Stuckist Collections & Tate

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First published in The Other Muswell Hill Stuckist newspaper, December 2012.

Charles Thomson (Stuckism co-founder) and Edgeworth Johnstone (of The Other Muswell Hill Stuckists) discuss Stuckist Collections & Tate.

EJ: At first I didn’t really understand why the Stuckists were opposing anything. I thought, why do they bother? They should just do their own work. And the more I got to know about it, and the more I got to see the missed potential within the art establishment to recognise such good artists. I mean, painters like Philip Absolon, Joe Machine…it would be so good for British culture, I think, if we had these artists around in galleries. Not always necessarily national galleries, but maybe at least some of the big name private galleries, in front of just people. I really got that side of Stuckism as well. The positive opposition to the art establishment. So you kind of get both sides, as time goes on.

CT: Yeah, that’s one of my bugbears is the Tate, which is a national gallery, and it’s funded by the public, and it’s run like it’s a private gallery. When Stephen Deuchar became the Director of Tate Britain, in 2000 I think it was, he said if you wanted a comprehensive overview of British art, or of art made in Britain, then this will be the place to come. That’s never been fulfilled. It’s not comprehensive at all. It’s highly selective. And when Julian Spalding ran a campaign for Beryl Cook to be in the Tate collection, it was ignored. Now, I’m not saying Beryl Cook’s my favourite artist, because she’s not. But obviously, a lot of people do like her. And those are the people that are paying for the gallery to exist, and they can’t go along and see her work there. Why not? Jack Vettriano is hugely popular as well. And again, he’s someone that has his supporters and isn’t included. Again, why not? In fact, why aren’t the Stuckists there? There’s lots of people that aren’t in there. John Keane is a figurative painter for example. The representative, leading artists of the Federation of British Artists aren’t in there. People like Ken Howard, who has sell-out shows, is a very accomplished painter. Fred Cumin, Bill Bowyer, people like that. And who’s the one that does the big female nudes, that Saatchi patronised? I can’t remember her name. 

EJ: The one in Sensation?

CT: Yes.

EJ: Can’t remember her name.

CT: She’s not in there either, which is kind of bizarre. And then when you see what is in there, what does get bought, you realise it’s actually far from comprehensive. It’s a narrow, very narrow, very selective take on contemporary art. Very narrow minded, and very prejudiced. Very partial to certain aspects of the fashionable which are basically promoted by commerce. By the certain leading galleries. By auction houses, and funded by people with more money than sense. And the Tate is now doing exactly what it did in previous decades. Namely, the Directors choice of a small area of art. Not representing the whole picture. And later people turn round and say ‘Wow, this guy, this past Director really got it wrong when he turned down, when he could have included it.’ And I think exactly the same thing is happening now. This current Director is making exactly the same mistake as in the past. And people turn round in the future and say ‘Wow, what a mistake.’ The same thing.

EJ: Yeah, and I think in a way it’s even worse. Because it’s actually a British art movement. It’s obviously, like previous Directors, in your article, you pointed out ‘The Red Studio’ by Matisse. It could be hung in Tate Modern today, if it wasn’t for the Director having his own personal angle and not buying it. Regardless of what was best for the country. Obviously Matisse wasn’t English, he wasn’t British. And to have, really, the only art movement around that’s doing anything like Stuckism. Being, for once, a British art movement, probably the major one in the world, I think. In terms of really getting on with Modernism and following it up. And it’s just a real refusal to have it in. I mean to turn that Walker Gallery donation down, is just insanity really, when you think of what that represented. I mean, a once only chance to get a good early collection of Stuckist work. To get that kind of work together again, would be extremely difficult. And it’s gone now, the public don’t have it, because this guy decided it wasn’t his thing.

CT: Well, Jenny Saville was the name I was looking for earlier on, who’s not represented. I keep on finding more and more people that aren’t represented. But going back to past Tate Directors. James Bolivar Manson said that Henry Moore would be in the Tate over his dead body. And Sir Nicholas Serota hasn’t said exactly the same about the Stuckists, but simply said they are not sufficiently accomplished to warrant preservation in perpetuity in a national collection. Sounds really just the same thing. History repeating itself. But let’s move on from the Tate, because the Tate follows, it has done in the past. Usually too late, so it will have to follow again when it’s too late. We’re not too late, I’m mean we’re here now. Fortunately I’m in a position of being able to have that experience. That cultural experience. That art which is meaningful, which the Stuckists are doing. And it’s on the basis of my experience that, and how much I’ve gained from that, that motivates me to try and disseminate it. Because I know what it’s brought to my life, and how it’s enriched my life. And I think it would be good if that could happen with more people. 

EJ: That’s it. I mean, I keep on seeing people keep churning out such good work in Stuckism. It’s just impulse to want it out there for people to see. 

CT: It’s like if you were around in the nineteenth century when people were doing their work and being ignored. Or when Van Gogh was doing his work and being ignored. Or any of the people who initially were creating something which the establishment turned down and rejected. You can it’s the same thing happening again.

EJ: It’s frightening to think that had things not changed with Impressionism, a lot of Cezannes could have ended up in a skip. If there are people in high places that have their own agenda, which obviously Sir Nicholas Serota’s announced. He’s got an anti-painting, anti-sculpture agenda, you will have masterpieces in skips if these people are allowed to run riot with the national collection, and the art scene. 

CT: But fortunately, just as there were with Impressionists, and later with people like Matisse and Picasso in their early days, there are a small number of enlightened and perceptive private collectors, who are doing very well for themselves. By getting work at a price before the market demand. which is very encouraging. What’s amazing is that it has all the hallmarks, all the characteristics of these earlier movements.

EJ: It’s nice to hear people believe in the work as well, you know. There’s people out there that have said such nice things to a number of Stuckist artists. I’ve had a few things myself, and I hear from other artists as well about collectors of their work. It’s like the Gertrude Stein.

CT: I mean David Roberts, who’s a massive collector and has work by a number of Stuckist artists. Of course, recently there’s been quite a lot of encouragement from Edward Lucie-Smith, who’s particularly singled out Jasmine Maddock and Joe Machine. And there’s other people, I’m not going to mention their names, because they’re private individuals. Also abroad as you know. Someone building up a very nice collection who’s in Hong Kong. So what we’re doing is, more shows. The books and shows are there. I don’t think anybody has had the opportunities in the past that we have, in promoting world-wide through technology. 

EJ: Stuckism’s really the number one success story of internet art movements. The first and most successful. Was it Ella that started it? 

CT: Yeah. This was when we started the group in 1999. And fortunately Ella Guru was working in web design. I didn’t know anything about it. I knew that we should do it. It was beyond my knowledge and ability at the time, and we worked together on that. And that was before anybody had heard of Stuckism. Before the first show. Before the first press mention. We’re talking about the first half of 1999. I remember being with her in a room in her flat with Sexton, their flat in Archway, and creating this. And there was a tremendous sense of excitement I felt, that this was going to go out to the world. And nobody knew where it was being developed, being hatched there. And I think in the first few months we had about thirty hits. Most of them probably Ella checking up on the website, and a couple from her friend Francis Castle who had a look at it. And that was it. I don’t know how many they’ve been now, but you know, we get tens of thousands every year.

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