Bruce Lacey is one of Britain's great visionary artists. His lifetime pursuit of eccentric making and doing has been a cathartic working-through of his experiences. This survey of a rich and diverse artistic production is a celebration of both his vibrant life (which includes working with Spike Milligan, The Beatles and Ken Russell) and his art which reveals telling links with the visual culture of the last 60 years. Co-curated by artist Jeremy Deller and art historian Professor David Alan Mellor, the exhibition charts Laceys artistic development in a career encompassing painting, sculpture, robotised assemblages, theatrical performances and installations, as well as community arts and ritual action performances. The Bruce Lacey Experience runs at Camden Arts Centre
from 7 July until 16 September and admission is free. To coincide with this retrospective, Jeremy Deller with Nicholas Abrahams is directing a film made in collaboration with Lacey which had its London premiere at BFI Southbank on 5 July. The BFI will also be issuing a DVD of Lacey's film work and films of his performances, and hosting a Bruce Lacey Season.
Bruce Lacey (born 1927) has described his work as a type of personal psychotherapy which has intuitively responded to his emotional needs. This approach began in his early 20s; whilst hospitalised with tuberculosis after serving in the Royal Navy he started to draw macabre scenes and childhood memories. After his recovery in 1951, he enrolled at the Royal College of Art and simultaneously began his performance career with outrageous stunts drawn from circus and variety theatres. The exhibition includes posters from Laceys performances at variety events, New Age festivals and country fairs. Lacey also appeared with the variety act and Trad Jazz musicians, The Alberts.
Lacey often involved his family in his escapades, as revealed by Ken Russells 1962 documentary, The Preservation Man. In this film Russell captures Laceys flamboyance, his six children around him, revelling in a magical atmosphere. Around this time Lacey began constructing assemblages and machines expressing his feelings about the technologised and conservative Cold War society that surrounded him. He was hailed as a leading figure of the 'New Realism' and his assemblages took the form of full size kinetic automatons ('electric actors') including the comic figures of Old Moneybags, Clockface, Electric Man and Rosa Bosom. It was Rosa who won the Alternative Miss World in 1985. A number of these will be on show in the exhibition. Laceys eccentricity and technical aptitude led to working relationships with performers such as Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers and he produced trick props for pioneering off-beat comedy shows. He also famously appeared as George Harrisons flute playing gardener in The Beatles film Help.
Part of the show has been dedicated to Laceys performance activities a practice that began in the 1970s and included performances with his collaborator Jill Bruce. Lacey revered the approach of pre-historic man in creating not for decorative or aesthetic ends but with the purpose of making something happen in the universe. He committed himself to becoming aligned with the mysterious forces of nature, becoming a transmitter and receiver of thoughts, ideas and energies. In the 1980s he returned to painting - which took the form of ritual diagrams and imagery, in shamanistic formats derived from performative endeavours.
The show also explores Laceys childhood years and experiences. From an early age he gathered an extraordinary archive of bits and pieces, starting an obsessive process of collection and dispersal, from toys, stones and shells, to swords, pistols and shields. Born and brought up in London, Lacey continued living there until his production of performance rituals took him into the depths of the English countryside, and particularly to Norfolk where he has lived surrounded by his collections of ephemera since the 1980s.
The Bruce Lacey Experience will tour to The Exchange Gallery in Penzance in October 2012.