Exploring the Camden roots of the painter Lancelot Ribeiro
A new National Lottery Funded exhibition at Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre explores the legacy of the prolific Camden-based Indian painter Lancelot Ribeiro (1933-2010) - my father. This exhibition is part of the Retracing Ribeiro project and Camden’s 2017 India arts programme.
The exhibition traces the story of a childhood spent in India under the British Empire to Ribeiro’s arrival in 1950 to a post-war London. An aspiring teenager, he left Bombay shortly after Indian Independence to arrive to a “grim, bomb-damaged city, subject to rationing”. His older brother, the artist FN Souza, who had arrived a year earlier, had him lodge with him where their lives “were an ‘open book’ intertwined at Chalk Farm’s Chalcot Square”.
His mother had sent him secretly to Britain to study accountancy but before long the young Ribeiro abandoned this to study life drawing at St Martins School of Art before his conscription into the Royal Air Force.
After basic training in West Kirby and a posting in Catterick, he found himself forced to shoot rabbits, following the highly-infectious myxomatosis outbreak which had reached the UK in the fifties. He managed to leave the RAF on compassionate grounds in 1955, narrowly escaping the Suez Crisis of 1956, while the family were panicking back home.
On his return to India, he began writing poetry and painting and soon a string of successes followed his first sell-out exhibition in Bombay in 1961.
In 1962, my parents settled permanently in Britain. Although their early lodgings were in various London addresses, they soon gravitated back to NW3 where Dad established his first real home and studio at 41 Belsize Park Gardens.
Over this decade my father showed in some of the West End’s leading galleries, while also retaining a strong Hampstead presence. This included a shared show at the Mount Gallery, ‘Hundred Painters from London’ at the New End Gallery and ‘Painters from Hampstead’ as well as a solo exhibition at the Everyman Foyer Gallery. He was an early participant in Camden’s ‘Picture Loan Scheme’ (1965-1985), which earned him hire fees between £2-10-0d and £5-0-0d for displaying his work in Camden libraries, including Holborn Library on Theobald’s Road in 1967 where this new exhibition is taking place some 50 years later.
Against a backdrop of Commonwealth Immigration Controls restricting the entry of Black and Asian immigrants into Britain (1962, 1968 and 1971), Ribeiro was at the forefront of diaspora collectives fighting discrimination in Britain. He co-founded the Indian Painters Collective in 1963, the multicultural Rainbow Art Group in 1978 and Indian Artists UK in 1978/79 which put on an ‘Indian Month’ at Hampstead’s Burgh House in 1980.
Principally known as an expressionist painter, his pioneering experiments with oil and polyvinyl acetate were considered one of the most significant advances in artistic technique of the twentieth century.
In 1980, Ribeiro moved into an attic flat at 214 Haverstock Hill where space constrained his mode of working and led to a feverish output of watercolours, inspired by the English landscape and Hampstead Heath. These evolved into a new abstract phase of compositional landscapes on laminated card which combined watercolours, varnishes and inks to produce dynamic townscapes, reduced to the base of the image dominated by a seemingly active sky, of the type in Camden’s Art Collection, now on display at the exhibition (see ‘ Hidden Treasures from the Camden Collection’).
Personally, the eighties were troubled times for him. “Tanks burst during the night” damaging several early oils and creating a litany of problems with Camden Council. A racist assault outside Hampstead police station left him hospitalized just when he received an offer of an exhibition at short notice by Camden and at his Swiss Cottage retrospective, one picture was slashed in an act of vandalism just days before the show was due to close
About ‘Retracing Ribeiro’
Ribeiro’s legacy to the arts is being celebrated as part of the Retracing Ribeiro project, which has been made possible by National Lottery funding of £98,400 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). Alongside material from the Ribeiro Archive, the exhibition at Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre includes watercolours from the Camden Art Collection, Ribeiro’s sculptures, his writings and studio materials attesting to a life spent in feverish experimentation.
EXHIBITION: 10th April – 30th June 2017
TALK: Lancelot Ribeiro, Life and times of a Camden painter, David Buckman - 25 April, 7:15pm
LATE VIEWING: 30 May