2nd August 2022 at Black Ivory Printmaking & Audio Club in Muswell Hill village, London UK.
Interviewed by Edgeworth Johnstone of The Other Muswell Hill Stuckists.
CT: We’re sitting here in one of my very rare solo shows. I think this is the first one that I wasn’t actually part of the promotion of it. This is a show that just happened because of the work in the collection of you, Edgeworth Johnstone and I think it’s the second exhibition you’ve done here recently. The first one was a mixed Stuckist show including Billy Childish, Joe Machine and other people. So this is the first solo show. You have got quite a lot of my works, obviously. I’m surprised how many you’ve got because I know there’s a whole load more all hanging up the stairs. Or there were. And they were early works done in black lines and flat colours. Whereas nowadays I’ll paint much more fluidly, where there’s no black lines and no flat colours. Sometimes the lines disappear. And I think you’ve pointed out, there was a kind of initiation into a new way, a more flexible and fluid way of painting.
EJ: Are any of these paintings particularly personal to you? In terms of both artistically and your own life.
CT: It’s very hard to answer that question, to be honest. I mean, I think, not really. Not personal in my life. I don’t think there are. Perhaps, in a way, that’s the most personal one, because it’s the toy cat of someone I was in a relationship with.
EJ: That’s of SP Howarth, up there.
CY: Yes, I know it is. I’ll tell you exactly where he was when that was painted. Actually I’m working with SP now, with poetry. He’s really stopped painting and he’s doing poetry and acting. He went to Camberwell Art College and achieved the distinction of being kicked out of the painting department for doing paintings. Because he was told it was an ideas based department. And when he said his idea was to do paintings, they said that wasn’t acceptable as an idea. And actually I got him a story in The Times newspaper. About half a page all about it because it was such an outrageous situation. That’s in the early days of Stuckism and SP, and it’s actually round a friends flat that was just off Tottenham Court Road, Khatereh, and she let us use her address in Purcey Road because it was a prestigious address for Stuckism. I think this was after the demo we went on, in Trafalgar Square, against Rachel Whitread’s plinth. Because on the plinth she did a full sized cast in resin and turned it upside down and put it on top of a plinth.Which was very clever and very stupid, simultaneously. And we did a demonstration about that. Stella Vine was one of the participants, much to her chagrin later on, when she looked back.And there’s photographs of it at a press agency. I think it’s Getty Images.One of them has got photographs of her standing there with her Stuckist placard.But she can’t deny it.When I wrote an essay for the Stuckist Punk Victorian book, for the Walker Art Gallery in 2004, we had a big show there which went on for five months, the first section of my essay was called the Battle of Trafalgar because it was describing this event which took place in Trafalgar Square. It was an opening event with all these celebrities like Melvyn Bragg and Nicholas Serota and some artists. There was a normal crash barrier for the public to stand behind, where we were standing. So the ceremony was over. It had been unveiled. People had gone off the plinth, where the microphone was. And I thought, ‘This is too good an opportunity to miss’. And I don’t like doing these sort of things, but I thought ‘Well, I have to do this. It’s my duty’. So I climbed over the top of the crash barrier. Got on the plinth and started addressing the crowd through the microphone about the shortcomings of The Turner Prize. And all these celebrities were standing there listening. They didn’t have any option, until somebody had the bright idea, eventually, after I’d been speaking for two or three minutes, of turning the power off. It was videoed as well. It was on some cable TV arts programme, I think. Then afterwards, I was in the crowd and suddenly I saw this figure coming towards me. Like a destroyer approaching a submarine. It was Nicholas Serota, who was somewhat irate. He was very disgusted because he said I had used somebody else’s work for my own purposes. I was quite taken aback, but I thought I’ll use an art historical reference, because that might placate him because he didn’t look very happy. And I said ‘It’s Dada.’ I can’t remember what he said exactly. It’s in the book that he basically snorted and stormed off again.There’s a nice photo of him and me together having our interaction.
