Artist Colin Self began his training in the visual arts while a boy at school at Wymondham College, Norfolk and honed his skills by attending Norwich Art School and the Slade School of Art in London. He achieved success early, as one of British Pop Art’s finest exponents. Colin exhibited at the Kasmin Gallery and the influential Robert Fraser Gallery alongside fellow British Pop artists Peter Blake, Clive Barker and Richard Hamilton who became household names in the early 60s by creating memorable images culled from advertising, film and TV. He has had a long, productive and eventful life with numerous solo exhibitions (30+), and his work is in several national collections including the Tate Collection, the V&A Museum Collection, the Arts Council Collection, The Imperial War Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Born in Rackheath, Norfolk (b.1941) near Norwich, Colin has lived in Germany, Scotland and London – he currently lives in Norwich. He began his formal art education at Norwich Art School in 1958. While at Norwich he was tutored by Michael Andrews and Jeffery Camp. Colin became reaquainted with artist Brüer Tidman, who had been a childhood neighbour at Greenborough Road, who has remained a lifelong friend.
On graduation he was introduced to gallery owner John Kasmin by David Hockney and started to sell his drawings and prints regularly. Kasmin was one of the first art dealers to show American artists like Barnett Newman and Ad Reinhardt and British artists Anthony Caro, Richard Smith and Howard Hodgkin. In the summer of 1965 Colin travelled 8,000 around the USA and Canada for the second time, eventually meeting up with artists David Hockney, Norman Stevens and Patrick Procktor who had been teaching in different institutions. He migrated to Robert Fraser Gallery where he exhibited regularly until 1969 when the gallery closed. Fraser became notorious from around the time Colin joined the gallery. Knicknamed ‘Groovy Bob’ by members of the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, who were among Fraser’s clientele, Colin’s painting: Nuclear Bomber and Sky featured briefly in the Beatles film A Hard Days Night, released in 1964. He found himself at the centre of a ‘scene’.
During the mid to late 60s Fraser was the tastemaker for the fast set as London ‘Swung’. Operating from his Duke Street gallery from 1962–1969 Fraser introduced American Pop Art to Britain, showing early work by Andy Warhol, Jim Dine and Ed Ruscha. Fraser recognised home grown talent too, like Eduardo Paolozzi, David Hockney, Bridget Riley and Pauline Boty. Colin was one of the protagonists of the new Pop Art movement and so Fraser included his work in a group exhibition in 1965 alongside Peter Blake, Clive Barker, Jann Haworth and Richard Hamilton. Robert Fraser was the other figure ‘papped’ in the back of a vehicle after a high profile court case following a drugs raid at Fraser’s home in a famous painting/screen print titled Swingeing London 67 (f) 1968-69 by Richard Hamilton that depicted Mick Jagger raising a handcuffed wrist to obscure his face, inadvertently covering Fraser’s face: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/hamilton-swingeing-london-67-f-t01144.
Colin’s take on popular culture was different from that of his contemporaries. Distancing himself from the easy glamour of the London art world, he left London and moved back to Norwich. The move coincided with his first solo exhibition in 1965 of drawings at The Piccadilly Gallery, London. From this moment on Colin developed a more political approach to his art that has set it apart. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) was in its infancy in the early 60s, Colin identified with the movement’s anti-nuclear stance.
As a small boy (the eldest of nine), Colin had listened to the bombers as they returned from action over Germany to the local aerodrome east of Norwich. In 1959, while at Norwich Art School he had a formative experience staying on a farm close to an air base in west Norfolk, hearing the guard dogs howl at night. A little later Colin watched a TV debate on the Ed Murrow Show held between the philosopher Bertrand Russell and designer of the atomic bomb Robert Oppenheimer. Their discussion alerted Colin to the idea of mutually assured nuclear destruction and it had a profound effect on his state of mind, he believed he experienced his early adult life in a state of 'non-being'.
In 1967 Colin joined Alecto Studio in London and started work on a series of prints called Out of Focus Objects and Flowers. He was awarded several prestigious prizes for drawing and for his prints produced at Alecto Studio. In parallel to his Cold War work were several strands to Colin’s imagery that married subjects as diverse as fast food, or ideas about nature in advertising, or how women were represented, to recognised art genres in still life, landscape and sculpture (or maquettes as he prefers to call them). These early motifs can be found in his work today.
His hotdog drawings first appear in the 60s and have morphed in various guises as collage or in heavily shaded pencil, varying from colourfully appealing, to a study in an unappetising charcoal grey. A discarded wooden ice-lolly stick suggests the rounded ends of a frankfurter in his hotdogs. The squirt of mustard, a foodstuff synonymous with his home city of Norwich, is made from yellow glue. Recent iterations of them have included spectacle cases representing the bun clamped around a charcoal sausage.
His ploughman series mimic advertising’s idolisation of the recently vanished past. These clever collages depict a lone figure of a farmer leading his horsedrawn plough across a field, they follow a well-practised marketing technique that appeals to a consumer nostalgic for a simpler time. Persuaded by a satisfyingly bucolic image of a once natural product we are prepared to overlook the fact that the product (whether it be eggs, bread or potatos) is now produced on an industrial scale. Despite his foresight in tackling serious themes, Colin’s output has always been relatable, irreverent, and often delivered with a light touch and sardonic hutspa.
