Derek Boshier

The Identi-Kit Man


Derek Boshier born 1937
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1830 × 1832 mm
frame: 1840 × 1842 × 24 mm
Purchased 1971

Display caption

Boshier was interested in the culture of commodities and the apparent Americanisation of British culture. Toothpaste, which was the first product advertised on British television, is used here to represent both. The Identi-Kit Man presents the image of a man as a jigsaw piece, manipulated into a particular behaviour. As he becomes toothpaste, he is both transforming into, and being shaped by, mass consumer products. In 1962 Boshier wrote: ‘The figure features in my painting as a symbol of “self- identification”. It represents me (us), the spectator, participant, player, or cog in the wheel—the amorphous “us”’.

Gallery label, October 2019

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Catalogue entry

Derek Boshier b. 1937

T01287 Identi-Kit Man 1962

Inscribed ‘Derek Boshier/6-62/ The Identi-Kit Man’ on back and ‘Boshier’ again on the stretchers.
Canvas, 72 x 72 (183 x 183).
Purchased from the Galerie Bischofberger (Grant-in-Aid) 1971.
Coll: Grabowski Gallery, London; Galerie Bischofberger, Zurich.
Exh: Diploma Show, Royal College of Art, May–June 1962 (no catalogue); Image in Revolt, Grabowski Gallery, October–November T962 (3); Neuwe Realisten, Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, June–August 1964 (118, repr.); Pop Art, Nouveau Réalisme etc., Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, February 1965 (20); Galerie Bischofberger, Zurich, September–October 1967 (works not listed).
Lit : Richard Smith, ‘Boshicr’s Paintings’ in Ark 32, summer 1962, p. 40.
Repr: Michael Compton, Pop Art, 1970, p.82, pl.84.

The artist said (in conversation with the compiler, March 1972) that the date 6–62 was probably written some time after the picture was completed and it indicates that this work was made in the first half of that year. ‘Identi-Kit Man’ was one of the last of a series of paintings completed between January and May 1962, which also included ‘So Ad Men become Depth Men’, ‘The Man Emancipation Machine’ and ‘Rethink, Re- Entry’. All these pictures were characterised by a preoccupation with what he described as ‘Américanisation’, notably such themes as American space heroes and achievements, American magazines like Time and Life, American advertising campaigns for Kellogg’s Cornflakes, toothpastes and so on. Boshier said that his awareness of the American manipulation of other societies through political pressures or through the advertising media arose principally from reading five books: The Mechanical Bride by Marshall McLuhan, The Hidden Persuaders and Status Seekers by Vance Packard, The Affluent Societ y by J. K. Galbraith and The Image by Daniel Boorstin. The title ‘So Ad Men become Depth Men’ is a chapter heading in The Hidden Persuaders. The reasons why he chosc the title ‘ Identi-Kit Man’ for the present work were: the recent appearance of police identikits; the prevalent belief in identification through computer programming; and the belief that such programming could lead to a better organisation of life, and thus to social progress. He looked for symbols equivalent to the way that men were being manipulated: to depict a person as a jig-saw piece is to see him as an object that is necessarily slotted into something else. At the same time the image of the man disintegrating into Signal toothpaste is symbolic of a man becoming identical with mass consumer products. The theme of the picture therefore posed a question about contemporary society. In a note for the catalogue of the Image in Progress exhibition at the Grabowski Gallery in 1962 he wrote: ‘The figure features in my painting as a symbol of “self- identification”. It represents me (us), the spectator, participant, player, or cog in the wheel—the amorphous “us”. The figure or figures are placed in, against, or become part of a background, being manipulated, within “happenings”. These happenings reflect on the ironic, ambiguous, satirical, and the instability of situations. The figures are a self-reflection in a visual, yet ambiguous, psychoanalysis’.

The composition of the painting was a reaction against the tradition of making the picture or representational imagery identical with the shape of the canvas: hence he painted a narrow border on the right-hand side of the canvas. Similarly the choice of a commonplace motif like toothpaste was part of the artistic movement current at the Royal College of Art in the early 1960s, according to which any pictorial form, even the most vulgar representation, could be used in painting. Boshier said that at this period he only sized his pictures with glue, did not use a ground, and then painted straight onto the canvas.

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1970–1972, London 1972.

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