Published by Royal Academy of Arts. Text by Ben Thomas.
Over five decades, the art of Humphrey Ocean (born 1951) has filtered into British and international culture. This includes his series of portraits entitled A Handbook of Modern Life, displayed at the National Portrait Gallery in 2013; his portrait of Christopher Le Brun, President of the Royal Academy of Arts in London; and the cover of Paul McCartney’s 2007 album Memory Almost Full, which featured one of the Chair series.
Ocean’s practice encompasses painting, printmaking, sculpture, bookmaking and drawing. Of the last, he has said: “Paper is lovely, immediate and personal. I draw as an end in itself.”
This, the first monograph to bring together works from the early 1970s to the present day, provides a fascinating overview of Ocean’s career, with an essay by Ben Thomas, which sets out to discover exactly what it is that makes Ocean’s art so appealing and universal.
The London-based painter Humphrey Ocean (born 1951) has painted portraits of Paul McCartney and Philip Larkin, among many others. But alongside these prestigious commissions, he has always returned to drawing the simpler things in life: our “alluringly unnatural world,” as he puts it. The result is this idiosyncratic and charming collection of birds, all rendered in Ocean’s unique style.
As well as birdwatching around his home and studio in South London, Ocean regularly visits his sister, who is a nun in Nairobi and has loved birds all her life. There, he paints Kenyan birds such as the Eurasian bee-eater, the Bulbul and the Flycatcher that are “local, a bit like our garden birds so nothing overly exotic, but of course to me they are.” They join the familiar gulls, thrushes and tits of the gardens, parks and hedgerows of the UK in this beautifully produced collection.