While getting together my material for Derek Boshier's appearance on Less Art Radio Zine, I discovered that Modern Painters had put my feature on him from last Fall online, and that I had never got around to posting any of it here. So since he has this big opening at Night Gallery tonight, I figured what the hell. Right?
Derek Boshier has never had the best timing. In what was perhaps the archetypal grad-school, cradle-robbing, star-making group exhibition of the contemporary era, the 1961 “Young Contemporaries” at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London’s East End, Boshier, alongside Royal College of Art classmates David Hockney and R.B. Kitaj, was anointed one of the seminal generation of British Pop artists. One of the most startling fallouts of this initial burst of attention was a controversial 44-minute BBC documentary entitled Pop Goes the Easel (aired March 25, 1962), featuring Boshier, Peter Blake, Peter Phillips, and the doomed, incandescent Pauline Boty in a dazzling, fragmentary, surrealist—and currently unavailable on DVD—collage by director Ken Russell in his auspicious debut.
Instead of riding the media wave to Swinging Sixties celebrity—as any Pop artist worth his soup would do—Boshier capitalized on his big break by disappearing to India for a year. Was he on some proto-hippie mystical quest or merely looking for more colorful package design to appropriate? “No, I just wanted to travel,” he replies in his art world–burnished but still distinctly working-class accent. “I was finished with college and didn’t know what to do next, and I saw a poster advertising government scholarships to go overseas, to India or Canada. I’ve always loved to travel; I’d already been to Spain and Morocco. So I applied and got it.”
Boshier’s politics have always been subtle and witty, but distinctly leftist. In addition to participating in antiwar and antinuke demonstrations throughout the era, he designed banners and leaflets and took jibes at Nixon and the military-industrial complex in ragged cut-and-paste collages. Primed to connect with the punk generation, he ventured into curatorial practice with the controversial 1978 Arts Council show “Lives: An Exhibition of Artists Whose Work Is Based on Other People’s Lives,” which included political cartoonists, postage-stamp artistes, and punk graphic legend Barney Bubbles, who also designed the catalogue and poster.
Boshier was suddenly surfing the crest of another cultural tsunami, commissioned by former student Joe Strummer to design a songbook for the Clash and recruited by longtime fan David Bowie to orchestrate the cover of his best album ever, Lodger. Which is where Boshier’s remarkable timing kicks in again. Rather than hanging out and becoming the U.K.’s New Wave graphic laureate, Boshier traveled to Houston, Texas, for a visiting-artist lecture in 1980...and stayed for 13 years, teaching and reversing his position vis-à-vis painting, which he began to pursue with enormous vigor.