Louder Than War’s Carl Stanley caught up with artist Horace Panter, famous, amongst other things, for time spent with The Specials. In a wide ranging conversation he reflected on his fascinating life’s work.

Graduating from Coventry’s Lanchester Polytechnic in 1975 with a degree in fine-art, it was Horace Panter’s love of music which eventually won out and along with fellow student Jerry Dammers he went on to form one of our most influential and loved groups ever…’The Specials’.

Yet his passion for art always remained strong throughout his time in The Specials and in 1998 Horace Panter took a new post as ‘head of art’ in a school for autistic children. It was through teaching that he began to focus on his own art work once again.

So putting a few questions to Horace on his own work, his inspirations and up coming exhibitions and shows was a great pleasure for me. Below is what the musician and artist said…

Louder Than War: Hi Horace, big thanks for chatting with Louder Than War, loving the art work and one of your pieces in particular, the vibrant Clash print using a collection of the groups images, album covers and pictures created in that same kinda riotous, bright punk style the band incorporated themselves..

Horace Panter: The Clash Print … This is a development from what I call my ‘Blues paintings’, pieces about my favourite musicians. It uses a format established in my ‘Obvious Pop’ series where I combine collage styles but with emphasis on the blocks favoured by (Sir) Peter Blake. Sounds a bit technical I know but I wanted to put over the chaos that surrounded The Clash; lots of people have said they were surprised they lasted as long as they did. They made some dreadful mistakes (Sandanista…a TRIPLE album!!) but they still played with a ferocious intensity. The Specials learned a lot (cut their teeth even) from touring with The Clash. The image has maps, landmarks, song lyrics and four previously unseen photos of the band members that were taken back in the day by Coventry photographer John Coles.

(Image above  “Amy”)

Do you mostly paint or do you work with other materials and art forms?

Horace: Mostly painting … Yes, mostly painting although I’ve recently started using aspects of collage.

You’ve also recently been busy painting an Amy Winehouse portrait for an exhibition at The Proud Camden, raising money for the late singers foundation. How do you decide on what or who to create, what inspires you to put an image together in the first place?

Horace: Amy Winehouse … I am interested in Icons, not just religious works but also contemporary icons. I also like the way the Pop movement of the 60s took subjects from consumer products and people – soup cans, comic books, film stars – and elevated them through art, just like in traditional iconography. I’d done some work previously with Fred Perry, embellishing a shirt for their 60th anniversary which was auctioned for the Amy Winehouse Foundation. It was through this connection that I was invited to participate in her 30th birthday exhibition. I’m always on the look out for ‘the good image’. I’m like The Borg (you know, Star Trek) inasmuch as I assimilate everything – but I like to think I’m working in the Pop Art tradition. (Sir) Peter Blake is one of my biggest influences. Anyway, there is no doubt that Amy Winehouse is a contemporary icon! Also, I think it is fantastic that the Amy Winehouse Foundation works hard to raise awareness and funds to help young people who have problems with addiction. Enough said.

Which other paintings and pieces of art work have you created over the years,can you tell us about some of your own favorite pieces?

Horace: Other pieces of work … I’ve been really pleased with my Blues paintings – there are 10 Blues and 2 Jazz works. Of the former, Hound Dog Taylor and Elmore James are my personal favourites, and from the Jazz selection, Miles Davis. I’m also very fond of Punk Rock Girl as she is based on a photo of my wife, Clare, when she was a young punk!

Is it true that a lot of your work comes from drawings you created some 10-15 yrs ago, if so, what was it that pulled you back to these drawings and finish them off?

Horace: From 1998 to 2008 I was Head of Art at a school catering to students on the autistic spectrum. This made me focus a lot more on my own work, which I started around that time. When The Specials reformed, I had the time to concentrate on painting when we weren’t touring. I didn’t necessarily finish paintings that I’d started or if I did, they didn’t last. I would paint over things if I didn’t like them (still do that). Gradually I felt I was developing my own style and from then It was only a small step to issuing the paintings commercially.

(Image to the right “Hound Dog Taylor”)

It seems Art was very much your initial calling and main focus back in the early days – attending art school then on to Uni it was around that same time you were getting more into the music and playing the bass. So what made you made you make the switch from your art to the music back then Horace, and in a way do you feel maybe your returning to your first love/ major interest? 