Now, wait for it. Wait for it. Wait for the absolute total hypocrisy. Recently, and we’re now in August 2022. I think it was a week or two ago so it’s still available on YouTube. They repeated, the BBC repeated on iPlayer, an Alan Yentob documentary about Cornelia Parker, and towards the end of this documentary it got on to one of her works where she had wrapped Rodins’s ‘The Kiss’ statue in a mile of string. I think it was a mile, anyway loads of string. Possibly a mile. Because that was the amount of string that Marcel Duchamp wrapped up a Dada or Surrealist exhibition. Like cobwebs. Like string everywhere. I think that’s maybe why she used a mile of string. Well, hang on a moment. Isn’t she using another artists work to promote her own work? Which is exactly the accusation Serota had levied against me, with such vehemence and outrage, and now he’s letting, because he was in charge of the Tate. He’s letting someone else do exactly the same thing that was so bad when I did it. So that strikes me as being double standards. Actually, what happened on this Yentob documentary was that the Stuckists came into it because there was a Stuckist demonstration. Now I have to say that I didn’t know anything about this at the time and neither did anybody I know. But apparently this Stuckist, I later found out was called Piers Butler who had founded the Notting Hill Stuckists. Because all Stuckist groups are independent. They do what they want. So it was nothing to do with me, but he, on his own volition had gone in. He’d got lots of couples standing around ‘The Kiss’ kissing each other while he started snipping the string off. So that was another Stuckist demonstration that we got publicity from which was nothing to do with us. Well, when I say us, I mean nothing to do with me because I’m usually involved in Stuckist things. I don’t have to be but I usually am. That’s quite funny. It’s like when Tate Modern opened. Somebody did some kind of demo which people attributed to the Stuckists, or thought it was the Stuckists doing it. So we got publicity for not even doing a demo or someone else doing a demo. Which, of course, we had had lots of demos, about twenty years worth of demos outside the Turner Prize. People were so familiar and so used to us doing demos that one year we didn’t do a demo and The Telegraph reported that the Stuckists weren’t demonstrating. And another we turned up and said we weren’t demonstrating, and handed out leaflets explaining that we weren’t demonstrating because it was so bad we couldn’t be bothered to demonstrate. Which I thought was an amazing piece of sort of ironic, sort of conceptualism, that fact that we were handing out leaflets saying we weren’t demonstrating. My ideal, my dream was always that our Turner Prize demonstrations would be nominated for the Turner Prize. So we could have the demonstration actually inside the Turner Prize as one of the four nominees while meanwhile outside we were demonstrating against the fact that we were nominated for the Turner Prize. But this sort of thing doesn’t seem to get through. It doesn’t appeal
EJ: They wouldn’t think of that. That’s too good.
CT: It’s too good.What amazes me is that, if you say ‘I’m part of the art establishment. I think you’re wonderful and I’m doing this, kind of, whacky thing’ They say ‘Oh, it’s so whacky and funny and ironic and clever.’ If you say exactly the same thing, with exactly the same mentality but say ‘I don’t think you’re whacky. I think you’re a load of wankers and I think you’re talking out your arse.’ Then they say ‘Oh, it’s pathetic. It’s infantile.’
There was a bit of a run in with Sarah Kent who was the art editor of Time Out, because she wouldn’t feature any of our shows.And a journalist rang her up and said, and she said ‘Oh, well we can only feature one if four shows.’ and the journalist said ‘Well they’ve got five opening tomorrow.’ And we made a fuss about it which was great because it got in the Evening Standard that Time Out is censoring the Stuckists.Which gets better publicity than if they’d actually reviewed us. So I think that rather pissed off the editor because the next thing, Sarah Kent turned up and was sort of forced to review our shows, and obviously tried to rubbish them.And she said that I’d obviously been looking…because she talked about my painting of Sir Nicholas Serota behind a large pair of red knickers and the speech bubbles in the painting saying ‘Is it a genuine Emin, £10,000, or a worthless fake? Or an imitation, or something.A worthless fake. This pair of red knickers. To do with the fact that Tracey Emin had exhibited her bed with knickers and stuff round it. And Sarah Kent said that this was sort of puerile, infantile, whatever humour.Well a few weeks after that Tracey Emin was on television complaining that an installation that someone was exhibiting did not contain her genuine knickers. But they were substituted for another couple of pairs of knickers.So I think, far from being puerile, it was quite prescient. It was prophetic. It’s actually what happened. So if what I did, in saying that in the painting is a puerile sense of humour, isn’t then what Tracey Emin did equally as puerile in reality?
Another thing she said was that I’d obviously been studying the work of Michael Craig-Martin. Well, first of all, I mean, I’d never seen Michael Craig-Martin’s work, originally, when I started working like this because he wasn’t around. I mean, Patrick Caulfield was around. Liechtenstein was around. And actually my original use of black lines was based on Cloisonnism which was the use of outlines and flatish colours in the nineteenth century by Van Gogh and Emile Bernard, and later by Ernst Ludwig Kirchener of Die Brucke of the German Expressionists from about 1905. That was my inspiration. Certainly not Michael Craig-Martin. And the other thing was, hang on a moment, because one of my early paintings of Stuckism…actually, I’d actually done it at art college, when I was there at Maidstone Art College, so we’re going back to 1978. I’d done Seurat’s ‘Bathers’ painting in black outlines and flat colours. So the men in it, a group of men by the river…it’s in the National Gallery. So the men, there’s one with a white coat. I just left it white. Anyway, it’s black outlines and flat colours, which I then repeated later because someone wanted a copy and I didn’t have one so I painted it again. Now when Stuckism was launched in 1999 and it featured on the cover of The Sunday Times Culture and there was a page and a half inside, it had a big reproduction of this painting I’d done of Seurat’s ‘The Bathers’ in black outlines and flat colours. Well, a few years later, I think it was The Sunday Times again, featured Michael Craig-Martin doing a version of Seurat’s ‘The Bathers’ with black outlines and flat colours. So hang on. Who’s been looking at who? And as far as the kind of jelly drop colours that he uses. Those kind of bright pinks and yellows and reds and stuff. Again, I’ve got paintings where I’d use these same colours in 1978 at art college. That was way before, as far as I know, he was doing that kind of stuff. And I got those colours from punk art. From The Sex Pistols ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’ yellow and pink, flurescent pink album cover. Because that was the kind of colours that were around with, sort of punk visuals. It was like fluorescent greens and pinks and yellows. That’s where I got those colours from. I don’t know why I’m saying all this, apart from the fact that, why the hell not. Because some people might find it vaguely…. You seem to be finding it…you being Edgeworth, the man behind the camera…seems to be finding it quite entertaining.
