Image: Colin Spencer
November 01 2011
In an art world crawling with YBAs, Colin Spencer is the exception that proves the rule. Born in 1933, Spencer was a mover and shaker in 1950s London. First and most widely known as a writer, he has produced nine novels, seven plays (of which a number ran in the West End) as well as books on vegetarianism and the history of food which are classics of the genre: Germaine Greer called him “the greatest living food writer”. But painting was always the artistic subtext of Spencer’s career. Back in the day, his portraits were highly prized; they hang in the private collections of Melvyn Bragg and Huw Wheldon, and his picture of EM Forster resides in the Britten Pears Foundation in Aldeburgh. Publicly, however, painting took a back seat until 2007, when the onset of a remarkable Indian summer brought forth a torrent of new work.
I first saw Spencer’s paintings on the web, tracked him down to Seaford, near Brighton, where he lives quietly in a light-flooded house surrounded by gardens, and bought a painting that caught my eye (Flint Into Steel) for a few hundred pounds. Though not directly figurative, his work is inspired by the contours of the Sussex downs, the mysterious upwellings of nature, the grotesqueness of war. A powerful charge of sexuality and joie de vivre also runs through it. “I am now beginning to paint the images which have hovered at the edge of my consciousness throughout my life,” he writes on his website.
Spencer’s muscular, powerfully envisioned oils might sometimes put you in mind of Vorticism, and their sometimes disturbing forms give off more than a whiff of Bacon. Whether you prefer the exquisite, early pen-and-ink drawings of Evelyn Waugh, Iris Murdoch and Stevie Smith or the vigorous abstracts of Spencer’s late flowering, it seems to me that work of this pedigree is not only rare in this day and age, but an affordable luxury well worth snapping up.
Pictured: Travelling Player (oil on canvas, 1m x 1m).