The Specials' Horace Panter turns to art: From Amy Winehouse to Elvis Presley

The Specials' bassist turns into a visual artist

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The Independent Culture

The Specials’ bassist Horace Panter has ­collected together paintings he has created in the past five years for a new book, Art. His bold and colourful portraits include one of Amy Winehouse in a Henri Rousseau-­inspired jungle setting. There is a series of bizarre robots, such as the "Robot At The Beach". He has also painted cassettes, including the original Woodbine Street Studio recording of The Specials’ ­famous song, “Ghost Town”.

His "Elvis with Badges", shows Elvis Presley wearing badges, including an “I heart Peter Blake” badge. It is inspired by Blake’s 1961 "Self-portrait with Badges", which shows Blake holding an Elvis fan club magazine. 

“A lot of the figures are central like religious iconography, mixed up with pop art sensibility,” says Panter. “I was trying to paint my love of the music.”

Panter refers to the book as his “solo album”, which is largely an autobiographical journey through music.  Now aged 61, he is currently touring the UK with The Specials, who formed in 1977 and had seven consecutive UK Top 10 singles between 1979 and 1981. They split up in 1981 but reformed in 2009.

He met co-founder of The Specials Jerry Dammers in 1973, while doing a fine art degree at Coventry’s Lanchester Polytechnic  (now Coventry University). But Panter’s only real artistic activity during his Specials years was visiting art galleries all over the world as they toured.

“The rest of the band went to nightclubs and I went to bed early so I could get to the Guggenheim early,” says Panter.

He started painting in the late 1980s, after becoming an art teacher at a special needs school near Coventry, after The Specials split up. His first paintings were inspired by Joseph Cornell. He loved religious paintings and iconography because “all perspective rules were thrown out of the window”.

He now works from his attic with a velux window in Coventry – he calls  the paintings “my greatest hits”. He works on a small scale – most of his paintings are not bigger than three feet. Now he is channelling Edward Hopper in a series of signs.

Panter only went to art school in the 1970s to join a band, but now he realises it paid off in more ways than one.

Art by Horace Panter is out now, £25