As the Beano celebrates its 80th birthday, Michael Alexander speaks to Horace Panter – the bass player from legendary 1980s ska band The Specials – whose paintings form part of a special exhibition in Dundee.
They were three of the most famous pop artists of the 20th century.
But what if American painting pioneer Roy Lichtenstein had read the Beano instead of war and romance comics to inform his art?
What if Andy Warhol had done portraits of Dennis the Menace and Mini the Minx instead of Hollywood actresses Marilyn Monroe and Liz Taylor?
What if experimental painter David Hockney had made a splash by depicting Dennis and Gnasher jumping into one of his famous LA swimming pools?
Horace Panter, artist and legendary bassist with 2-tone band The Specials, asked himself these very questions last year when he was approached by the Beano and asked if he would like to create a ‘Special’ addition to a bespoke show celebrating 80 years of the much loved Dundee-produced comic.
Beano staff, who were collaborating on a project with Doc Martens in Camden, NW London, liked a piece of work he had done for the iconic footwear manufacturer and asked him to come on board.
The result? An exhibition of Horace’s specially created work was launched in London in April – and several pieces have now been loaned to the Bash Street’s Back 80th anniversary Beano exhibition being staged at The McMenace in Dundee.
The bespoke show celebrating 80 years of Beano has already seen The McManus change its name to The McMenace for the duration of the exhibition, and on Monday July 30, on the Beano’s actual 80th birthday, Horace will be in town when a cake is cut at the headquarters of publisher DC Thomson & Co Ltd in Dundee where some of his other Beano pieces – including silk screenings – are being displayed.
“I’m a child of the ‘60s so the Beano was there all the time, every Wednesday,” said Northamptonshire-raised Horace, 64, in an interview with The Courier from his Coventry studio.
“Like Cliff Michelmore was on the TV at 6 o’clock (an English TV presenter best known for the BBC TV programme Tonight), the Beano was there every Wednesday morning – and you would always get an annual for Christmas from great aunt somebody or other. It was part of your child hood. Part of growing up.
“So when the Beano people asked me if I’d like to do some work, I bit their hands off. Anyone would!”
Horace likes to think the paintings are funny and irreverent, but paying homage to both his favourite artists and to the comic characters.
He describes Dennis the Menace as an “anti-hero for the under-12s” – although the Bash Street Kids were his favourites, and he has grown fonder of the “egalitarian” Lord Snooty in recent times.
Describing the comic as like “Laurel and Hardy for kids” – a Keystone Cop-like world where it was acceptable for ridiculous characters to chase each other down the street wielding a large slipper – he added: “If music becomes the soundtrack to your teens, then comics were the soundtrack to being younger.”
Deciding aged 11 that he wanted to be in a band, Horace combined his love of art and music when he went to art college in Coventry in 1972.
Specialising in minimalist sculpture, and treating music as a hobby at first, it was there that he met the other future members of The Specials, who went on to have hits including Ghost Town and Too Much Too Young.
Despite his musical career taking off, he never lost his interest in art.
However, it was only when he retrained as an art teacher in the mid-1990s, and worked for 10 years in special needs schools before The Specials re-formed in 2009, that he re-evaluated what he’d learned at college and truly realised he was a ‘pop artist’ at heart.
“People ask what do I prefer – music or art?” he said.
“That’s a really difficult question to answer because they fulfil different roles. I’m the bass player in The Specials so musically I’m a team player – I have to work with the drummer, keyboard player, singer, guitar player. But the art is like my solo album.
“I think the enjoyment is different. Playing music, you know as soon as you’ve finished a song whether you are doing a good job or not because people clap or they don’t. With art it can take a bit longer to get a reaction.”
Horace has passed through Dundee on his way to a gallery in Aberdeen previously, and is familiar with Fife as his wife’s family are from the East Neuk. However, this will be his first visit to the city and he’s looking forward to exploring.
Sinclair Aitken, chair of Leisure & Culture Dundee said: “The McMenace exhibition has become the must see show of the summer. Horace has a huge fanbase of music fans and this a great opportunity for everyone to see that he is a very talented artist as well. It’s also another great opportunity to wish Beano a very happy 80th Birthday in their hometown.”
Michael Stirling, Head of Beano Studios Scotland, said that after visitors had been to McMenace, he hoped they might pop into the ground floor ‘Counting House’ reception area of the Beano’s Meadowside HQ during office hours where the rest of Horace’s Beano pop art collection will be on display for a couple of weeks.
*‘Bash Street’s Back at The McMenace’ free exhibition at The McManus: Dundee’s Art Gallery & Museum, until Sunday October 21 2018.