The flamboyant painter, Patrick Procktor, was known for his tasteful use of colour and form. The younger son of an oil business accountant, he was born in Dublin but went to London after his father passed away in 1940. He started attending Highgate School when he was ten years old and studied under landscape painter Kyffin Williams with the goal of majoring in classics in college. His mother’s income, however, was insufficient to pay for his further education, thus he had to quit. Procktor, then 18 years old, was conscripted into the Royal Navy where, during his National Service, he learned to speak Russian.
After being demobbed, he worked during the day as a Russian interpreter for the British Council, for whom he made numerous trips to the Soviet Union. He spent his evenings painting and drawing, and in 1958, he was accepted as a student at the Slade School, where the enormously influential William Coldstream was the professor of fine art. Fortunately for Procktor’s unconventional abilities, he made friends with Keith Vaughan and later ran into Hockney, who was a Royal College of Art student at that point.
Within a year of establishing his career as a professional artist, Patrick Procktor, who passed away at age 67, held his first exhibition at the Redfern gallery in Cork Street, London. A year later, Bryan Robertson chose him for the inaugural and most well-known Whitechapel Gallery New Generation exhibition, which helped launch the careers of co-exhibitors like Hockney, Bridget Riley, and John Hoyland.
Although Procktor mostly utilised oils and acrylics, he also employed watercolour extensively. In large part, the methods he picked up for this profoundly outmoded medium served as a barometer for how different Procktor’s work was from that of his contemporaries. To paint portraits of friends like David Hockney and romantic landscapes inspired by his lengthy trips through Venice, Mumbai, China, and Japan, Procktor primarily used thin acrylic washes.
Some of Procktor’s watercolour portraits may be compared to Elizabeth Peyton’s pop-hip portraits by modern viewers. Perhaps there is a similar frequency of ease between the perception of informality and aesthetic chic. But his achievements as an oil and acrylic painter, where at his best he blended unusual lucidity with a poet’s depth of feeling, seem to take precedence over this. Procktor’s latter lack of commercial success was probably due to his employment of the outmoded medium of watercolour; in contrast, his oil and acrylic works are more in demand.
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