Stuckism Exhibition | Curator Interview | Edgeworth Johnstone

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Curator and artist, Edgeworth Johnstone, on why he considers Stuckism to be the most important Stuckist exhibition ever held, his collaborations with fellow Stuckists Charles Thomson, Billy Childish and Black Francis, and on Stuckism exhibitions in general.

The Stuckism show’s a bit like if you go to a zoo. It’s the difference between going to the zoo to see a gorilla and seeing the gorilla in the Congo. Or seeing a band in front of 300 people before they got famous and then watching them at some arena hall that holds 200,000 people, after they’re famous, thinking ‘I might as well be watching this on telly.’

There’s no experience of Stuckism in an art gallery. It can be the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. It can be any private gallery. Any white wall gallery. You’re not getting the surround-sound experience of the artworks. You can’t engage with it in an environment that’s completely incompatible with the work.

A Stuckist exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.

The Stuckism show we’ve done at the Black Ivory Printmaking & Audio Club is Stuckism with both founding members work in it, who wrote the manifesto. It’s for the first time, they’re both actually in a Stuckist show, that is actually Stuckist. 23 years after they wrote the manifesto.

And it’s the full circle of Stuckism, this exhibition because, I mean, Stuckism’s gone out into the world and it’s done its shows. It’s done everything, but it was never real Stuckism.

A private view is just a social networking event. Noone’s even looking at the paintings. They’re all just chatting to each other over wine. You know, cigars, wine, caviar, talking about their socialist ideals, all that rubbish is what private view is. If you go to somebody’s house. Or somebody’s art studio, even, and you see the work piled up against the wall. You know, lying back on a sofa in a relaxed, natural, human environment…galleries don’t fit Stuckist paintings. Like when you look at a gorilla in a zoo. You know, they’re swinging around on tyres. It’s artificial.Just like every Stuckist show that’s been in a white wall gallery has been artificial, watered down non-Stuckism.

I didn’t plan to have Billy’s work in it because Billy left the Stuckists and has chosen not to exhibit with them ever since he left. So, even though I do have a couple of bits of his work, I didn’t put them in. But then I, because I happen to paint with Billy on Mondays, I happened to mention in the studio we work in, in Chatham. He says ‘Have you been up to anything in the week?’ I said ‘Well I put on a Stuckist show in the Black Ivory Printmaking & Audio Club. And he gave me a painting to put in the show. So when I put that in the show and I saw that…oh, actually hang on, Charles Thomson’s got a couple of paintings that he painted in this room nearly 10 years ago. One of them in particular is the most pivotal ground-breaking painting he’s ever done. And the way that painting came about was that he was round my house, and he says ‘Do you want a free painting?’ And I say ‘Yes.’ So he says ‘If you give me the stuff I’ll do you a painting.’

‘Joseph Boyice – Stucker pilot and dare devil artist’ by Billy Childish. The first time Billy Childish’s work has appeared in a Stuckism exhibition since he left the group in 2001.

At the time Charles was painting in oil doing flat colour, black outline work that he would plan out in advance. This was the complete opposite. This was done in acrylic water based quick drying paints.Blended colours. As far as I’m aware, off the cuff composition. The complete opposite to how he’d been painting for a long time previous to that. And I did an interview with him that’s on YouTube immediately after he painted that painting.

Ground-breaking everywhere. Charles Thomson, Stuckism co-founder, interviewed by Edgeworth Johnstone immediately after painting his ground-breaking still life he painted in the room that would soon become Black Ivory Printmaking & Audio Club and the venue for the also ground-breaking Stuckism exhibition.

I did another interview with him immediately after he painted the next painting he painted in this room a few days later, when he’s in the middle of this big painting spree.And he says ‘Do you want another painting?’ And I said ‘Yes.’ He says ‘What do you want me to paint?’ I said ‘Why don’t you paint Shelley?’ Who was my wife at the time. So he did a portrait of Shelley, again, in this room. The Black Ivory Printmaking & Audio Club, which is where the Stuckism show is.

