Colin Self at Houghton Hall Stables this summer

8 March, 2019
The Ploughman by Colin Self
The Ploughman by Colin Self
Born at Rackheath, Norfolk 1941
Lives and works in Norwich, Norfolk

Self’s work in the 1960s reflected the anxiety about the growing nuclear threat and the hardening of attitudes in the Cold War, along with the importance of Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). In fact, like many people Self found himself in a psychological condition of despair that the world could be destroyed at any moment; he read books on Non-Being and this concept entered into his approach to his work.

Much of his sculpture was painted black, most notably his diorama ‘Guard Dog on a Missile Base’ shown at Robert Fraser Gallery. This work as well as being greatly admired by Francis Bacon seems to have made quite an impact upon Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, whom Self remembers talking to at the gallery exhibition opening. Was Jones (and thereby Colin Self) the catalyst for ‘Paint It Black’? Very likely; the song certainly reflects the feeling of hopelessness and non-being as the noir downside to the sunshine upside of the 1960s. In 1982 the Atlanta, USA heavy metal group Riggs were sufficiently moved by ‘Guard Dog on a Missile Base’ to use it as a striking image for the cover of their eponymous debut album (on the Full Moon/Warner Bros. record label.

In 1985 – 86, Self visited the Soviet Union and was provided with further stimulus for his Cold War culture explorations. Some of his works such as ‘Burning Man Jumping from a Building’ 1983 and ‘New York Disaster’ 1998 appear remarkably prescient in the light of events such as the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, while others create lighter often humorous narratives from found material in everyday life – an extension of the language of Pop Art.

A retrospective of his work entitled ‘Colin Self: Art in The Nuclear Age’ was held at Pallant House Gallery Chichester UK in 2008, curated by Simon Martin. Self’s ‘Large Hotdog With Mustard’ (painted black of course) and ‘Leopard Skin Nuclear Hotdogs’ 2018 at Fairhurst Gallery, Norwich hark back to his earlier Cold War pieces, but have a more playful and decidedly 21st century.


About the author

Paul Vater, Director of Contemporary and Country

Paul Vater

Paul conducts studio visits to maintain strong relationships with artists, designers and craftspeople who show their work with us. He manages the main C&C website and has developed the online shop where selected works are presented for sale.


Paul established his design company, Sugarfree, in 1990 and quickly gained a reputation for delivering fresh, effective marketing campaigns and brand identities for clients including Save the Children Fund, United Nations Association and UNHCR. Over the years those added to the roster include IPC Magazines, Arts Council England, The Roundhouse, Barbican Centre, Arts Marketing Association, Look Ahead Housing and Care, Paddington Waterside, BBC Worldwide, Commonwealth Foundation, Prestel, City of London Corporation, Baker Street Quarter, Victoria BID and the University of East Anglia.