CT: I think there’s so many entertaining things in Stuckism. I mean, we ought to do a whole book of entertaining things.There’s another classic one, that. Again, this was when Billy was with the Stuckists. Now, he seems to think he was with the Stuckists for six months. It was actually thirty months, if you want to know. It was from January 1999 right up to July 2001 at the ‘Vote Stuckist’ show at the Fridge Gallery. That’s where he told me he was leaving.That wa s thirty months actually. Perhaps he’s not very good at maths, or perhaps he wishes it was only six months. Actually, he probably wishes it was no time at all. But he does like the manifestoes, well he half wrote them. You know, we co-wrote them.He’s always like….it’s kind of weird, someone who doesn’t like Stuckism that really likes the Stuckist manifestoes. Doesn’t matter anyway. I suppose he thinks Stuckism wasn’t a manifestation of the manifestoes. But it’s actually meant to be the other way round. It wasn’t that the artists were meant to come along, read the rules and then conform. It was meant…we were meant to be looking at what the artists were doing and then try and put that into some kind of manifesto.Anyway, it doesn’t matter. But it was when Billy was still in the Stuckists. Those early days, probably, it was probably about 2000. And the ‘Journal de Brasil’ the journal of Brazil, the national Brazilian newspaper decided to do an article on the Stuckists and phoned up The British Council. Now the job of The British Council is to promote British culture abroad. So, you would have thought ‘Great.’ You know, a national paper in Brazil wants to feature British artists. These are rebel artists. So let’s say ‘It demonstrates the plurality, the tolerance of our society and our culture.That we have a country where we have an opposition group that’s quite vociferous, quite rude about the establishment. About national figures. About the Director of the Tate Gallery. And this is part of our culture.And this is what democracy is. And this is what free speech is. And this is Britain. Good old us. You know, we’re not like these bloody repressive regimes that stop people and squash them, and don’t let them speak.Well, that’s what I would have said if I was this person in The British Council. So what does she say? ‘Oh, you shouldn’t do anything on them.’ Oh, wonderful. What a good example.’No, you shouldn’t do anything on them. They’re not worth doing.’ I can’t remember the exact reason.’but you definitely shouldn’t do anything on these people.’ You know. ‘They’re not good people.’ Something like that. ‘And furthermore, there’s only two people doing it. They’ve painted all the paintings between them, and they’ve made up these fictitious names like Wolf Howard and Joe Machine. They’re obviously not real names.They’ve made them up and it’s just these two people doing this whole scam.’ Anyway, I told Joe Machine that someone had thought I’d made him up and he wasn’t terribly impressed by that. Well the thing is, if you say to a journalist that wants to do an article ‘You shouldn’t do this article.’ You couldn’t think of a better way of encouraging the journalist to do the article. Furthermore, you’re likely to end up being quoted in the article. So this is a complete ineptitude. That’s what gets me. It’s not just that they’re doing this, they’re doing it badly. It was a great article. It was a big article about the Stuckists and possibly about how they shouldn’t do something on the Stuckists.
Another classic example is the whole scandal over the Tate’s purchase of its own trustees’ work, Chris Offili. They bought his work. That wasn’t announced in the press. What was announced in the press was ‘Oh, the Tate is buying this important installation called, what’s it called? ‘The Last Supper’ or something? Based on Christ’s Last Supper, except Chris Offili had painted all the disciples as monkeys.It’s a good job he’s black isn’t it,and not white. Because that’s something that really gets up my nose. I believe in equality. I believe in equality for white people as well as black people and yellow people, purple people. And people who are green with red stripes. And that really gets up my nose when, you know, you’ve got a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card if you happen to have certain qualifications.Which I won’t go into now because you’re probably not allowed to say it, you see. There’s a stifling of free speech and our democracy, our whole culture is based on the freedom of speech. For debate. For progress. And people have fought and died for that privilege. For that right. Nazi’s obviously did not want people, did not allow people to have free speech. You couldn’t descent. And if you did, you know, you ended up in a concentration camp.
