Horace Panter of The Specials lets his paintings take centre stage

Horace Panter Beijing Street Cleaner-1 (2)
It’s not uncommon for musicians to turn to art as the years go by. In some cases it’s a sudden and often wrong feeling they can paint, but in many cases it’s actually a return to their first love.
The latter is true in Horace Panter’s case. He studied Fine Art at the Lanchester Polytechnic as it then was in Coventry, graduating in 1975, and while there he met another art student, Jerry Dammers, and they went on to found The Specials and the 2-Tone record label, and forge a career in music.
Horace is now staging a show at the White Room Gallery in Regent Street, Leamington, following a couple of others, including one at The Strand Gallery in London.
Asked why he had gone back to painting, the svelte Horace said wryly: “The Specials won’t play for ever and you can be fat when you’re an artist.”
He said he’d always been interested in art, and all through the first life of The Specials he’d be the one on tour going to bed early so he could get up in the morning to go and visit galleries such as the Guggenheim. It’s clear he’s still an art fan – he was delighted with how busy The Herbert was when he went in to see the George Shaw exhibition (and George is a Specials fan).

After the Specials split Horace went into teaching, and while teaching art at Corley special school he began to see it again through children’s eyes, but didn’t get seriously into it until The Specials reformed.
This exhibition includes oil paintings, a number of robot prints and silkscreens, and some new Blues Paintings, combining lyrics and images featuring the stars of the Chicago Blues scene.
White Room boss John Gilks runs H M Graphics below the gallery, and did the framing for the Strand exhibition, and was amazed by the number of paintings he found when he went to Horace’s studio, and the idea for this exhibition grew.
Horace says he is interested in iconography, which was practical art because icons were meant to protect people on long journeys.
“It goes along with Pop Art which I love because of the bright colours and the elevation of the mundane. There are lots of correlations between the two,” he said.

Horace Panter- Robots on The Beach 1 to 6 (2)

Most of the works on show were done this year, and certainly feature lots of bright colours.
I think the most assured and skilled works are the oil paintings, each of one character alone – Saint Parasheva, an evangelist scholar clutching a bible, a punk rock girl, and a female Beijing street cleaner; she’s the best of all. Horace took a photo of her and made the painting from it and it stands out – you can see the weariness on the woman’s face, excellent shadows, and a harsh background of a plain street.
John Gilks said there were lots more portraits like these in the studio, and personally I’d like to see an exhibition devoted to these alone.
The Robot series mostly show robots at the beach, combining greenery influenced by Horace’s liking for Rousseau’s jungles, and a picture of the sea he bought from a tourist shop in New Zealand. Why robots? He sees them as a kind of icon too, and feels in these prints they come over with their own personalities. They’re certainly colourful and cheery but the silkscreen print of the Silver Robot seems grittier and more appealing.
Taking one wall of space in the White Room is also Jamie Byrne, from Leamington, who’s a video game artist by day. He said: “I am into Mod youth culture, scooters, music and I was looking at comic book panels and one panel takes a lot of dedication.”
Jamie got interested in producing his own one panel-style artworks, which tell a story in themselves, originally using words of his own and then substituting words from musicians and bands he likes, such as The Specials, Who, Merton Parkas, and Libertines.
The bold images created by scooter-riding Jamie pick small segments in time to show, with some lyrics that are well known and others more obscure. They look commercial and although this is his first exhibition, they have been for sale in John Gilks’s shop for some time.
If you visit and the gallery isn’t open but the shop is, ask to be let upstairs – and I suspect this exhibition, the tenth White Christmas show held at the gallery, will be more popular than ever.


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