Bruce Lacey is one of Britain’s greatest visionary, exuberant and eccentric artists. His indefatigable pursuit of ‘making and doing’ has been a kind of personal psychotherapy or rather, a cathartic working-through of his life’s experiences, an approach which begun in his early 20s when whilst serving with the Royal Navy he was hospitalised and diagnosed with tuberculosis. It was during this time that Lacey began to draw macabre scenes and visions of childhood memories.
Co-curated by artist Jeremy Deller and art historian Professor David Alan Mellor, ‘The Bruce Lacey Experience’ is a celebration of the artist’s life, and provides a rich and diverse survey of a career which has spanned more than 60 years encompassing painting, sculpture, robotised assemblages and installations as well as community arts, theatrical and earth ritual performances.
Charting Lacey’s artistic development and reflecting the various stages of his life, ‘The Bruce Lacey Experience’ begins in Gallery 3 where Lacey has brought together an extraordinary collection of objects, images and multi-coloured costumes from his childhood years with paintings he made whilst studying at the Royal Academy in the 1950s. Objects such as a loveworn Indian doll Lacey took to bed every night as a young boy and cuddled, a miniature Japanese robot, the first ever manufactured, a little trike and a grubby plastic doll sitting placidly in a tiny toy pram are seen alongside a new work, the delightfully disconcerting, ‘Genetic Installation’ (2012) a visual representation of the artists family, consisting of a vast penis suspended from the ceiling spewing the artist’s nine children as baby dolls, spawn of former partner Jill Smith and current wife Pat Lacey.
Gallery 1 presents archival material relating to Lacey’s first forays as a performance artist, producing satirical stage acts and mechanical constructs, appearing alongside the likes of Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers and The Alberts. He also famously appeared as George Harrison’s flute playing gardener in The Beatles’ film Help! Also on display in Gallery 1 is a motley crew of life size kinetic automatons, ‘electrical actors’, playing the parts of Old Moneybags, Clockface, Electric Man and Rosa Bosom. At once brilliant and terrifyingly, risibly bizarre Lacey referred to such absurd assemblages as ‘hate objects, fear objects and love objects, ‘totems and fetishes’ designed to illustrate how ‘I feel about life, about people’.
Fear of a frightening future, of the loss of man’s very individuality, and a desperate desire to regain a lost, even primitive sense of harmony with the rhythms of the natural world, help to explain Lacey’s self-immersion in the 1970s into the realm of ritual. Lacey revered pre-historic man in creating not for purely aesthetic ends but with the purpose of effecting change within the world around him. He committed himself to becoming a spiritual medium, aligned with the mysterious forces of nature. In the 1980s he returned to painting, creating shamanistic, cosmic inspired designs, visually effervescent and characterised by a kind of electric energy.
A remarkable exhibition by a truly unique British artist whose madcap maxim I wholeheartedly stand by: ‘the most important thing to remember is NEVER TO LOSE THE CHILD WITHIN YOU!’ (Bruce Lacey 2012)
‘The Bruce Lacey Experience’ runs until 16th September 2012 at the Camden Arts Centre
All images courtesy of the Camden Arts Centre copyright Bruce Lacey.