Horace: Painting … This is the difficult one. I tell people I have two parallel careers. It would be difficult to do art without music (music subsidises the art). Art is my ‘solo career’ if you like. Musically, as a bass player, I depend on other musicians to play, whereas, with painting, I’m on my own. I find it quite easy to switch heads and I enjoy both the mayhem of being on tour and the serenity of being alone in my art studio.

Both you and Jerry attended art school along with artists such as Lennon, Ray Davies, Kieth Richards some of Pink Floyd, Brian Eno. Some of our greatest groups were formed in these free thinking melting pots…do you think maybe the ‘youth’ today miss out on such ‘scenarios’ like the art schools represented in this separated world of the net?

Horace: Net / Youth missing out … I think there are still plenty of free-thinking creative people out there. There always will be. The internet has huge advantages but its downside is the easy access to resources. It’s the same with music. Just because you can make an album on a laptop computer in your back bedroom doesn’t mean it’s going to be any good. Like any ‘product’, it has to come from a good original idea. There are no shortcuts!

(Image to the right “The Specials”)

It was you and Jerry who designed that ever-so iconic Specials logo wasn’t it?. The Specials record covers, art work and logo alone had a big influence on the fans. So again…would you say maybe the net has taken a lot of importance and fun from music art work – with CD’s  so small and downloads not much to look at?

Horace: Specials logo … yes, Jerry and I designed the logo in his back bedroom! I don’t feel qualified to comment on whether or not the internet has damaged collaboration and creativity. That is not my experience … my experience is that I have had access to meeting people online that I might otherwise not have met, gone on to meet them in real life and collaborated on fun projects.

How about the exhibitions themselves, do you quite enjoy being there to hear the reactions, opinions and comments or is it quite nerve racking seeing and listening to people take your work in?

Horace: Exhibitions … The first time I had work in a public space it felt very strange to see people that I didn’t know looking and, and presumably commenting on, my work. Nowadays, I’m a bit more fatalistic – they either like the work or they don’t and there’s not a lot I can do about that. The trick seems to be not to get too pissed on open nights so that I can answer any questions without making a fool of myself. Doesn’t always work!

(Image to the right Punk Rock Girl)
On music, there seems to be more groups and music than ever…everyone knows some one who is in a band or making music but where do you think we’re at with music today, new music, new sounds/styles and so on. Any new groups or artists about at the moment who you quite like Horace?

Horace: Music nowadays … Hmm. How many pages have you got for the answer? I was born in the year that Rock Around the Clock was recorded. I saw The Beatles on Thank Your Lucky Stars and Jimi Hendrix on Top of the Pops. I was in a band that toured with The Clash. So, when a new band comes along, I relate them to stuff I’ve heard before. To me, NOTHING is ‘new’. My encyclopedic knowledge of rock and roll is also a millstone around my neck. Having said all that, young people are still experiencing the thrill of three chords and over-amplified guitars. They always will. Coventry bands Malik & Pettite and The Glassguns are good examples; both really different in their styles but both playing with a passion that is captivating and life affirming. In my moments of down time I tend to listen to Blues; I’m currently taken by the first couple of Fabulous Thunderbird albums.

…and before you go can you tell us what future plans you have in terms of your art work, exhibitions and such, and how about the chances of a follow up to your successful 2007 bio; ‘Scarred for Life’ ?

Horace: Art wise … Stuff is getting busy art wise; it reminds me a bit of what it was like being in The Specials in early 1979. After the Amy Winehouse exhibition, there is a week long show at The Strand Gallery, off Trafalgar Square, November 5-10th. This one is being sponsored by Sheaffer (yes, the pen people). Meanwhile, there are some new galleries coming on board for 2014 so it’s all exciting. The Specials aren’t doing anything until summer 2014 when it’ll be European Festivals. Actually, there is a book coming out in October this year about my Blues art but I’m not at liberty to disclose details at the moment! Another Ska’d for Life? I have a good title at least ‘Ska’s and Stripes’ … what d’you think?!!!

Keep up with news about Horace Panter’s art, exhibitions and paintings at his website or check him out on Facebook.

All words by Carl Stanley. More writing by carl on Louder Than War can be found in his author’s archive.

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