1986 - 1990
In the late 1980s, Ribeiro's watercolours became compositional multi-dimensional townscapes, reduced to the base of the image and dominated by a seemingly active sky. These dramatic pieces were produced on the laminated backs of his old 1973 exhibition catalogues where he combined watercolour, pen, metallic inks and varnish to dramatic effect.
Personally, however, these were troubling times for him. Four months before his New Walk Museum exhibition was due to open, he suffered a vicious racist assault which left him hospitalised:
“I was involved in a nasty incident outside the Hampstead Police Stn and suffered a number of head and other injuries. Apart from some recurring ill effects for about 3 months or so, I felt I'd got over it. Seemingly I hadn't, and the last 8-10 weeks have been difficult and made more so by an offer of an exhibition at short notice by Camden.”
Ribeiro letter to Tariq Ali, 1986
In 1986, Ribeiro had a major retrospective at the New Walk Museum & Art Gallery. The exhibition then toured to London's Swiss Cottage Art Gallery and just days before the show was due to close, a picture was slashed in an act of vandalism.
In April 1987, he wrote to Patrick Boylan saying “tanks burst during the night” damaging several of his early oils in his attic flat and resulting in a 10-year case with the Camden Council. He felt his place had become a ‘dump’.
“I can quite understand why, psychologically and artistically, you have felt that you should destroy by cutting up some of the most damaged paintings, but you should resist that temptation.”
Patrick Boylan to Ribeiro, 1997
His mood, however, was uplifted by frequent trips to Germany, and despite a heart attack in 1988, artistically he remained undeterred.
A further blow was to come with Ribeiro being excluded from the Hayward Gallery's exhibition ' The Other Story' which sought to show the place of African, Caribbean and Asian artists in Britain in 1989. His brother had written from New York:
“At first I was reluctant to be associated with non-white artists on the principle that art is art whatever the colour of the artist... but on good advice, I accepted ... I had suggested to them to include you.”
Souza to Ribeiro on 'The Other Story'
Ribeiro's subsequent exclusion, therefore, came as a bitter disappointment and left him deeply disillusioned with the British art scene.
As the decade drew to a close, Ribeiro's spirits were to revive with the German art market providing the much-needed reception he had hoped for. Re-energised, he moved again into large-scale abstraction, returning to an enduring and favourite theme of ‘Heads’.