Derek Boshier first made his name in the early 1960s for work such as "Special K." He appeared in the much loved Ken Russell documentary "Pop Goes the Easel", designed Bowie's "Lodger" album, made films, sculpture, political banners and has had exhibitions all over the world. Paul Gorman has put together a brilliant book, "Derek Boshier: Rethink / Re-entry" (published by Thames & Hudson) which is a delight from start to finish.
The Rebel: How do you feel when you heard The Royal College of Art wanted to give you an Honorary Fellowship - did your heart swell with pride?
Derek Boshier: "Yes of course pleased as it is a great honour and my time at the Royal College of Art was a marvellous time for me both for the development of my art AND life. Not for nothing as it is said has it just been voted for the second year running , best art college in the world."
Can you remember being at The Royal College in 1960 and meeting R. B. Kitaj for the first time?
"I remember the Royal College of Art of 1959-62 very well . I knew Kitaj , but don’t recall first meeting .He used talk a lot about the Quakers and their movement, so I and other students thought he was Quaker. He might have been at the time as he wasn’t Jewish."
I'm a fan of all of Paul Gorman's books. Was he good to work with and do you think he did a good job editing Re-Think/Re-Entry?
"Yes you are right about all of Paul Gorman’s books.He is an excellent writer and editor and since the book a very good friend. He did a great job in editing my book."
When I get friends to flick through your book the chicks with dicks paintings always seem to go down well. Do you have a favourite?
"No favorite really , for my take I am interested in different bodies of my work and their interconnection. Glad people like , as you mentioned “ chicks with dicks “ . All my work has always come out of Popular Culture from the Pop Art work until now . I never like being referred to ( soley ) as a Pop Artist , although it's journalistically convenient."
Were you shocked by David Bowie's death? How would you describe your relationship with him?
"I was surprised by David Bowie’s death , especially as a few weeks before his death he sent me an e-mail saying how much he liked my Thames and Hudson book, amongst other things. I didn’t reply as I thought I’d wait until I got a small package together to send later . Then he died. He was a good friend, a very interesting creative person, always good to be with . always interesting dialogue, I remember two occasion in particular in Paris, when he came to my opening and also when we went to see the Stanley Spencer murals in the Burghlcleare Chapel near Newbury. Discussions always lively."
Are there days when you think all contemporary British Art is bullshit?
"Today's art world work is 80% crap, but then , so was 80 % PopArt , Abstract Expressionism , Surrealism etc ,etc."
Which countries haven't you visited? Is there anywhere you long to explore?
"I have travelled In India (Spending a year there 1962-63, living in Calcutta and travelling while on a British Council / Indian Government scholarship ). Visited Japan , Russia, Hungary , Poland , Israel, Morocco Spain Mexico Germany , Italy and Canada. Would love to go to so many places . where ? Cuba as I have a work in a museum collection there, Columbia and Tibet amongst others."
What do you think was the best thing Ken Russell ever did?
"I liked his documentary “Elgar “ about the British Classical music composer. Black and White film. I had a cameo part in his film “Dante’s Inferno “ playing the part of the Pre -Raphaelite painter Millais."
When students start a degree course they are often given a list of books to buy such as Berger's ways of seeing and Gombrich's History of art. Are there any books you often recommend to young art students?
"I have suggested John Berger’s “ Ways of Seeing “ several times. And non -art books ,including “ The Intellectual Devotional “ ( revive Your Mind , Complete Your Education and Roam Confidently with the Cultured Class ) by David S. Kidder & Noah D Oppenheim Publihed by Rodale Press . I take it with me most times when i travel . It is a tricky thing telling students to read art magazine , as they often tend to see the contents it as acceptance of the new academicism ( currently Conceptualism ). It depends on the student as to what they take from the magazines. I think it tends to be different from what I recall when at the Royal College of Art . The library had a very good art ,architecture and design magazines ,as good as any other art collage at the time . We would avidly read each new magazine , spending long times in the library. THEN .. put the gathered information from our mind into the trash , as we THEN knew what we wanted to avoid. Theory of course is very important, but used in the right way . not as a conformity , but a challenge, to expand or to challenge. I talked to an artist in Los Angeles recently who said she had given up teaching as so often she read an essay or looked at studio work and said to herself “ ………..page 16 and page 70 of last months Art Forum “ or some other art magazine. Actually probably the same as it has always been ? Not fashionable at the moment would be Susan Sontag ’s quote “ Theory in art is the death of creativity."
If you could own any painting from history to own and hang on your living room wall, what would you pick?
Difficult but would love ,Picasso’s “ Guernica’s" or Bruegel’s " Hunters in the Snow"