Quite what the dispute between Duggie Fields and his tutor at the Chelsea School of Art was about has been long forgotten; Fields’ protest has not. Always a snazzy dresser, on that day in college in the 1960s, Fields, who has died aged 75, unpinned the Donald Duck badge attached to the lapel of his black velvet three-piece suit and stuck it through the canvas of the abstract painting he had been working on. It was a revelatory moment that led to a 50-year painting practice in which the artist blended the dayglo palette of cartoons with imagery from fashion and advertising. Mixed into these sharp, graphic compositions were art historical references to Dalí, Mondrian, Joan Miró and others.
In Stumped, a 1976 painting now in the Arts Council collection, two elegant female mannequins, dressed in blue shoulderless tops and peach skirts, are shown embracing. Undermining this pop art sensibility, each figure has one arm missing and no head. On the left breast of one figure a Dalí-like eye is placed, on the other figure a small, Mondrian-esque colour grid is placed just above the waist. The figures in this work were more clothed than most.
More typical is the cheekiness of Blonde With Strategically Placed Cushion (1970) or Study for Joie de Vivre (1978). In the latter an Audrey Hepburn-type figure, hand and scalp missing, exposes her left breast through her blue, shoulder-padded top. To the right, in the background, stands a male figure, similarly amputated, and nude but for a blue posing pouch, pubic hair overflowing.
For all he learned at art school, however, Fields’ real education, and fame, came from the fashionable milieu of late 60s and 70s London, where he was a regular at parties and fashion events, recognisable by his trademark quiff and penchant for eyebrow makeup. Friends and collaborators included Zandra Rhodes, Marc Bolan, John Maybury and Andrew Logan, at whose Alternative Miss World beauty pageant Fields was a dedicated attendee.
Born in Salisbury, Wiltshire, to Edna (nee Rosenthal) and Henry Field, Douglas grew up in the garrison town of Tidworth, where his father owned a large pharmacy. He recalled being fascinated with the packaging that lined the shelves, and, stored out the back, in the room in which Henry ran a sideline putting down sick pets, a collection of old posters, featuring glamorous pin-ups hawking pharmaceutical drugs. “These were by far the glossiest, the sexiest, the most seductive” adverts he had ever seen, the artist recalled.
The family moved to Hampshire in 1954 and the boy was educated at Andover grammar school. After the family moved once again, this time, to Borehamwood, in Hertfordshire, where Duggie attended the grammar school in Cowley Hill, he took advantage of his proximity to London to sneak into the capital, one of his cousins, Judy, taking him to a gay club called the Purple Pussycat on the Finchley Road, and the West End music venues then populating their bills with blues bands.
One night, in a 50-person-capacity flea pit, he saw the Rolling Stones play. Their arty glamour immediately seduced him, and he abandoned plans of studying in Liverpool to move to London. Initially enrolling in an architecture course at the Regent Street Polytechnic, he was told that he would be better suited to Chelsea. It was sound advice – there he found the King’s Road to be a “parade of beautiful people”. “There were visions on the street; amazing people came,” he said.
One such beauty was Syd Barrett, with whom Fields shared a flat in Earl’s Court from graduation in 1968, the year the Pink Floyd singer was ousted from the band. Already known for his dapper dress, Fields’ cult fashion status was confirmed when he was featured in Caterina Milinaire’s Cheap Chic (1975), an immediate bible of DIY fashion. When Barrett left for a reclusive life in Cambridge in 1972, Fields turned the pop star’s bedroom into an atelier, and stayed living in the same apartment until his death.
The flat became a maximalist temple, a reflection of the all-encompassing nature of Fields’ artistic vision, captured by Derek Jarman in the filmmaker’s 1974 work At Home With Duggie Fields. Of his interest in fashion and design, Fields told Elephant Magazine last year: “I don’t see any separation between my art and life … I live inside a painting.” He recreated Gerrit Rietveld’s Red Blue Chair, only with oversized painter’s palettes attached to the legs; his own work was printed on cushions, with paintings leaning against the walls and fashion magazines piled in every room. “Less is less, more or less,” he was fond of saying. “It’s a concept I’ve slowly evolved all my life.”
For an exhibition at the Modern Institute in Glasgow in 2018, the artist recreated his living quarters in the gallery. Among the objects on show was a cushion with Fields’ painting of Alex from A Clockwork Orange on, the original painting commissioned by the film’s director, Stanley Kubrick. It was one of many collaborations the artist embarked on. In 1983, sponsored by the cosmetics company Shiseido, Fields travelled to Tokyo to produce a show. Shiseido ran an extensive marketing campaign featuring his work, including self-portraits on television, billboard and subway advertising throughout the country. It made him hugely famous, and Fields would find himself mobbed on the street by teenage girls, the company’s target market.
In 2002, his painting Party On was featured in Transport for London’s Platform for Art series. Five years later he walked the Paris runway for Comme des Garçons, having been muse for Rei Kawakubo’s collection that season; in 2009, kiss curl intact and bedecked in gold makeup, he played Avarice in the music video for the Pet Shop Boys’ It’s a Sin.
Art critics were often sniffy, however. In one notorious 1987 review Brian Sewell wrote that Fields was “a painter of whom no one should take the slightest notice”, whose work was only of interest to the “homosexual mafia”. Later reviewers claimed a “whiff of casual misogyny” in the work. Before the Modern Institute show, Fields’ last solo exhibition was at the Gallery Liverpool in 2012. The artist’s institutional shows amounted to the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham (1980) and Spacex Gallery, Exeter (1982). From the 90s onwards Fields used his paintings to make digital animations, mostly shown on his personal website. The BFI showed them in 2016 as part of Flare, an LGBTIQ+ film festival.
The artist was sanguine about this limited recognition, though. “I’ve never been in the art world per se,” he said. “I have always thought of myself as an outsider and not unhappily. I remember when I was a student, we weren’t supposed to want to be in museums or admire them. We were supposed to be anti-bourgeois and bohemian.”
He is survived by his brother, Howard, and niece, Sara.
• Duggie Fields (Douglas Arthur Peter Field), artist, born 6 August 1945; died 7 March 2021