CT: And my relatives were involved in opposing the Nazis. You know, their youth was spent in…like one uncle’s in the fourteenth army in the Burma. Said he saw horrendous things. Another one was flying planes. Cargo planes. Thirteen set out and his was the only one that arrived.I mean, my mother was on anti-aircraft guns in, at the end of the war. The only plane they shot at turned out to be an American but fortunately they missed. But, do you know, she’s got veterans badges. She was in uniform. My father was preparing to invade Japan in a tank. And so on. So, you know, my very very immediate family fought and were prepared to give their lives to oppose tyranny. And of course, it starts out insidiously with people being criticised in the press. This is what happened in Nazi Germany. And then they were, sort of, forbidden to speak. It didn’t happen overnight. It happened salami tactics. You cut off one slice at a time. You do a protest against them. You have a gang. You ostracise them. You criticise them. You stop them…books coming out. You stop them from speaking at universities. You get them dismissed from their posts at universities. Well hang on a moment. Is this sounding rather familiar? Because it’s exactly what the Nazi’s did. I’d just like to point that out in case anybody is listening. If you’re actually using this tactic to stop someone whose opinion you don’t like, or you don’t approve of, that is exactly the tactic that the Nazi’s had. And it obviously escalated. Because when people want to make a point. When they want a change in society it tends to escalate. Because they can’t achieve that change immediately. It’s not going to happen overnight. That happened, well actually it happened with the suffragettes. Because they started, when they didn’t get what they wanted straight away they started doing violent things. Slashing pictures. The Rokeby Venus in The National Gallery. Then a woman threw herself in front of a horse during the horse race and was killed. Then they started posting bombs. One went through a letterbox in Gravesend and, as it happened, was diffused by a gallant sergeant of police. Bombs! Well, actually, if they just hung on a bit, waited, it all happened. During the First World War because the country needed women in men’s jobs and then…it changed the balance. It changed the dynamic. History changes things anyway. If you’re patient it will happen.
The same thing happened in the sixties, and I was part of that. Peace and love. You want to change society. You want to get away from materialistic society. You want to bring in different ideals. Maybe spiritual ones. Maybe, you know, peace and love. And it sounds corny and stuff, but I mean it’s perfectly valid isn’t it? I mean the whole of Christianity, or a lot of it was based on it. A lot of it was based on something else with the inquisition and the crusades but what we think of as Christianity is peace and love. And so generally that’s not derided, whereas hippies are for some reason. I don’t know exactly… perhaps they should have dressed up as bishops. Mind you, they did dress up looking not much different to bishops. But they wanted ideals. They wanted to change society. They wanted to change certain things about it. And again, there was this frustration because it wasn’t happening overnight. And it started becoming increasingly agitated. And I was taking part. I was taking part in demonstrations. And there was the angry brigade that actually were using bombs, or planning to. I think they might have planted a bomb, but certainly they were involved with…that was their solution. It was the same thing. Turn to violence. You turn to more extreme measures. Well, that seemed to be happening with the movements now. Which, of various kinds, addressing valid issues, I’m sure. I have no doubt that black people have an inadequate time in our society. There’s a rather interesting Evening Standard article, in Brixton. They went down one street, was a lot of white people. Another street, a lot of black people. Well, the white people are saying the police are great. All the black people were saying that they come in, invade our house every other day. You know, we’re a perfectly respectable family. So, you know, I have no doubt that there’s racial prejudice. Yeah, sure. And I’ve no doubt that people with gender issues. You know, transexual issues and so on, have a bad time which they shouldn’t have. They should be perfectly free. To be respected. You know, and so on. In fact, one of the Stuckist artists is, I don’t know to what extent, but, he certainly stands out as being…well, he dresses in quite a feminine way. Sometimes in a goth way and he’s always worked in a garage.And it’s ok, you know, it’s ok.People accept him. That’s what should happen. I mean, but there are ways of addressing things that are best for everybody. Rather than just a small group that want to make a point because you’ve got to consider the whole of society. And maybe you’ve got somebody.who is a perfectly viable, maybe he’s very knowledgeable. Is a lecturer or a historian or a researcher, or somebody. Maybe he’s a politician, and people dig up some mistake that person has made. According to them, at some point in their lives. Maybe a careless word and suddenly they’re blacklisted. We’re not meant to say that, probably…they’re cancelled. And I think, ‘Well, that’s not very tolerant is it?’ Because it’s like implying you’ve got to be perfect. And that is really dangerous because psychologically, the only people that are perfect are the people that have got everything denied. And if it’s in denial and it’s repressed, it’s going to come out in the worst possible way. And I think the people that are making the most fuss, and are probably the people who are repressing the most stuff, They’ve probably got the most issues. And there was a lovely YouTube video I saw yesterday actually. It was this guy that dresses up in a Chinese hat and the Chinese robe. And he goes up to white people, I say white, you know, Western people they were. I think, all white people.And maybe there was the odd black person as well. They went up to them and said ‘What do you think of my costume?’ and they said it was appropriation. It’s disgusting. You know, you’ve got no right to wear it. I’m appalled etc. etc. Then he went up to Chinese people and they’re going ‘It’s lovely!’ ‘How nice you’re wearing our costume.’ ‘We like to see it. We like to see it more.’ They did the same thing with a Mexican hat and, you know, Mexican poncho, and all the Westerners, I don’t know, not even particularly woke people or anything, I don’t think, and they’re just…it’s like just ordinary Westerners. They tend to be on the younger side.And they’re saying the same thing ‘You’ve got no right to wear this. You just, you know, appropriating, demeaning somebody else’s costume. And he goes up to the Mexican people and they’re going ‘Yeah, fantastic! Brilliant. Love the hat. Looks really good on you.’ And I think there’s probably an awful lot of that. And I don’t like it at all. And I have written poems about it which I haven’t got on me, fortunately. That means I won’t have to read them out. I don’t think I’m quite ready to release them yet but, you know, there needs to be a counter-movement. Just as, actually, Stuckism was an artistic counter movement to bullshit. To pretentiousness. To manipulation of the whole art world. Which to a certain extent, doesn’t really matter because no one gives a shit about the art world. Apart from the people involved in it, but, it does deprive the rest of society of an art which would be more meaningful to them. And there’s proof of that. I mean, when Rachel Whitread had an exhibition of her stuff at Tate Modern, I’m sorry, Tate Britain, years ago. And what does she do? She does casts of things. She does a cast underneath a chair. Which is actually taken from Jeff Koons anyway, but it doesn’t matter. And then she’ll make a solid block out of what was, a space under a chair. And she did this with a room. So she did a cast inside the room. So normally, obviously, the walls are solid and the inside is a space. Well, when she did it, the inside was solid concrete, and the walls weren’t there. They were shown by indentations. She did an exhibition at Tate Britain and it had so little attention, they had to give away tickets. If you went to another exhibition that was on at the same time, you got a free ticket to hers. Because it was so embarrassing because nobody was interested in it.
Now we had an exhibition, as I’ve mentioned, of the Stuckists at The Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool in 2004 called the Stuckists Punk Victorian. And it was a massive exhibition. It was meant to be two months. It ran for five. This was a big old gallery. Very high walls and we had paintings floor to ceiling. All around this. It was like walking into a cathedral of art. And they said it was really popular. They said all sorts of people. We’ve got students, school children, tourists, artists, you know, collectors, critics, just town’s people. People coming, they were loving it because it meant something to them. I mean, there was a John Bourne painting, for example, of a family and I think they’re standing there. Maybe four people and there’s a father-looking figure with a cup of tea. I mean, somebody was saying ‘I wonder why he’s got a cup of tea and no one else.’ So they want….The people promoting conceptual art, for example, their big banner is ‘Oh, it makes people think. It makes people question.’ It does, but the thing, what it makes people question is why the fuck it’s there in the first place.They say ‘Why are you calling it art?’ You’re not questioning anything about life. You’re just questioning the people that are doing it. You know, why should we think anything of this? It doesn’t mean anything to me. I’m not getting anything from it. Why is it so good? What’s good about it? Whereas when they’re coming to the Stuckists show they’re actually engaging in a dialogue, through the painting about things which matter in their own lives. It’s like, well yeah, I mean I’m making this up, but it’s like ‘Yeah, my dad always has his cup of tea, doesn’t he, he doesn’t make me one.’ That sort of thing. You know, that’s just one example, because obviously there’s a whole load of different approaches to life in Stuckist work because it’s so varied stylistically and subject-wise. But the one thing that’s in common is that it is actually dealing with something. And in a way that people can relate to. You know, anything here, I think there’s really nothing here at all that you couldn’t look at and have a response that would mean something to you. Obviously, some would mean more. Obviously if you like funny looking cats, or kind of eighteenth century figures. Of like a donkey and a woman, you know, if you like that kind of sensitivity. Or someone’s that looking a little bit more, like sort of street cred. Whatever you want to call it. You would relate to different ones, but you could still relate to everything here. Or just like the man and the woman. You know, what are they doing? Why has he got this attitude towards her? They look as though there’s some little tension there. And obviously, tension in a relationship is something that most people can relate to. Or even just that one with just objects in the kitchen. You know, it maybe reminds you of your kitchen and you think ‘Yeah, I like my kitchen.I’ve got things in there. I like my mug. I like a bottle of wine or a saucepan. You know, I enjoy it. I cook the meal.’ and it’s kind of nice to see it and it’s kind of refreshing. The colours are upbeat. They’re not depressing. It’s kind of a nice thing to look at. And that brings me to why I paint. And I realised this in 2001 because I asked myself ‘Why do I do it?’ And I was living in West Finchley, in my living room and it was a white wall. And on it was a painting. And I thought ‘I know why I paint. Because I’d rather see that painting there than a blank white wall. I would rather this thing that I’ve created existed rather than nothing existing. Because I feel better. And it seems to me that that’s a very good reason. In fact, it’s the only reason for art. I mean, if you don’t, or poetry or anything. You know, it’s not a religion. It’s not a duty. Some things are a duty, right? Some things, maybe you get a bit bored cleaning your teeth every day but you have to do it. Or maybe you have to do something for your parents. Or someone’s ill and you think ‘Oh no, I really don’t want to go down the pharmacy but they’ve got a horrible headache or it’s that time of the month and they’ve run out of bloody tampons or sanitary towels and I’ve been commissioned to go and buy them. Why me? I’m a man. But I really feel awful, but ok, don’t worry, I’ll go.’ You do things that you don’t want to do. Well, you don’t have to do art. You don’t have to do poetry. Anything like that. So why do you do it? And I would say because it enhances life. Now, one’s got to be very precise and careful about that definition of ‘enhances’. I don’t necessarily mean it’s going to make you feel happy clappy. I mean, Leonard Cohen said ‘Seriousness is deeply agreeable to the heart.’ What I’m saying is, it makes your life better. That might well mean that actually, it takes you to a more serious or even a very sad part of yourself.
