The earliest of these drawings come from a series titled Peroxides on Parole made in 2000 to serve as flyers, posters and wall decorations for ’The Beautiful Bend’, an eclectic and gloriously camp nightclub which the artist co-founded in the early 1990s. Drawn in black ink on the pages of an A3 sketchbook, Dors, Dusty, Jayne and Davis Scowl were originally photocopied, pasted up around the club’s King’s Cross interior, and taken home at the night’s end by anyone who wanted them. The poses of these legendary movie stars in their simple, understated portraits were lifted from single or composite frames of different films in which they appear, carefully chosen by the artist and paused to allow him time to sketch. Dors is a portrait of 1950s sex symbol Diana Dors, who was, in her time, the British equivalent to Marilyn Monroe. “The image is from Diana in Adam and The Ants’s Prince Charming video,” discloses Urquhart. “She was older then, but I tried to make her a bit more glamorous.”
The drawings from Urquhart’s Peroxides on Parole series feature famous bombshell blondes: iconic beauties, shrouded in sex-mystique, each one a symbol of tragic celebrity. Diana Dors, in the above drawing, famously quipped on Parkie that blonde sex symbols tend to die young and she had no intention of doing so; she died of cancer only a few years later at the age of 52. Dusty is a portrait of 60s pop songstress Dusty Springfield, whose public image was greatly at odds with her personal life. A devout Catholic and bi-sexual, Springfield was plagued by depression, which led to her often irrational behaviour, substance abuse, and self-harm.
Jayne Mansfield was a 1950s movie star and pin-up well known for her appearance in Playboy and her pioneering of the ‘wardrobe malfunction’ as a publicity stunt. Mansfield’s later life was marked by alcoholism and extra-marital affairs; her untimely death in a car accident at the age of 34 became one of the most sensationalised macabre events in celebrity history when images of her decapitated scalp appeared amongst photographs of the automotive wreckage. Urquhart renders her image as a frightful distortion, her face almost skull-like, an awkwardly mounted appendage between her huge hair and bosoms. Urquhart took this image from an old newsreel of Mansfield attending a premiere, and part of the drawing’s disproportion is a reflection of the way a figure’s motions appear warped when put on pause, as well as the high-contrast choppiness of early film. (The other part is because he made the drawing freehand, sitting very close to the TV!)
Urquhart’s Davis Scowl presents a portrait of Bette Davis in her role in The Anniversary: a one-eyed, domineering, psychologically twisted mother hell-bent on ruining her childrens’ lives. In doubling the image, Urquhart mirrors Davis’s on-screen character with her real-life persona, as unflatteringly portrayed in a tell-all biography written by her daughter. Throughout his Peroxides on Parole series, Urquhart presents an examination of celebrity culture’s fascination. Executed in black and white, these drawings point to the duplicity of fame and its unattainable ideals. Initially conceived as party advertisements, his portraits become degraded effigies of adoration, his icons’ most personal and very human flaws made property for public circulation.
A number of the other drawings were created with special theme nights at the club in mind. Squires Palladium was made for a night based on the colourful life of Dorothy Squires, the rags-to-riches Welsh singer who found fame in the music halls of the 1940s and 50s. She is seen onstage, soaked in the beams of spotlights as roses rain down on her from the audience.
Sari Fly was one of several produced for a Bollywood-inspired night called ’Lady Blows the Singhs’.
Down in Frisco portrays a dazed and dishevelled individual wearing Elsa Schiaparelli’s famous ’’Tear Dress’’ made of a fabric printed with trompe l’oeil rips by Salvador Dali, in a poster for a San Francisco Earthquake night.
The Noel Noir (Reindeer) was originally conceived as one of a set of five Christmas cards designed by the artist for sale in the streets of London as part of a theatrical project commissioned by Artangel and performed by a homeless actors’ collective in December 2003. The dark subject matter was provided by one of the artist’s co-workers, who participated in an organized deer cull as a pre-Christmas break.
An Alphabet of Bad Luck, Doom and Horror is exactly that – a sequence of letters resembling a pull-out from a children’s early learning book, originally painted by the artist over the course of five days in acrylic directly onto a wall at his London gallery for a group show entitled ’The Black Album’. The artist had made no plans or notes prior to starting; the almost comically doom-laden images were in large part a response to a stream of unfortunate personal events that befell the artist while the work was in progress.
Taking the form of a beginner’s lexicon detailing the infamy of Mommie Dearest, Donald Urquhart describes his A Joan Crawford Alphabet as, “an obituary in 26 parts.” Labelled with the folly fonts of cabaret posters, Urquhart’s humorously crude drawings illustrate a life that was as famous off-screen as on, entwining Crawford’s iconic film roles with her scandalous personal life to create a portrait of a legend in collective consciousness. In her early career, Crawford became famous for her ‘rags to riches’ characters, and later for more psychologically dark roles. After her death in 1977, Crawford’s ‘true persona’ was revealed in a biography written by her daughter: a damning portrayal of egoism, alcoholism, mental illness, and child abuse. Though Urquhart’s painting looks spontaneous, his process is very labour intensive. Using the smallest brushes available to ensure total control of his lines he addresses each image with the devotion of an obsessive fan.