Patrick Procktor painting to be auctioned in London, 14th November 2018.

A 1966 painting by Procktor, which for many years formed part of a private collection, is to be auctioned next month at Bonhams, New Bond Street, London, in a sale of Modern British and Irish Art. At the request of the auction house I have written the following entry for the catalogue:

First exhibited in Patrick Procktor’s third one-man show, at The Redfern Gallery, London in May 1967, Nicholas and Keith depicts two of his artist friends: Nicholas Ferguson, who had studied alongside him at the Slade; and Keith Milow, a one-time student of Procktor’s at Camberwell School of Art. The besuited Ferguson stands gazing out at us over a vulnerably naked Milow, who appears to strain his head to look up at him from the bed on which he reclines. The relationship between them appears Pinteresque in its ambiguity, a factor heightened by the indeterminate setting of mostly undifferentiated blues. The painting’s composition is though in fact an invention, each figure based on a separate drawn study, whilst the subjects’ real-life friendship was merely casual and amicable. But what Procktor does very deliberately here, in this double portrait of gay men with its open display of male nudity, is explore a theme of transgressive or ambivalent sexuality. It was to be found elsewhere in the Redfern show: in pictures of The Rolling Stones, cocksure in drag, and of gangs of leather boys hanging out in vast rooms. In imagining the edgy frisson first generated by these works, one must consider the social context of the period, that of the eve of the Sexual Offences Act, which partly decriminalised homosexual acts. In the same month as his exhibition, Procktor made a drawing of Joe Orton, naked but for his socks, subsequently reproduced in the programme of the gay playwright’s work at the Royal Court Theatre. The drawing, now in the National Portrait Gallery, soon acquired a particular notoriety.

In terms of technique, the 1967 show marked an important transitional point for Procktor, as he moved further towards the lightness of touch for which he is renowned. It is evident in the understated painterly application of Nicholas and Keith, with its areas of finely brushed delineation, its allowance of the weave of the underlying canvas to produce subtle textural effect in Ferguson’s softly painted clothing and on Milow’s rumpled sheet. One notes also the manner in which the artist characteristically edits and pares down, for instance leaving Ferguson’s hands unpainted, so that they appear as though gloved by the white of the canvas. The painting is both of and from a particular moment; at the cusp of social liberation, and a pivotal time in Procktor’s artistic development.

Photograph courtesy of Bonhams. The Estate of Patrick Procktor is represented by The Redfern Gallery, London.

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