One of the most important things in human psychology is to be in touch with your emotions and feelings. And one of the easiest things to do, which one is encouraged to do from babyhood onward, is to deny and repress feelings, which is unhealthy. I went in to a lot of schools to do poetry, which is a place where you release what you really feel. And I said to a teacher ‘Well, you teach children that their feelings aren’t important, to deny their feelings.’ And they said ‘Oh no, of course we don’t.’ I said ‘Ok, fine. So you’ve got a maths lesson and the child says ‘I don’t feel like doing it’. So you say ‘That’s alright. Respect your feelings’ You don’t say that. You say ‘It doesn’t matter what you feel. You’re going to do it. This is the lesson.’ And sort of, the penny dropped. Oh, kind of ‘Yes we do.We tell them that their feelings aren’t the most important thing.’ And yet feelings are…people think feelings are wild and crazy. Well, if you do that to them, then they are.But actually, if they’re functioning properly it’s a rational hierarchical system. Because in thought you prioritise and you give value. Well you do that with feelings. You know, there’s something you have a strong feeling about, something you have an adverse feeling about, a negative feeling about. You give a whole structure. You could look round anything. I mean, I could look at all these paintings, just to take this example. I have a feeling about each of them. Well, to me, that’s not as important. It’s a bit more superficial. There’s another one that’s a bit deeper. Or anything. People that you know. You have feelings about them all. If you were to actually print out those feelings in a graph, you’d have some people at the top. ‘Oh, I have massive feelings towards those people.That person, negative feeling. Sort them all out.’ So feelings are very important. And one thing that art can do is take you to deeper feelings that you might have lost touch with. If you don’t do that. If you don’t learn and manage and be in touch with your feelings. Some people are naturally. Some people are the complete opposite. I mean, Jung made a model of air, fire and water, basically that air is opposite to water, thought is opposite to feeling. So the people who are highly developed thinkers often have very immature feelings. And you can see that in that film with Marlene Dietrich in, with the…Professor is smitten with the showgirl. He loses everything. You often see this. People who are supposedly very rational, when their feelings emerge, they go to pieces. And it’s like when you see a policeman or a fireman and something, you know, they’re tough people. And then maybe they find a dead child in an accident, or something, and they break down. Because suddenly the barriers been smashed.It took something strong to do it, but when it smashes the feelings just pour out and they’re uncontrollable. Whereas somebody else who’s more in touch with their feelings would be able to accommodate that experience.They would register it, yeah sure, as for what it was, appropriately. But there’s kind of disproportionate feelings and there’s proportionate and appropriate feelings. And if you’re healthy you have integrated an appropriate…feelings for situations.So yeah, certain things are going to make you feel angry. Certain things are going to make you feel bad, in proportion to what’s going on. Whereas if something’s repressed, when it’s triggered off it can just blow up completely because the person doesn’t know how to deal with it. You know, it’s like you have to learn how to walk and to run. Well some people have to learn to work with feelings. We all have to learn to work with feelings. Whereas it can be the other way round. Some people are very dab with their emotions. They’re comfortable with their emotions. When it comes to thinking, they’re really intimidated. And they’re frightened of thoughts. Actually frightened of certain thoughts. They don’t know how to handle certain thoughts. That’s the other way round. So that can happen as well.
