concentrating on my limited edition prints. I’ll have to see how they go. It’s early days. This is definitely a long-term project.