Horace Panter, from The Specials, has brought his pop art exhibition to Birmingham. Zoe Chamberlain finds out more.
The Specials’ bassist Horace Panter describes his artwork as his solo album.
Having been head of art at Corley Special School in Coventry for 10 years, he imagined he would retire an art teacher.
But then, in 2008, he got a call from guitarist Lynval Golding asking if he’d like to reform the legendary 1970s ska band.
Not only did this lead to worldwide success second time around, it has given Horace the chance to pursue his other passion: pop art.
“When we were touring in the 1980s, and everyone in the band would be going off to nightclubs, I’d be going home early so I could visit the art galleries the next morning,” says Horace, now 60 and still living in Coventry.
“I don’t know if that’s strictly true but it’s what I’ve always said.
“Travel broadens the mind and it has definitely influenced my art over the years.
“Looking at art in books for years then seeing it hung in galleries where it seemed 200 times bigger, it was like looking at a picture of the Eiffel Tower and then seeing it for real.”
Horace met Jerry Dammers back in 1973 whilst studying fine art at Coventry University, which was then called Lanchester Polytechnic.
They went on to form The Specials in 1977, producing anthems such as Ghost Town, A Message To You Rudy and Gangsters. Travelling the globe, they enjoyed huge success until their split in the early eighties.
Horace went on to teach and was inspired by the rewarding work he was doing with young people.
“If a child’s literacy wasn’t great, they found they could do art just as well as anyone else, it didn’t matter,” explains Horace, who is married to Clare.
“Art is a great levelling thing. My time there changed the way I thought about the subject.
“At college art had almost been like a private language, with people doing peculiar things and others saying ‘what the dickens is that?’
“As a teacher, I had to really simplify how I taught art to children.
“I’ve always said that was my second best job. It was very rewarding and I still keep in touch with some of the children.”
But it was his time in America that gave him his love of icon-inspired pop art, which he still creates today.
“When I was at art college, it was all about conceptualism, art college stuff really and pretty elitist,” explains Horace, who has painted an iconic image of the late Amy Winehouse. She performed with The Specials at a festival in 2009 after they had reformed.
“In America I came across expressionist painters and an artist called Joseph Cornell, who used display cabinets with particular things displayed.
“For me, that was my St Paul on the road to Damascus moment – I thought wow, I’d never seen anything like that before.
“With pop art, I’ve always loved the bright vitality of it. It’s something I naturally do.
“It’s about elevating the mundane, like the way Andy Warhol did with the Campbell Soup cans.
“I like to paint regular folks but as religious icons, or a favourite toy you had from when you were little that always meant more than a lump of plastic.
“That’s where the robot images come from. For girls it’s dolls, for boys it’s robots.”
Horace’s work is currently being displayed at the Reuben Colley Fine Art Gallery in Moseley.
After Horace wrote his autobiography, Ska’d For Life, at the beginning of the Noughties, he found he was in for a surprise.
“When I wrote my book, I thought I was going to retire an art teacher,” he says. “I thought that was fair enough, I’d had a good crack at professional music.
“I had many happy memories and I still played with local guys, most weekends I’d be somewhere making a noise!
“Then in 2008 I got a call from Lynval saying what do you think about reforming and seeing what happens?
“I would never have dreamt I would be jetting off to Japan in 2012 to play a gig. We’ve had a fantastic reaction.
‘‘It was 35 years ago when those songs were written. Lots of people have said we sound exactly the same. We play with the same spirit, which is what makes it work.
“And playing professionally again has given me the free time to concentrate on my art career, which has been fantastic because one influences the other.”
* Horace Panter’s exhibition runs at Reuben Colley Fine Art Gallery in Moseley until March 15. To find out more, visit www.horacepanterart.com and www.reubencolleyfinearts.co.uk .
Horace Panter’s Top Five... Live Music Venues
* The 02 Academy ( www.o2academybirmingham.co.uk ) was originally in Dale End before moving to Horsefair in 2009, where it now has three arenas. The Specials played there last May.
* The Jam House ( www.thejamhouse.com ) on St Paul’s Square offers guests the chance to eat, drink and dance to their heart’s content at this jazz-centric venue.
* Hare & Hounds ( www.hareandhoundskingsheath.co.uk ) on Kings Heath High Street hosted UB40`s first ever gig in 1979. The Grade II listed building dates back to 1907, and features everything from jazz, reggae, soul and pop to comedy and cabaret.
* The Institute ( www.mamacolive.com ) in Digbeth High Street has hosted the likes of Pink Floyd and Joni Mitchell, and was the original home of Godskitchen. It was reopened in 2010 by Mama & Co after a multi-million pound refurbishment.
* Moseley Park is home to Moseley Folk Festival ( www.moseleyfolk.co.uk ). The Waterboys and Richard Thompson are headlining at this year’s festival at the end of August.