So when I say that painting should make you feel better. It should enhance your life. I mean it should bring you to a better engagement with reality. And that’s one of the points of Stuckism, is truth. Billy and I sat down and we talked about it, and we tried to work out, well, what is spirituality? How does it work? And we thought, well actually the key to it is truth. Which doesn’t mean, necessarily, not telling lies. It doesn’t mean that. It means facing the truth in yourself and knowing what that truth is. At all levels. So there’s a material truth, for example, it might be that the fridge needs cleaning out. That’s a material truth. And maybe there’s an emotional truth. It’s like ‘I’m not happy with the relationship.’ You know, but I keep on bottling it up. I keep on denying it. Well you need to accept that you’re not happy with it. Instead of pretending you are because things don’t work if you pretend something different to truth. And you can take that all the way up to spiritual truth. Whatever you might define that as. To metaphysical truth. To things that are beyond the meaning of life. The meanings, for example, of why you’re doing something. You’ve got to try and face the truth of that. And maybe you’ll decide that ‘My life isn’t meaningful.I’m doing something that’s not meaningful which doesn’t satisfy me. There’s something wrong in my head with what I’m doing. I can’t square it.’ That makes things difficult because any time you question something and there’s an objection to it. Obviously it upsets the status quo. But when you work through that, the end result is beneficial. So it all comes into it. Into our thinking. And I think that one thing that’s clear is that before you have art, you have an artist. And whatever that artist is will translate into the art. So you can’t have a superficial person making profound and meaningful art. You can have someone who appears to be superficial but inside they’re not. But whoever that person is, is going to translate into the art. Art is a conversation. It’s a presentation. It’s a communication between the artist and the viewer. Just as any interaction does that. So that you meet with somebody….and I’ve found this, that sometimes I might be emotionally upset for some reason. Particularly in youth, when I was younger, I didn’t know how to handle things as well. And I talked to somebody and they’d make me feel worse. And I’d talk to somebody else, and I’d feel everything was ok. And that person embodied something. Well, the same thing in art. What they embody will go into the art. Some art will make you feel life is futile. I must say, that was my experience with the Sensation exhibition at the Royal Academy of the YBA’s. The Young British Artists. Damien Hirst and so on. When I first went in, I thought ‘This is quite exciting. Novelty. Big. All these exciting different things.’ But the third time I went to the show, it’s like, ‘This is awful. This is like nothing. It’s not enhancing my life. It’s depleting my life.’ It’s superficial. It’s masquerading as meaning when it’s not meaning anything, particularly. It doesn’t have the soul in it. Whatever you might call the soul. The soul is someone’s emotional depth. And again, this is part of the thinking that’s fed into Stuckism. And I’m not saying that all my work embodies the ideal, because, actually ideals are not good things to embody anyway.But I think some of that, that I’ve experienced in life, will come through in some of the work. It’s like Van Gogh could paint a chair or a boot, and you feel that’s symbolic of some vibrancy. Some power in life that animates existence. All of existence. Even a chair or a boot. Right, any questions?
EJ: No. Just things that were occurring to me as you were talking. I was thinking of what I consider good or bad in anything I see. Whether it’s art or music. Well if it looks like the truth then I’ll like it. For example, Bob Marley. I don’t really like his music but I watch his videos all the time because it looks like somebody who’s just doing their thing. It looks sincere. It looks like the truth. And that’s essentially the differentiator between good and bad in art, if you go as deep as you can. I think with your work, whatever it is, it’s the truth. You said Van Gogh, and Van Gogh said ‘Anything done in love is done well.’ If you can see the essential core of it is good then the rest is almost superficial. So, that was just a thought that came to me while you were talking.
Those are a couple of paintings that Charles and I did, back in the day, as collaborations.
CT: Yes, I think about the only collaborations I’ve ever done in my life. Well, in artistic terms.
EJ: And I think you should take some credit here for these ones you did at print club, because this is a method you sort of came up with. Was it out of ignorance, of not knowing how to make prints, that you came up with this method?
CT: Everything I did at the print club was out of ignorance. Which was kind of good because…I don’t know….I had done some prints at art college, you know. Some litho, etching, silk screen, but those facilities weren’t available and everything was very makeshift. Here in this room. And I thought it might be interesting to try and make up some methods of making prints. With some information from you about how some of the things might work. But then I thought, ‘That’s given me an idea to do something else.’ Which I did. I mean, the first prints I did, I just painted on a bit of paper, squashed another bit of paper and pulled it off. Then painted the same colours in the same place, and put another bit of paper…so that was a bit crude but you’ve got to start somewhere. I think a lot of people have a problem with failing. And our society encourages that. It shows people up. It ridicules people. You know, if you say ‘I don’t know what that word means.’ I mean, I didn’t know what the word ‘marinate’ means. Which Jasmine’s never let me forget. Well, I don’t know that much about cooking. I know now it means to throw a pancake out the window. No, it doesn’t mean that. No, but she will ask things if she doesn’t know. And I’m pleased to say that there’s some simple words that she didn’t know either. People should ask. You should be encouraged to try things that you want to do.
EJ: Again, it relates back to Stuckism. I think, that…specifically for SP Howarth and the like. Who have found themselves kicked out for asking the wrong question. And its like, no, you’re doing your thing. You know, your artwork isn’t dependent on whether it’s relevant to what the world’s interested in right now.Your art’s something more internal.