For periods from 1964 to 1980, he taught part-time at Norwich School of Art and in 2001 Colin received an honorary Doctorate. In 2006 he was awarded the freedom of the City of Norwich. His work has been included in many national and international exhibitions.
© PAUL BARRATT / COLIN SELF / CONTEMPORARY AND COUNTRY 2020
Colin Self has been included in many national and international exhibitions, those listed below represent selected highlights:
– 2018: I Think We Should All Just Be Friends: Colin Self and Jim Moir (Vic Reeves). The Fairhurst Gallery, Norwich (Group) https://gallery.fairhurstgallery.co.uk/exhibitions/previous-exhibitions/think-just-friends
– 2017: Three Wise Men: Colin Self, Anthony Donaldson, Patrick ‘O’Reilly. Mayor Gallery, London (Group)
– 2017: This was Tomorrow, Pop Art in Great Britain. Kunst Museum, Wolfsburg, Germany (Group)
– 2016: The World Goes Pop. Tate Modern, London (Group) https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/world-goes-pop
– 2016: International Pop. Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis. Dallas Museum of Art. Philadelphia Museum of Art. Touring Exhibition April 2015 to May 2016 (Group) https://walkerart.org/calendar/2015/international-pop
– 2015: Streetseen, Hearts and Glances: one man exhibition. Mayor Gallery, London (Solo) https://www.mayorgallery.com/exhibitions/499/overview/
– 2015: A Strong Sweet Smell of Incense: A Portrait of Robert Fraser. Pace, London (Group)
– 2013: Masterpieces, Art and East Anglia. Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich (Group)
– 2013: When Britain went Pop – British Pop Art, the Early Years. Christie’s Mayfair, London (Group) https://www.christies.com/features/when-britain-went-pop-4059-3.aspx
– 2012: Marianne Faithfull: Innocence and experience, Tate Liverpool (Group) https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/mapplethorpe-marianne-faithfull-ar00204/marianne-faithfull-innocence-and-experience
– 2010: Colin Self: One Thousand Sketches. Touring Show James Hyman Gallery, London and The Gallery at NUA, 2012 (Solo) http://www.jameshymangallery.com/exhibitions-more/1279/press/colin-self-one-thousand-sketches
– 2008: Colin Self: Art in The Nuclear Age, Pallant House Art Gallery, Chichester (Solo)
– 2006: Colin Self: Collage Mayor Gallery, London (Solo)
– 2004: Art of the 60s: This Was Tomorrow, Tate Britain (Group) https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/art-60s-was-tomorrow
– 2002: Modern British Art, Tate Liverpool (Group) https://www.tate.org.uk/press/press-releases/modern-british-art-tate-liverpool
– 1995: Colin Self: 60 Works in the Tate Collection The Tate Gallery, London (Solo)
– 1994: Modern British Drawings: Selection From the Collection, Museum of Modern Art, New York (Group) https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/429
– 1991: The Pop Art Show Royal Academy of Arts, London, toured to Canada, Germany, Spain (Group) https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/art-artists/archive/the-pop-art-show
– 1987: Pop Art USA-UK Tokyo, Osaka, Funabashi, Yokahama (Group)
– 1986: Colin Self’s Colin Selfs ICA London (Solo)
– 1984: The Hard Won Image The Tate Gallery, London (Group)
– 1968: Galerie Rudolf Zwirner Cologne (Solo)
– 1968: Galerie Hans Neuendorf Hamburg (Solo)
– 1966: Yvon Lambert Galerie, Paris (Solo)
– 1965: Drawings by Colin Self The Piccadilly Gallery, London (Solo)
WORKS FOR SALE BY COLIN SELF
WAS IT ALL A DREAM II (£460)
Colin Self showing himself along with David Hockney, Patrick Procktor, Norman Stevens (photo by Dick Gregory) San Francisco,1965.
Framed print onto canvas
An image made from materials Colin Self discovered on a shopping trip to his local supermarkt: "Pieces found on Sainsbury's supermarket floor last night" Dated 22 May, 2013
Mixed media on board.
Framed 51cm x 41cm
BUTTON MAN (£2,900)
A collage of found items including a selction of buttons, foils and packaging paper and card.
Mixed media on board.
Framed 55cm x 40cm
ODYSSEY – RETURN TO ITHACA (£5,900)
Reflecting Self's research into The Odyssy by Homer (written sometime between C8th or C7th B.C.) This work tells the story of Odysseus' return to his homeland. Self shows the hero of the story as the Ploughman - imagery that he has returned to throughout his career.
122cm x 92cm
THE PLOUGHMAN (£10,500)
Created using collage, paint and print. Self looks at advertising imagery in his hunting of everyday objects to reflect a fascination with what he calls "recently forgotten past". In this case Self has used a discarded Clarins Sun Cream tube - cut in the shape of a sun.
Mixed Media on Board. Framed 87cm x 68cm
DAVEY JONES LOCKER – BOAT PEOPLE II (£2,250)
Depicting the perilous journeys made by migrants across the seas of the world. Self's treatment creates a beautiful memorial to those lost to the depths - Davey Jones' Locker. Created 21 August, 2017
Collage with hand drawing using ink and glitter.
Work dimension: 28cm x 18.2cm
Framed 56.5cm x 46.5cm