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Scumbles

Ian Dury: "More Than Fair" Art Exhibition

By Published: August 30, 2013
When Vinyl and Jemima came up with the idea of the exhibition and discussed it with designer and author Jules Balme, who also came on board, they had no idea if there would be enough interest. But many friends offered to lend pictures given to them by Dury, who used to present pictures as tokens of affection. Some were framed, others looked like they had been stored down the backs of cupboards or tacked to walls. But wherever they had been all these years, they, along with ones kept by the Dury family, were found, dusted, straightened, posted and brought to the exhibition, some making their way through various hands or personal deliveries, from parts of the capital, whilst others had to be carefully shipped from Cornwall and further afield.

There is a diverse range of styles, mediums and even the presentation varies. Some images have frames covered in lurid tartan or leopard skin, whilst others have no frame, simple ones and no covering. A few have quality frames and glass protection.

The 1960s was an age of changes, but in these images there are no politics or indications of the huge social changes going on around the artist. For Dury, the people were what were important, and his images reflect this.

After he became famous as a musician, lyricist and front man, as well as an actor and playwright, Dury rarely mentioned his art. Some people never knew he painted, some knew he did but never knew how prolific he was for a time, or how good. Some wonder that he never exhibited before. He was in turns irascible, selfish, selfless, generous, kind and dismissive, but he was a character and he was human. The pictures displayed show no trace of sadness, self pity, anger or melancholy; they are fun and intriguing. Particularly interesting are two self portraits Dury created at a similar time, one showing Dury thin, looking much older than his 27 years, the other showing a bloated, older Dury, but both titled "Self Portrait."

The Royal College of Art is a great setting for an exhibition like this. The room is accessible from the street easily, airy and well lit, with ample room to allow each picture enough space to be looked at closely or viewed them further away.

This is a glimpse of Dury before "Clevor Trevor," "Byline Brown," "Plaistow Patricia," or even a "Rhythm Stick" had been thought of. Dury's images are not everyone's cup of tea, but they are strong, simply displayed and show an opening into a world of make-believe into which Dury dipped many times during his life. In some, the subjects are parodies of reality, realistic portraits presented in a sea of fantasy plants or a fairytale setting of sequins and boas. Reality and fantasies mingle and blend. Dury never lost this art of creating characters, piecing together many used in his songs from bits and threads of people he knew, met or admired, mixing reality with the unreal and fantastical.

There is something about a few of the images which discomfits and it is difficult at first to pinpoint why this is, but it is perhaps the fact that many of them are images of private things—a girlfriend in the nude, the woman looking provocatively at the painter so the viewer becomes something of a voyeur, glimpsing a private scene between Dury and the girl. You sense that when they were created, maybe some of the images were never meant for public display.

A line from a Dury song, quoted after the opening of the exhibition by musician, actor and lifetime Dury follower John Kelly, says "very good indeed." I could not agree more.


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