In The Studio: Bruce Lacey, artist

'I'm a satirist and a piss artist. The art world is so serious and pompous'

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The Independent Culture

Bruce Lacey was born in 1927 and, according to his entry in Wikipedia, "remains one of Britain's great eccentrics". His non-studio studio, south of Norwich in Norfolk, is so difficult to find that after several phone calls, Lacey agrees to stand outside. As I round a bend, I see a tall figure with long grey hair almost get mown down by a car that has overtaken me.

Opening his gate, Lacey waves me into the garden of the two small cottages that struggle to contain the assorted detritus of his long and eventful life.

Our conversation is more of a monologue about his history, now well chronicled in a film by one of his greatest supporters, fellow artist Jeremy Deller. Lacey began his career as a bank clerk; he failed to get a place as a pilot, so he joined the navy, and while in service, he contracted tuberculosis. The treatment was total bed rest. In order to survive and control his anxiety, Lacey says, he started to draw.

"Drawing and painting was a form of psychotherapy." When he'd left his bank job, he'd "stolen" a memento; a small piece of paper on which his boss had written, in gothic script: "Switch off the light after use". During his time in hospital he would take it out and look at it. His parents brought him a sketchbook and he filled it with slogans in gothic script. "It was my Citizen Kane moment, my Rosebud. It started me on my whole trek for life, otherwise I would have been a bank manager."

What a life it has been! Upon discharge from hospital, Lacey became a prop fabricator for, among others, Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan. He appeared in the Beatles film Help! as George Harrison's flute-playing gardener. He met fellow artist Jean Tinguely and appeared with him at the ICA. "There were two cyclists and I fired a starting pistol and then fed out a mile-length of paper that went all over the audience and then out of the window and the police came and shut us down." He had to turn down further work with Tinguely, "just as I had to stop making props, as I was denying myself."

If you were in a lunatic asylum and an inmate told you this story, you would smile and nod, but here, surrounded by ephemera bequeathed to Lacey by his antique-dealer father and the costumes he's used in his presentations and performances, it all makes sense. How to describe Lacey? Best to leave it to him, really. "I'm a satirist and a piss artist", he says. "The art world is all so serious and pompous."

'The Bruce Lacey Experience', Exchange Gallery, Penzance ( to 5 January 2013