Horace Panter - Art n' Music


The question I dread the most is ‘which is more important to you, art or music?’. It is impossible to answer … so I’ll answer it! I am a bass guitarist, so for me, music is a team game.


I need a drummer/guitarist/keyboard player/singer to make my music work – I become part of a group. My art is my ‘solo album’. I choose the subjects, the size of the boards I work on, the colours I use and how I apply them. It’s all me. With music, the response is instant – people clap (or they don’t!). The art takes a little longer to work – a painting takes weeks/months and the enjoyment slowly seeps out. Does that make sense?

The art I was first interested in when I was at school was Pop Art. Flat colour (Allan D’Arcangelo’s freeway signs) – America: land of adventure and loud guitars (so music and art have always been intertwined). I undertook what I consider to have been a cursory art education at Northampton School of Art and Lanchester Polytechnic Coventry, graduating in 1975. I was swept along with the prevailing trends of conceptualism and enthralled by the scale of paintings by Mark Rothko, Maurice Lewis and especially Kenneth Noland. I was also impressed by the minimalist sculpture of Robert Morris and Donald Judd.


Music took over my post-college life and I was fortunate enough to tour the world as a member of The Specials – being finally able to get to see Maurice Lewis and Kenneth Noland’s paintings in Los Angeles. I was still in awe of the scale of these works but a ‘St Paul on the road to Damascus’ moment occurred when during a visit to the Museum of Modern Art in New York I chanced upon the work of Joseph Cornell, an American surrealist from the inter-war period. His small exquisitely detailed boxes held a mystery that knocked me over and re-introduced me to a word I hadn’t used in a long time – beauty.


The 1990s saw me taking on parental responsibility and getting a ‘real job’. I ended up as Head of Art at a secondary school for students with learning difficulties. I tell everyone it was the second-best job I ever had! It made me rethink my approach to art and how to teach it to children who had problems communicating or who did not have the appropriate motor or cognitive skills.


The Specials reforming in 2008 turned my life around. Not only was I fast becoming an aged ska legend in my mid-50’s, I now had a lot of down time to take my art practice seriously. Aspects of iconography, nostalgia and the work of Henri Rousseau came together in a series of robot paintings, real and imagined saints, and my own heroes – Bluesmen: Elmore James, B.B. King, Muddy Waters … icons all!


I have finally returned to the Pop sensibility that attracted me over 40 years ago. The concept of ‘elevating the mundane’ – making a soup can into an art object – still appeals. I’ve painted pictures of the invisible people: street sweepers, pan-handlers, security guards and postcard sellers, giving them centre-stage in my work and treating them with an icon-like reverence.


I’ve recently been painting audio cassettes. They were part of my formative years; cheap disposable oblongs of plastic that contained the music that was the sound track to adolescent adventures. As a musician, the recording studio cassette held a special place. The skeleton of a song that went on to become a classic was left in a box in the garage or even recorded over!! All my cassette paintings have a narrative – it isn’t what they are, it’s what they represent: repositories of memory. Isn’t that what art’s supposed to be about anyway?


Enlarging the scale of these cassettes was a natural progression as was making a painting of what they were played on. The 5’ x 3’ Walkman paintings are the largest works I’ve done … so far.


I am also returning to my first love of ‘Americana’: signage and scenery … with a series of paintings focussing on minimalist composition and colour. These will be showcased for the first time at Reuben Colley Fine Arts Gallery in Birmingham in an exhibition called ‘America’ which will open on 20th September 2014.


The past few years have been an adventure and I’m looking forward to the evolving journey. I’ve exhibited all over the UK and recently in Singapore and am about to test my work in the States. There have been collaborations with Fred Perry, Sheaffer, Club Wembley, Teenage Cancer Trust, Amy Winehouse Foundation, Stone Foundation, Screaming Records DK and now I am working with Doc Martens to produce a one-off art boot.


There is a book coming out in October/November this year, published by Foruli Ltd, called, simply, ART and it will feature a selection of my work to date. Also, there are two London exhibitions lined up for 2015 and many ongoing projects that are waiting for green-light status! I’m thoroughly enjoying myself!

Horace Panter

August 2014



Born in Croydon in 1953, Horace graduated with a degree in Fine Art from Coventry’s ‘Lanchester Polytechnic’ in 1975. It was there that he met Jerry Dammers and together they formed The Specials, a band that went on to become one of the most defining British bands of the 1980s. He travelled the world (and its art galleries) as a musician and then, from 1998-2008, was the ‘Head of Art’ in a secondary school. It was in 2008, when The Specials reformed, that he found he had the time to explore his own art practice.


Horace’s first solo exhibition was in 2009 at London’s Strand Gallery and he has since exhibited throughout the UK, including at the AAF LondonThe London Art Fair, The Groucho Club and The London Print Fair at The Royal Academy as well as in galleries in Birmingham, Bath, Manchester, Aberdeen, Bournemouth, Bristol and Liverpool. He has also worked on collaborations with a number of companies, including Fred Perry, Club Wembley, Sheaffer Inc., Teenage Cancer Trust, Amy Winehouse Foundation, Screaming Records DK and Stone Foundation (the latter two involved designing record labels and album covers).


Much of Horace’s figurative work is based on traditional forms of iconography infused with a Pop Art sensibility, with influences ranging from Peter Blake, Kenneth Noland, Wayne Thiebaud and Joseph Cornell as well as the naive style of Henri Rousseau. He is interested in how iconography has always served a purpose for religious or political propaganda in which art reflects an ideology and is used as a tool to reinforce the prevailing rhetoric of absolutist regimes. His aim in creating contemporary iconography is to question the narrative of the icon by reproducing and questioning its status and authority in a post-modern setting. In this, he follows the Pop Art mantra of ‘elevating the mundane’; his icons are often of people who are ‘unseen’. His more recent paintings and collages, pay tribute to his favourite musicians, owing more to the influence of Peter Blake, Andy Warhol or Kurt Schwitters, with an emphasis on the visual narrative of the subject presented in fragmented pieces but expressing a cohesive history, as can be seen in his ‘Chicago Blues’ series. In his cassette series, the artefact is celebrated along with the cultural/historical context of seminal albums and the recording studios in which they were made.


It could be argued that his paintings are autobiographical in as much as they emerge from experiences, places and people that he has met on his travels as well as from his love of music; from his childlike images of robots to his more reflective portrait of Amy Winehouse, each work could represent a part of his kaleidoscopic and colourful sense of the world.