Magazine article The Spectator

A Towering Talent

Magazine article The Spectator

A Towering Talent

Article excerpt


by Ian Massey

Unicorn, £40, pp. 224,

ISBN 9781906509095

Ian Massey is a writer, artist and lecturer and this is his first book. There have been two previous books on Procktor: a ghosted autobiography and a slim volume to celebrate his 60th birthday. About the second, one reviewer wrote that what was next required was 'a full retrospective to answer the critical question that has been asked repeatedly over the last 30 years, "Is there anybody there?" ' This handsome, copiously illustrated, well-researched and sensitive appraisal of the art and artist fully meets that requirement.

Massey did not know Procktor, but he shows there was much more to him than facility and a facade. Half the book is devoted to the post-1970 career and gives abundant evidence that some of the finest work dates from these so-called lost years. It is painful to read of the snubs he endured at the hands of the establishment. His anarchic temperament did not help, but he suffered unduly for not playing the game.

If Procktor was turbulent by nature so was his upbringing. His accountant father died when he was four and his mother had to take a full-time job. Patrick and his brother spent the war in Malvern with their maternal grandparents. After the war they were boarders at Highgate. Kyffin Williams was the art master and later recalled: 'Some boys I taught, but Patrick I didn't have to.'

He lived to see his star pupil join him as a member of the Royal Academy.

When Procktor was 16 the money ran out. He was expected to win a classics scholarship to Oxford; instead he had to leave school. He was saved by National Service, his superiors selecting him to learn Russian.

His friend, Christian Wharton, remembers her first sight of him, at Craill, in Fife:

There was this incredibly beautiful young man:

very tall, bronzed, with wavy hair tinged with gold, smoking a cigarette with a long amber cigarette holder, and riding on this magnificent horse along the sands against the sea.

But for his exceptional height Procktor might have chosen the stage in preference to art; as a youth he shone at both.

In the year between National Service and the Slade Procktor made a living working as an interpreter, twice for British trade delegations to the USSR. As he flaunted his support of communism this raised persistent rumours he was a soviet spy. Christian Wharton says he was never a party member, a Highgate friend, Mark Cohen, that it was a typical fantasy: 'He cast himself in roles'. His sexuality was similarly mysterious. …

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