Arts in depth

“What do you mean he doesn’t do email?” – explores the work of the elusive painter Douglas Binder as preparation gets underway for his new exhibition in York next month

Best known for his psychedelic painted sports cars and household furniture during the Sixties, the esteemed painter Douglas Binder was a prominent force in the art world, rubbing shoulders with the Beatles, Hendrix, Lucian Freud and royalty alike. During this period, he made extensive contributions to the field of graphics and design as a founding member of the iconic ‘Underground Design Group’.

He propelled his name into the public conscience as one of the ‘Young Contemporaries’ and was aptly dubbed ‘Master of Colour’ in Britain. In a short space of time, his designs were being sold on the international market and his career took off earning himself commissions from celebrities like John Lennon and global praise in the bag.

Why then, with his wealth of experience, celebrity pals and unquestioned contribution to the art scene of the 1960s, is Douglas Binder not a household name?

Born in 1941 – just four years after and a stone’s throw away from arguably one of Yorkshire’s biggest artistic exports, David Hockney – Binder grew up in Bradford, attending the art school, like Hockney, before heading south to expand his artistic horizons.

“I always found colour difficult,” he says. “I was born into a grey world. As a young man, my only attempt at colour was an ochre tie that I wore at weekends to add a bit of flare to my grey suit. It was the only sartorial colour to be had in the 1950s.”

Binder’s chromatic conservatism was quickly eschewed, and the new decade brought him ever-increasing success and renown. Almost as soon as the artist achieved this international acclaim, however, much to the bafflement of his contemporaries, he unflinchingly discarded it all.

He dabbled briefly with teaching before returning north where, for the last 20 years, he has been a driving force in raising the profile of the Dean Clough Galleries in Halifax to an artistic hub and well respected cultural centre.

A founding curator, Binder played a key role in bringing the ideals of Dean Clough to fruition and continues to offer support to local artists, nurturing the visual arts in the north. His abrupt retreat from the forefront of British art, surprising as it was, did, however, allow a whole host of young artists to benefit from his benevolence and experience. Still, it means that exhibitions of Binder’s work are sadly uncommon.

Binder is a bit of an enigma. He rarely exhibits his work for sale, dedicating the majority of his time to The Dean Clough Galleries where he is a resident painter.

In an age of modern conveniences where everyday life is saturated by blogs, Twitter and social networking sites, Binder’s rejection of the commercial art market is venerable and refreshing, even if it does render pinning him down for a quote completely impossible. This makes his latest artistic offering all the more poignant and thoroughly worth a look.

‘Full Circle’ – Binder’s heavily anticipated solo show, sees the artist return to the life room where his passion for creating first began. It celebrates the completion of the artist’s journey from Bradford to the bright lights of London and back to Halifax, his spiritual home.

‘The nude’, an arguably safe and perennially marketable subject matter is treated with delicacy, but simultaneously a firm confidence in painterly style permeates the works, belying the artist’s earlier struggle with colour. Their tonal warmth communicates the tactility of the human form, echoed by his liberal application of paint and layering techniques.

It is primarily his pertinent, often audacious use of colour, however, that has earned Binder his lasting legacy and reputation as one of, if not the, leading figurative painter working in Britain today.His boldness in this respect wrenches the unobtrusive reclining nude out of its traditionalist haven and makes for compelling observation.

This latest exhibition is due to coincide with the re-launch of Art Space – one of the few contemporary art outlets in York. The new name, ‘According to McGee’, as it will henceforth be known, is a nod to the owners Greg and Ails McGee’s contribution to the art scene in York over the past five years and a celebration of their achievements. “We’re honoured that Doug Binder has agreed to open our line-up of new shows,” says Ails. “He’s a wonderful, warm guy and his paintings of female nudes are beautifully crafted.”

Full Circle will run from November 12 to December 17 at ‘According to McGee’ on Tower Street.


  1. I was a pupil of Doug’s about a million and a half years ago; Cream were breaking up, Led Zepp were being the New Yardbirds for a bit. I was a Foundation course student and doug came to teach. Lucky us.
    I did a post on him. He was great, and I’m forever grateful.

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  2. Looking through some old stuff I found a photograph of Douglas Binder, Dudley Edwards, David Vaughn, Mary Vaughn andWendy Binder. Young Design Group taken in 1966 Of them all sitting in an open top Buick Electra car they had designed and painted

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