A few days later, Charles Thomson paints a portrait of Stuckist artist Shelley Li in the room to become Black Ivory Printmaking & Audio Club. Interview by Edgeworth Johnstone. Li and Johnstone were married at the time.

So you’ve got, what I think is the most Stuckist exhibition ever done. Because it’s done in the environment the manifesto calls for, for once, since Billy left in 2001, you’ve got both founders work in it. Who were the two authors of the manifesto. And you’ve got the most important painting Charles, who basically is the runner, he runs Stuckism. He is Mr. Stuckism. Even though he founded it with Billy, it was as I understand it, basically Charles’s idea from the start. And he asked Billy if he wanted to join with him and found the group.And then Billy was obviously in it for a short time. Left. And ever since then it’s been Charles running it. So Charles really is Mr. Stuckism. And we’ve got his most pivotal painting in this show, in the room that he painted it in.

We’ve got some other paintings in, by other founding members. 

We’ve got my work, Shelley’s work. Emma Pugmire’s. 

We’ve got a collaboration I’m sort of half way through doing with Black Francis, which I think we started a couple of years ago. Both Black Francis and I were visiting Billy’s studio, and so that’s sort of half done. We’ve got some collaborations I’ve done with Charles. Quite confusingly, Black Francis is also called Charles Thompson. So, I’ve got collaborations I’ve done with the Stuckist founder Charles Thomson and then I’ve got a collaboration I’m half way through doing with the Black Francis Charles Thompson.

Black Francis of the Amherst Stuckists at Billy Childish’s studio in Chatham Dockyard, Kent, UK. This painting is a work in progress collaboration with Edgeworth Johnstone.
Black Francis and Edgeworth Johnstone painting area in Billy Childish’s art studio.

I haven’t got any of the collaborations I’ve done with Billy because they’re…oh I have actually.There’s one collaboration I’ve done with Billy that isn’t a Heckel’s Horse painting. Heckel’s Horse is a partnership Billy and I have been doing for about the last 10 years. But they’re like great big 6 foot paintings on canvas. None of them are in it. But I do have, probably the only painting Billy and I have done together that isn’t a Heckel’s Horse painting. And that’s a painting of two chairs. And the way that painting came about is that I did the painting and Billy liked it, but he said ‘You know it’s a shame you haven’t got a bit of a white outline around the legs. So he did some white on it. And it looked a lot better so I said ‘Go on then, that’s a collaboration. That’s another one for the pile.’ So I suppose it probably is a Heckel’s Horse. But if it is, it’s very different to all the others we’ve done.

Heckel’s Horse is a painting partnership between Billy Childish and Edgeworth Johnstone.

But anyway. So that’s the show.

The other thing about the show which is probably more in line with Stuckism theory, is that Stuckism writes about itself, that it’s the unification, or the whatever it is…the fragments of Modernism. It’s taken all the fragments of Modernism and making a holistic thing. A bit like the, I suppose the example of the gorilla. You don’t get the gorilla if you’re not in the whole environment of it. You’re seeing one isolated aspect of a gorilla if you see a gorilla in a zoo. And that is what it physically looks like. You’re not getting the whole experience. You’re not getting the whole thing. Whereas what Stuckism was doing was unifying. Taking the loose ends of Modernism, with all this fantastic artwork, but bringing all those strands together into something they called Stuckism. Or maybe that was Remodernism. But it’s one of the two. I think it’s Stuckism. It is because it’s in the manifesto. Well likewise, this exhibition is not only the most Stuckist show that I thinks ever been done, but it’s the unification of Stuckism. Because, like I say, Stuckism’s gone out into the world, but it’s come back to its kind of humble, amateur, manifesto compliant environment. The show is ‘This is pure Stuckism’, with both the Stuckists in it. Both the original Stuckists in it. Both people that wrote the manifesto. This is it. This is Stuckism. Pure Stuckism. This hasn’t happened before. That’s why I think this show is such a big deal, because this is what’s been 23 years in the making.

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