-1DEREK

BOSHIER’S DRAWINGS FROM

AMERICA
John A. Walker (Copyright 2005)
Boshier is a senior British artist who has lived and worked in the United States for many years and American culture has provided him with subject matter since the 1960s. A brief survey of his career is followed by an appreciation of recent anti-war drawings and exhibitions. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------What I admire about Derek Boshier (b. 1937, Portsmouth) as a man and as an artist are his charm, creativity, vitality, versatility, humour, international outlook, mobility and receptiveness to new experiences.

Portrait of Derek Boshier. Image may be subject to copyright. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------While attending Yeovil School of Art, Somerset, from 1953 to 1957, Boshier demonstrated the graphic abilities that have characterised so much of his work via a sketchbook of pencil and ink drawings, some coloured with crayon or gouache, of 1

local scenes and European townscapes. These images, based on direct observation, were a lively contribution to social realism.

Derek Boshier The Identi-Kit Man 1962 Credit: Tate Britain © Derek Boshier ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------During the early 1960s, he achieved fame in Britain as one of a generation of Pop painters who studied at the Royal College of Art. Like so many British Pop artists, he was attracted to the iconography of consumerism and the American mass media: Coca-Cola, Kellogg’s cornflakes, the space race, striped toothpaste, Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, President Lincoln, Buddy Holly and so on. However, besides affection there was also a critical edge to his use of American iconography in his 2

paintings because the process of Americanisation that was changing British society concerned him. Nevertheless, he was eventually to live, work, teach and exhibit in the United States. Along with three fellow RCA students, Boshier was the subject of an innovative television documentary entitled Pop goes the Easel directed by Ken Russell for the prestigious arts strand Monitor (BBC1, March 25, 1962) [see http://www.screenonline.org.uk/tv/id/1275788/].

Derek Boshier, in Pop goes the Easel. ------------------------------------------------------------------------When Russell later made a film entitled Dante’s Inferno for television about the PreRaphaelite painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti, he employed Boshier as an actor to play the role of the painter John Everett Millais (BBC1, Omnibus, December 22, 1967). Thus, television was one means by which Boshier became more widely known. 3

In addition, during the 1960s, Boshier spent a year in India where he mixed mainly with writers who were left-wing and they influenced his thinking. (Unfortunately, all the paintings he produced in India, which reflected the mythology of the sacred Hindu texts The Upanishads, were accidentally destroyed. Some drawings, however, survived.) A seasoned traveller, he has also spent time in Japan, Morocco, Poland, Israel and Czechoslovakia. Boshier claims always to have been more interested in life than in art and the gap of understanding that had developed between art’s advanced tendencies – such as Minimalism - and ordinary Britons distressed him. His ambition was to make art with content that was accessible to non-specialists. Even so, in all his works, Boshier is aware of, and calls attention to, the materials and mechanisms of visual representation and so his works are by no means straightforward windows on the world. He also sees no reason – other than a commercial one - why he should have to remain wedded to one medium – painting – and one style – Pop; hence his life-long willingness to change direction, to experiment with different media and to borrow ideas and styles from new art movements. However, his refusal of ‘consistency’ has probably hindered his career. For example, he has never been granted a thorough retrospective at Tate Britain even though he undoubtedly merits one. After his Pop phase, Boshier produced completely abstract illusionistic paintings with brash colours, strong patterns and shaped formats.

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Derek Boshier, Plaza (1965). Copyright the artist. Oil on two shaped canvases, attached by metal struts Size 205.20 x 205.20 cm; 106.00 x 106.00 cm. National Galleries of Scotland. Purchased 1976. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------(Some paintings from the 1990s involved a combination of abstraction and figuration.) He then gave up painting for more than a decade and turned to artist’s books, drawing, collage, printmaking, photography, posters and filmmaking.

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Recurrent themes at this time were the way in which the scale and significance of an object could be changed merely by placing it in different contexts (see his photobooklet 16 Situations) and the metamorphosis of one object into another by a series of steps. These works were not just formal exercises because the content was often political – apartheid in South Africa and the representation of the British police in the tabloid press, for instance (Some examples of Boshier’s 1970s’ political art are discussed in my book Left Shift: Radical Art in 1970s Britain, London: I.B. Tauris, 2002). Boshier has explained that even when he was employing static imagery he wanted to evoke the ‘continuing image sense of cinema’ because the medium was familiar to the majority of the populace and he hoped this would aid their appreciation of his 6

work. Boshier’s concern with politics, the role of the mass media, especially newspapers, and with making art more accessible to the public (but without pandering to popular philistinism) was to continue throughout the rest of the 1970s and was to culminate in the mixed exhibition Lives: An Exhibition of Artists whose Work is based on Other People’s Lives, which he curated at the Hayward Gallery in 1979.

Poster for Lives exhibition designed by Barney Bubbles. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Some items he selected proved so controversial that Arts Council officials censored them. Boshier was also willing to contribute to popular culture directly by supplying illustrations for a songbook by the punk rock group The Clash and by designing a cover for David Bowie’s 1979 album Lodger. (Bowie was photographed from above as if falling in space. Since 1962, a falling man has been one of Boshier’s favourite 7

motifs. It signifies ‘Everyman’ and was originally borrowed from a William Blake image of a figure falling into Hell.)

