There are two letters from Patrick Procktor to Ruth Borchard in 1963. In the first, he wrote:
‘There is a painting which you might be interested to see. It is oil on hardboard, 30” by 24”, dated August 1961. It is a self-portrait, but painted from imagination and based on a portrait of a young man by Raphael, now in the National Gallery of Budapest, of which I once saw a reproduction. It is a somewhat strange picture, unique in my work but important to me. It is totally unlike other self-portraits I have done… I have not exhibited it except in the Slade/Royal College exhibition of 1962.’
Ruth paid twenty guineas.
The Raphael painting that Procktor alludes to, Portrait of a Young Man (c.1504), (Szépmuvészeti Museum, Budapest), displays classical calm and pervasive golden tonality. Procktor has dispensed with the original’s landscape background (creating an abstracted backdrop, suggesting an opening onto a luminous vista), and perhaps even slightly peroxided-up the young man’s long hair. The figure’s theatricality owes something to the timeless if indeterminate nature of his costume, and perhaps also to facial make-up. As Derek Jarman noted, when he himself played Procktor as a young man in Stephen Frear’s film, Prick Up Your Ears, chronicling the life of the playwright Joe Orton:
‘Patrick wore quite simple shirts, green trousers, and sometimes a little eye-shadow. We all put on slap for an occasion: for the Slade dance out came the kohl, panstick, and henna.’
Procktor’s self-portrait exudes youthful wit, generous sunniness, though the somewhat grimacing face suggests a fiercer, more quizzical note. The sensitive, audacious colours here, and the crisp red sartorial line, anticipate Procktor’s future colourist career. Reminiscing in 1989 about Procktor in 1960 at the Slade, the curator Bryan Robertson described Procktor then as ‘a very tall, gangling, firework-display of a student.’
Procktor was born in Dublin in 1936. His earlier thickly impastoed pictures show a strong Bombergian influence. A fellow student remarked, ‘lightness and humour came into his work round the time he met Hockney’. In a 1969 diary entry, the museum director Roy Strong recorded:
‘Patrick Proctor was, as always, languorously elegant with a blood-orange-red open-necked shirt and gaudy waistband’.
Proctor’s mature paintings are vibrant and reticent at once, allying the decorative and figurative with sensuous wit and a quite original gracefulness.