A man of many talents and intense ability, Colin Spencer, though anarchist in spirit, burns with a passionate conviction that art can transform, enlighten and enrich. From an early childhood he knew he wanted to paint and write.
After studying at Brighton Art College he spent his period of National Service as a pacifist in the Royal Army Medical Corps in war ravaged Hamburg, where he treated soldiers who had contracted venereal disease. He later spent time living in London, Vienna, Athens and on a Greek island, designing and making sets and costumes for the theatre, painting portraits, drawing architecture, dubbing films and writing plays.
His first drawings and short stories were published in The London Magazine; others followed in Encounter and the Transatlantic Review. All three literary magazines published his drawings including portraits of artists and writers, including John Betjeman, Ivy Compton-Burnett and E.M. Forster.
He had huge fun working with Katherine Whitehorn to illustrate her popular column in the national Sunday newspaper, The Observer, with satirical drawings delineating the public’s interpretation of fashion trends. He was commissioned by the Royal Opera House to draw their delightfully idiosyncratic opera audience for their member’s Magazine. He was commissioned by the Times of London Literary Supplement for a series of life portraits of ‘Writers of our Time’, including Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, L.P. Hartley, Stevie Smith, Iris Murdoch and many others. He speaks in public from a Memoir of this fascinating and often amusing time.
It was also a period when he completed oil portraits for a wide range of private customers and collectors, including Carl Winter, Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, Lady Rawlinson, wife of the Attorney General, Diana Hopkinson, Michael Davidson and Canon Frederic Hood of Pusey House, Oxford. His oil portrait of E.M. Forster was left to Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears by Forster when he died. His city and country landscape paintings and drawings reside in a wide range of private collections amongst those of: Melvyn Bragg, Germaine Greer, Derek Grainger, Bob Swash, Diana Athill, Prue Leith and the late Mary Renault and Sir Huw Wheldon.
Though for a considerable period of time he was primarily focused on his writing, he continued to paint portraits. He eventually returned to painting full time in 2007, succumbing to his urge to explore the landscape of his childhood (the South Downs) and to return again to portraiture. He feels strongly that portraiture is an area which, since the advent of photography, the painter must explore and recolonise. He is of the opinion that photography has affected the curiosity of the painter to investigate the human condition. He feels painting today is an art that can be illuminated by intellect and that the very diversity of experience can now inform and enrich paintings.
Colin Spencer’s other great love is writing and since 1955 he has published nine novels and many short stories both here and in America. His fiction includes the Generation sequence (described as ‘life-affirming’ by the London Daily Telegraph), the comic novel Poppy, Mandragora and the New Sex (‘All very naughty fun about sex of every sort’ Olivia Manning wrote in the London Observer) and Panic (‘It is a book written with deep compassion and understanding’ Time out declared).
He has published an acclaimed memoir, Which of Us Two: The Story of A Love Affair, numerous books on food and cookery, mainly vegetarian, and books of food history including British Food: an extraordinary thousand years of history (to be reissued in 2011) and a prequel on the food of the British Isles from 8000BC, ‘From Microliths to Microwaves' (to be published in May 2011).
He has written and presented documentaries on history, literature and social issues – as well as on aspects of food history (another of his lifelong passions) for television and radio. He wrote a regular food column for the London newspaper The Guardian for fourteen years, becoming a household name in connection with food and food issues in the UK. In 2002 he was described by Germaine Greer as ‘the greatest living food writer’.
He has had seven plays produced, including The Ballad of the False Barman, Spitting Image (productions in London, America and Germany), The Sphinx Mother (premiered at the Salzberg Festival) and The Trial of St George.
He has been Co-Chairman (1982), Chairman (1988-90) and Vice-President (1990-99) of The Writers Guild of Great Britain and President of the Guild of Food Writers (1994-99). He continues as a judge for the J R Ackerley Prize for Autobiography.
Now, apart from working on an autobiography in the midst of this late phase in his life he only wants to paint, living as intensely as before, exploring the visual world which has always mesmerised and snared his imagination, trying to pin down in colour and form that invisible connection between matter and spirit.