Derek Boshier, Lodger (1979)
Original RCA promo cut-out mobile, 13"x29"

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------In 1980, he also painted a full-length portrait of Bowie in his New York stage role as 8

The Elephant Man. From 1980 to 1992, and in 1995, Boshier was an artist-in-residence and teacher at the University of Houston, Texas. Having taken up painting again he used it to satirise the State’s grandiose office blocks, oil industry and cowboy myths in colourful, exuberantly executed paintings whose style was borrowed from the then fashionable Neo-Expressionist movement.

Derek Boshier, Shy Cowboy (1980) Copyright the artist. Oil on canvas, support: 1324 x 1022 x 33 mm. Tate Britain. Presented anonymously 1998 -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------For a number of years he returned to live in Somerset, England but since 1997 he has resided with his wife and children in Los Angeles, which serves as a base for forays and exhibitions across the United States. His projects and exhibitions are usually thematic. For example, the ‘Journey/Israel Project’, a mixed-media installation mounted at the Holocaust Museum in Houston in 1998 documents the journey of the Jewish people from 9

Auschwitz to Israel. In 2002, following a commission from the National Football League, he generated a series of works about sports such as athletics, football, basketball, swimming and wrestling. A year later, he exhibited in LA a series of lividly coloured acrylic paintings depicting laptops and books on shelves and flying or falling in space. Boshier was reading or viewing a wide range of titles, which resulted in random juxtapositions. Books, of course, enabled him to exploit texts and those with illustrations enabled him to ‘quote’ images from the worlds of art, military hardware and the history of Nazism. In one painting, Picasso’s famous Demoiselles d’Avignon was depicted but the women had mysteriously transformed into men.

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Derek Boshier, America Afraid, (2002). Acrylic on canvas, 24 x 30”. Copyright the artist. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------In America Afraid, a newssheet announcing that Al-Qaeda was breeding killer mosquitoes to attack the United States was juxtaposed against a stack of books whose titles included Ambient Fears, How to Meditate and The Age of Anxiety. These paintings, which were intended to contemporise the still-life genre, were literally ‘literary’ pictures. Wherever he lives, Boshier responds to the cultural, social and physical environments. In LA, for example he has produced drawings and paintings about the City’s freeways, its architecture, main newspaper, local art collectors and transsexuals. In the spring of 2004, he exhibited in San Francisco a series of found and cutout photographs, which he had defaced and personalised by drawing and painting over.

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Derek Boshier, Unsuccessful Transsexual, (2003). Mixed media and collage. Copyright the artist. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------The show, entitled ‘Extreme Makeover’, consisted of images with disparate subjects ranging from Saint Francis to the United Nations. Naturally, the war in Iraq and its aftermath currently looms large in Boshier’s consciousness and has prompted a number of acerbic anti-war images. In November 2004, Boshier mounted an installation, called ‘99 Cent War’, of 100 kitsch objects – tanks, guns, helmets, model soldiers, plaster statues of cute children and so on, bought for ten dollars from a 99 Cent store - at the Iron Gate Studios in Austin, Texas. 12

Derek Boshier, 99 cent war. (2004). Mixed-media installation. Photo courtesy of the artist. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------The objects were clustered on a table in centre of the space and spot lit while on the surrounding walls will be two large (8 x 5 feet), cartoon-style brush drawings in Indian ink, which feature a pair of bewildered and innocent children, a boy and a girl, engulfed by a blizzard of fighter planes and other military weaponry.

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Derek Boshier, 99 cent war (2004). Ink drawing, 8 x 5’. Copyright the artist. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------There were also be six drawings/collages (14 X 11 inches framed) from the ‘Extreme Makeover’ series that addressed the subject of war. 14

Derek Boshier, two drawings/collages from the Extreme Makeover series. Copyright the artist. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Finally, on display was ‘a wall object’, that is, a copy of Thrilling Book for Boys – a British children’s adventure book by William Bawden and others published by Dean & Sons Ltd in 1937 - whose illustrated cover depicted an aircraft and parachutist. Boshier imposed the silhouette of a dark sinister figure on the cover design. Boshier’s current project is a hand-made book entitled ‘What ….?’ It consists of black Indian ink drawings and hand-printed text plus some photographic images, which morph from page to page. The questions it poses at the outset include: ‘what don’t you understand about contemporary art? … Christian fundamentalism? … 15

Buying a car?’ Boshier, then, is responding once again in an intuitive fashion to daily concerns and events, which range from mundane personal matters to military conflicts reported in the news media. Just as there is no limit to the images and information impinging on our senses, there seems no limit to this artist’s fecundity and imagination. As the critic Rosetta Brooks has remarked: ‘Boshier’s art is an ongoing confrontation with the drama of quotidian experience as experienced by Everyman’ (Derek Boshier: Works on Paper: A Retrospective 1955-2003, Catalogue, 2003).

For more detailed information on Boshier’s work, see his website: www.derekboshier.com/ ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------This article first appeared in the magazine Jamini: An International Arts Quarterly, Vol 2, No 4, 2005, pp. 80-85. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------John A. Walker is a British painter and art historian. He is the author of Art in the Age of Mass Media, Art and Outrage and Art and Celebrity. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

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