|A concept-free zone|
BILLY Childish is stuck. Stuck in the past, stuck in his paintings, stuck in his poems. He wont mind me saying this; he says it himself. So comfortable with the idea of being artistically stuck is he, in fact, that he co-founded a movement in celebration of it. The Stuckists (est 1999) are the most unlikely bunch to be currently shaking up the art world.|
Until Stuckism came along, Childish was best known as the former boyfriend of Turner Prize nominee Tracey Emin, even though he had built up a large following abroad for his work over the past two decades, including a number of celebrities. Kurt Cobain was a fan, as are Kylie Minogue and Blurs Graham Coxon. But at home his name is known if at all as one of those appliquéd by Emin in her infamous tent, Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995.
Now, though, the tables are turning, with Childish using the wild woman of Brit Arts own words to promote his gaggle of artistic outsiders. In 1992, Emin insulted Childish: "Your paintings are stuck! Stuck! Stuck! Stuck!" A few years later and the Stuckists are born, complete with a manifesto sure to win friends with a YBA-weary public. Essentially a movement against conceptualism, the basic principles of Stuckism include an insistence upon painting, a desire for authentic and holistic art, process over prizes, and a dedication to amateurism. Pickled animals dont get a look in.
For Childish, Stuckism is about rejecting the cult of celebrity as much as the shock tactics of the Saatchi gang. "I loved Dadaism", he explains, in typically blunt style. "It took the piss out of serious, pompous art people. But now weve got the serious pompous art people doing the Dadaism its disgraceful, mediocre and boring. It was nice to be kicking the establishment in 1910, but now it has become the establishment."
Kicking the new, cool establishment with art that is expressionist in tone (Kurt Schwitters and Edvard Munch are Stuckist heroes), Childish and chums are all about old-fashioned artistic values lost in the current vogue for conceptualism. Bringing together a neo-Cubist, a Royal Academy silver medallist, a painter with no formal training, another who was the first to fail the degree in his art college and Childish, expelled from St Martins for writing poetry deemed obscene, the Stuckists believe in art for arts sake. Whether or not success beckons, they continue to paint Childish at his trademark prolific rate. He has, to date, produced more than 1,800 paintings, released more than 80 albums and published 30 collections of poetry.
"The key thing to Stuckism is that you work because it matters to you, you use it to explore your inner world. I dont believe that the Brit-Artists sat in their rooms pickling sharks for 20 years or pissing on their beds [a reference to Emins New York show for which she has made it on to the Turner Prize shortlist]. If it wasnt in the public domain, they wouldnt be doing it."
But isnt Childish simply exploiting his relationship with a former girlfriend who went on to become famous? "It just happens that a big thing in my work is Tracey and a big thing in her work at the time was about me. My books have poems about her, there are photos of me and her she was my muse for a long time. None of this is revisionist; it is just how my life was. There is nothing for me to invent."
On the subject of courting media attention, Childish is understandably prickly. "We would be doing what were doing anyway, just like we always have. Ive always had opinions on things, including Tracey, but no one has rung me up about them before. The really annoying thing is that Traceys work leans on mine much more than mine does on hers." Are they still friends after his spiky contributions to the recent Close Up profile of Emin on BBC2?
"She tried to have me removed from the programme. She sees her work very much as who she is, and it isnt the truth. She didnt want me saying that, I suppose." On one of the bits cut from the programme, Childish was told that Emin wanted to become a household name. "What, like Harpic?" he said, horrified, a Stuckist through and through.
Billy Childish will be performing at the Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow, on Saturday, 2 October.