The Bruce Lacey Experience - Camden Art Centre

Bruce Lacey (born 1927) was one of Britain's great visionary artists. His lifetime pursuit of eccentric ‘making and doing’ had been a cathartic working-through of his experiences

This survey of a rich and diverse artistic production is a celebration of both his vibrant life (which includes working with Spike Milligan, The Beatles and Ken Russell) and his art which reveals telling links with the visual culture of the last 60 years. Co-curated by artist Jeremy Deller and art historian Professor David Alan Mellor, the exhibition charts Lacey’s artistic development in a career encompassing painting, sculpture, robotised assemblages, theatrical performances and installations, as well as community arts and ritual action performances.

Lacey had described his work as a type of personal psychotherapy which has intuitively responded to his emotional needs. This approach began in his early 20s; whilst hospitalised with tuberculosis after serving in the Royal Navy he started to draw macabre scenes and childhood memories. After his recovery in 1951, he enrolled at the Royal College of Art and simultaneously began his performance career with outrageous stunts drawn from circus and variety theatre.

Lacey often involved his family in his escapades, as revealed by Ken Russell’s 1962 documentary, The Preservation Man. In this film Russell captures Lacey’s flamboyance, his six children around him, revelling in a magical atmosphere. Around this time Lacey began constructing assemblages and machines expressing his feelings about the technologised and conservative Cold War society that surrounded him. He was hailed as a leading figure of the ‘New Realism’ and his assemblages took the form of full size kinetic automatons (‘electric actors’) including the comic figures of Old Moneybags, Clockface, Electric Man and Rosa Bosom. It was Rosa who won the ‘Alternative Miss World’ in 1985. A number of these are included in the exhibition. Lacey’s eccentricity and technical aptitude led to working relationships with performers such as Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers and he produced trick props for pioneering off-beat comedy shows. He also famously appeared as George Harrison’s flute playing gardener in The Beatles’ film Help.

Part of the show was dedicated to Lacey’s performance activities – a practice that began in the 1970s and included performances with his collaborator Jill Bruce. Lacey revered the approach of pre-historic man in creating not for decorative or aesthetic ends but with the purpose of making something happen in the universe. He committed himself to becoming aligned with the mysterious forces of nature, becoming a transmitter and receiver of thoughts, ideas and energies. In the 1980s he returned to painting – which took the form of ritual diagrams and imagery, in shamanistic formats derived from performative endeavours.

The show explored Lacey’s childhood years and experiences. From an early age he gathered an extraordinary archive of bits and pieces, starting an obsessive process of collection and dispersal, from toys, stones and shells, to swords, pistols and shields. Born and brought up in London, Lacey continued living there until his production of performance rituals took him into the depths of the English countryside, and particularly to Norfolk where he has lived surrounded by his collections of ephemera since the 1980s.

The Bruce Lacey Experience toured to The Exchange in Penzance in late September 2012. It coincided with the release of The Lacey Rituals: Films by Bruce Lacey and Friends, a DVD of restored films by BFI.


Images Related events

Create a Scene: Bruce Lacey

Friday 20 July, 11.00am – 1.00pm
Camden Art Centre led a tour and discussion session for older generation art enthusiasts based around The Bruce Lacey Experience.  Create a Scene is a friendly and welcoming space for adults who are looking for creative inspiration for viewing and making art in a group environment.

Psychedelic Spaces for Infants

Tuesday 24 – Friday 27 July 2012
Taking ideas from Bruce Lacey’s robotic sculptures and ritual performances, children had the opportunity to experiment with prop building creating interactive sculptures.


Georgie Manly
Georgie graduated from Norwich School of Art in 2006. Alongside making art she regularly leads workshops for adults and children.


Eligible Concessions and Refund Policy
Full time students with NUS cards; in receipt of housing and council tax benefits, income support, job seekers allowance, a state pension; registered disabled. Please bring evidence of your concessionary status and show it to the Bookshop staff on the first day of your course. Please note that bookings are non-transferable and non-refundable unless the course is cancelled by the Centre.

Bruce Lacey Exhibition Talk: Dr Gillian Whiteley

Wednesday 1 August, 7.00 – 8.00pm
Dr. Gillian Whiteley, Senior Lecturer in Critical and Historical Studies at Loughborough University presented a talk on the work of Bruce Lacey and its critical and historical context.

Bruce Lacey Exhibition Tour

Saturday 18 August, 3.00 – 4.00pm
Bruce Lacey lead a personal tour of his exhibition, The Bruce Lacey Experience. Bibi Lacey-Davidson, Bruce’s grand-daughter, did a  signed-interpretation alongside Bruce and the automata.

Bruce Lacey Exhibition Tour: Jeremy Deller

Saturday 8 September, 3.00 – 4.00pm
Artist and co-curator of The Bruce Lacey Experience Jeremy Deller led a tour of the exhibition.