A quiet corner of an unassuming part of Los Angeles seems an unlikely place to find a pioneering figure of the UK pop art movement.
Yet, behind the doors of an unremarkable building near Griffith Park is the studio of Derek Boshier, the painter known for imbuing his work with a satirical edge while exploring subjects including politics, sex and technology. Now 85, he has enjoyed a stellar career and his pieces have adorned the walls of leading galleries in London, Paris and New York.
Remarkably, he is still hard at work and has produced 12 paintings this year, with more works in progress. “As an artist you never retire,” Boshier said. “I don’t want to retire. For me, if you retire you die.”
Though he is not immune to the aches and pains of old age, he said painting allowed him to defy time and while in front of a canvas he could easily work for eight hours. “Sometimes I feel like I might fall over but, you know, it’s nothing like my regular life,” he said.
Regular is not a word that would come to mind when describing Boshier. He rubbed shoulders with the Beatles and his work has been commissioned by the Clash and the Pretty Things, but it is his long-running friendship with David Bowie that may fascinate most.
They first met in 1978 and Boshier produced the cover photo for his album Lodger the next year.
The singer was “very shy,” according to Boshier, who was one of the few to receive a message from the star before his death in 2016.
“Your work cascades down the decades,” Bowie wrote to his old friend. Boshier had no clue that his death was just weeks away.
His background made him an unlikely candidate for art world fame. After a working-class upbringing in Dorset — his parents were caretakers — he left school at 16 with no qualifications and was destined for life as a butcher before his school art teacher intervened.
He attended the Royal College of Art, where he met David Hockney, making a close friendship that endures to this day.
Boshier loved London in the Swinging Sixties and said the era was a boon for working-class artists such as himself, Hockney and the Beatles. America came calling in 1980 and he spent 13 years in Texas, but found himself priced out of a return to England.
“I couldn’t make anything, I couldn’t get a proper job,” he said.
“I couldn’t get a gallery. I had a real hard time.” Instead, he took a teaching job at California Institute of the Arts.
The art world Boshier entered in the 1960s has been transformed.
When he first picked up a paintbrush it would have been hard to conceive of a non-fungible token, or NFT, never mind selling one for $69 million, as the artist Beeple did last year. But Boshier shows no regret at not making vast sums and is satisfied with all he has achieved.
“I just feel I’m terribly lucky because I actually live off my work.”
— Keiran Southern