Jemima Proust, 1969
The rock and roll scene in Great Britain in the mid- to late 1970s produced so many indelible and arresting characters, but for my money, not a one of ‘em beats the great, dearly departed Ian Dury. He was always an odd figure in the new wave/punk scene, doggedly doing his own thing while the likes of Elvis Costello and John Lydon received greater acclaim and adulation—and hell, let’s even say deservedly so. I’m can’t come close to classifying his music, it’s pub rock/disco/punk/dancehall with a good dollop of who knows?
Whatever it was, it was irrevocably Ian Dury and it was irrevocably, irredeemably, unapologetically, unpretentiously, and very specifically British.
How a squinty little geezer like Dury could create music that was so compellingly, and simultaneously, funky/inert, expressive/stiff, joyous/crabby will always be an impenetrable mystery to me, but heaven knows I do adore it, especially his diverse and thumping first album New Boots and Panties!!.
Night Boy, 1966
If you’ve ever looked carefully at his album covers and other associated imagery, it’s always had a strong visual sense, so it was both a surprise and not a surprise that for several years in the 1960s, Dury studied at the Royal College of Art—and his paintings were damn good. I’m not an art expert by any stretch; it fits comfortably in the Pop Art idiom, which was all the rage at the time.
You won’t be surprised to hear that while Dury was at the Royal College of Art, he studied under the esteemed British Pop Art practitioner Peter Blake, who among other things collaborated with Jann Haworth to design the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album cover—eh, pretty good, what else is on your résumé? You can see traces of Blake’s mentorship all over Dury’s work (click here for a comparison); Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns are other obvious influences. (Blake designed the cover for Dury’s New Boots and Panties!! as well.)
Perhaps this is why Dury’s comment on his own art career was, “I got good enough to realize I wasn’t going to be very good.” Dury’s probably right, he was probably too derivative to succeed in the art world, but as far as I’m concerned, his paintings are pretty darn impressive anyway. And, as was ever the case with Dury, there’s something enduringly British about his works.
Just this past summer, his alma mater the Royal College of Art hosted an exhibition of Dury’s works under the title “More Than Fair: Paintings, Drawings and Artworks, 1961–1972.”
Lee Marvin, 1968
According to his daughter Jemima (note the use of that name in Dury’s painting above), who helped curate the exhibition last summer, Dury reminisced about his days at art school as follows:
I met Betty, my late first wife, at the Royal College of Art. She was at Newport College of Art. Her dad went to the Royal College of Art in the thirties. Getting into the RCA was the only thing I’ve aspired to in my life. I spent two years trying to get in. It’s the only achievement I’ve ever felt, a bit like going to the university of your choice. I’m really pleased I went there, I’m proud of it. I wouldn’t have been able to learn about how to live as a person doing what they want to do if I hadn’t gone there, allowing your determination and output to control the way things go - my nine and my five.
We’ve got more of Dury’s fine paintings below, but if you haven’t heard Dury’s music and are wondering what all the fuss is about, check out “Wake Up and Make Love with Me,” the opening track of New Boots and Panties!!, which in my view is simply one of the weirdest and greatest disco tracks ever released:
But you also have to see Dury in action to appreciate him. Here’s the video for “Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick,” complete with an unforgettable double sax solo!
Click on the link to see more of Dury’s youthful art…..