Patrick Procktor: Art and Life, Huddersfield Art Gallery, Huddersfield

Better than Hockney? Maybe, according to this tight, clever show, dedicated to a prolific and neglected Sixties artist

On a screen in Huddersfield Art Gallery, images digitised from the artist's Sixties photo album swim into focus. Many are of a young man – the artist's model lover, Gervase Griffiths, sexy in a rock-star way – wearing not many clothes and, eventually, none at all. It seems you have seen Griffiths's arse somewhere before, hauling itself out of a Los Angeles swimming pool or lying, supine, on a towel. But you haven't, because those bottoms were painted by David Hockney and this one was snapped by Patrick Procktor.

Patrick …? Exactly. Half a century ago, Hockney and Procktor were both in the Whitechapel's New Generation show, and their names have been linked ever since. Which means that you will definitely know Hockney's and very likely not Procktor's. Wisdom has it that there was only room for one painter of the Hockney kind in the 1960s, and Hockney got the job. Which is one of several myths dispelled by Patrick Procktor: Art and Life.

Two things quickly become clear. One is that Procktor did sometimes paint in a Hockney-ish way, particularly after the Yorkshireman reintroduced him to watercolour in 1967. But he also worked in all kinds of other ways, which has not helped his reputation either. The second thing this, tight, clever show makes clear is that Procktor was a very much better painter than Hockney, at least in the sense of being more endlessly proficient.

There are rooms of oils, watercolours and prints, all of them good. There is a two-minute portrait of Mick Jagger in felt-tip pen that is just wonderful. Procktor could turn his hand to anything, and did. He could also paint like anyone, and he did that, too.

In Pure Romance, a Hockney-ish Griffiths grins from a bed past a vase of Winifred Nicholson flowers. The first picture in the show – The Beach: Figures in Red and Black – suggests the influence on Procktor of Francis Bacon. (His heroes in art tended, predictably, to be gay: Bacon, Hockney, Keith Vaughan, Mario Dubsky, Christopher Wood.) There are Patrick Caulfield moments (Boy with a Facial Eruption), echoes of Willem de Kooning, Graham Sutherland-y landscapes. There is even a homage to Whistler, in the form of a portrait called Mother. Like Whistler's, Procktor's parent wears a long black dress. Unlike Whistler's, she looks like Mrs Danvers, or Countess Dracula. It is not a happy image.

But where is Patrick Procktor?

That question haunts his art. "I get an emotional, and almost physical pleasure out of painting people," he once said. "The brush, the colour and the paper, it's a substitute for touch." (Not much of that from Mother, you'd imagine.) In Copt, Procktor himself, in cryptic self-portrait, reaches out across the canvas to touch the flagellated back of a Christ figure, the artist his own Doubting Thomas.

The compositional distance is telling. Francis Bacon liked to be whipped, Procktor to imagine what it might have been like to touch someone else who had been whipped. His is the tourist's view, the voyeur's. His painting allowed him not to feel.

It's easy to see Procktor's life as a kind of fable. He was everything Hockney might have wanted to be and wasn't: tall, pretty, posh, classically skilled, a genuine blond. And that was his curse. Few of his friends and subjects made old age, and neither did he: Griffiths drowned, Eric Emerson overdosed, Derek Jarman and Dubsky died of Aids, Procktor himself of drink. His work is saturated with longing – to be vulgar or clumsy, or merely wrong; to connect. And he couldn't.

Endlessly reaching out, he never quite manages to touch. Try as he might, nothing is ever raw in Procktor's work: it's haute cuisine all the way. In a day when people wanted Wimpy Bars, this told against him. Perhaps his posterity will change, but for his own times, Patrick Procktor was too good a painter to be a good artist.

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power