CT: I mean, you could say, if you’re not asking the wrong question, you’re not getting it right. Because art, and particularly poetry, for example, but also in art. But because poetry is words and dealing with ideas and concepts as well, you can perhaps illustrate it more clearly. Because we’re more of a verbal than visual culture. The reason it’s been associated with a lot of controversy…is because it’s doing the thing you’re not meant to do.Why aren’t you meant to do it? Because it’s been denied by mainstream society. And it’s an unhealthy denial. It’s something that needs to be brought forth. And we’ve got quotes in the Stuckist literature from one of the Gnostic Gospels, from Jesus saying if you don’t bring things out, forth, it will destroy you. And the same with society. An artist…are that safety valve. That they express the thing which is basically from the unconscious. That’s why it seems new and startling. Because it is. Because to the conscious mind it’s like ‘Err, I don’t know what this is.’ And, of course, a small number of people with connect with it, but most people will be following behind. Lagging behind. It’s bringing into consciousness something which has been repressed, in an unhealthy way. Let’s take Wordsworth. I mean, he seems very safe writing about daffodils and country cottages. Well, at the time, most people don’t realise this, he was like the Sex Pistols. He was like the Johnny Rotten. He was writing about vulgar subjects. Vulgar things like peasants and cottages that were beneath art. Art should be historic and grand and mythological. It shouldn’t be writing about these people. And he was and that was shocking. But obviously it’s very healthy for society that these things should have a spotlight shone on them. And then it gets integrated into the mainstream. That’s just one example. Byron’s another classical example of someone who was shocking because he pointed out things which weren’t normally pointed out, but needed to be. There needed to be a freer discourse about things. Which he was writing about. And you can just see that going throughout. I can’t remember how we got on to this from the prints.
EJ: No, but Stuckism has been documenting a lot of stuff that would otherwise have gone undocumented. Were it not for Stuckism. This kind of idea that painting is dead. Painting is the medium of yesterday. Well, that’s not what actually is happening. So I’m always trying to tie it back to Stuckism, obviously.
CT: If you’ve got Peter Doig who’s always recognised as a painter. Even throughout the period where painting was supposed to be dead, you’ve still got people like Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and they’re all recognised. Leaving Peter Doig out of it, but the other people I’ve mentioned basically had a nihilistic philosophy. And that was an acceptable approach to art, nihilism.
EJ: Yeah, so even within painting, as long as you tick one of those boxes then you’ll get through, but Stuckism is not really like that. You wouldn’t necessarily get your John Bourne’s or what have you because they don’t have, on a very shallow level, say yeah, this separates him from the bunch.
CT: It’s interesting because there’s a connection with Peter Doig because Billy Childish was at a London art college with him and they had become friends. You know, so on. There’s that connection, a certain overlap, but he, from what I know. Certainly in some of his best known works, tended to use photography. And it was like a comment on photography as much as anything else, which makes it kind of clever. You’re not just interested in the subject. You’re doing this kind of comment on different means of visual record.
EJ: I know in the manifesto you say about the experience of seeing works up in homes. As opposed to just viewing them. Do you feel any of that at this show? That there’s an experience that you wouldn’t get if it was, maybe, in Tate Modern. Just from the environmental fact of it.
EJ: Just contrast how you might experience the paintings here. Because I know that we’ve all done shows in your typical white wall gallery. I’ve done them. You’ve done them. It is a very different experience. Maybe in good ways, some ways and bad ways other ways. But I was just wondering how you experience the contrast.
CT: Well, strangely enough, most of the shows I’ve done and curated, as time went on, even more so, in spaces with white walls…I would like to point out I had the Stuckism Gallery for three years from 2002 that had maroon upstairs and green downstairs, so it wasn’t a white wall gallery.
EJ: And it was your home as well. With sofas and all that lot.
CT: I am basically curating shows…because my interest in creating them was to see the art. Like, it wasn’t to sell the work but generally speaking, that didn’t happen very much. Because by the time I had organised the show I had completely run out of steam for doing commercial stuff. Which never really interested me.What I liked was seeing the work and bringing people together. Enabling them to see their work displayed and having attention, because that’s very encouraging for artists. And to see their colleges, the Stuckists. Part of a communal effort. And that was my interest. So you could say it was effectively, rather like what you’ve done here. I was doing that on that similar basis. I wasn’t thinking ‘Oh, right, the world’s press… well to start with there was more of that going on. But as time went on it lessened…the world’s press beating their way to the show. They didn’t end up doing that very much. And as I say, I’d run out of steam and by then I was a bit of a one man band. Because when we started out at the Gallery 108 in 1999, Joe Crompton was the gallerist, Billy and I were both there. He had his contacts. I was contacting people in the press. When you’ve got a small number of people working together, and they’re doing something, it’s much easier. But eventually I was really doing everything. Well I wasn’t literally sitting there, manning the…I think you were doing some invigilation but I was doing all the organising. And that’s it. I had enthusiasm for doing the organising of the work but I never really enjoyed promoting stuff for the press and doing PR and all that stuff. Even though I’ve done an awful lot of it, quite successfully. Just because you can do something, and you can do it well and you can do it successfully, doesn’t mean it’s what you want to do. Or even that you should carry on doing. It was a means to an end. If Stuckism and the art could be promoted without me having to do all of that, I’d just click my fingers and say ‘Great!’ But it couldn’t. Wouldn’t have been. We wouldn’t even be here in this room, this small show where I’m the only visitor to date. I think Don Takeshita-Guy is threatening to come along. We wouldn’t even have this if it wasn’t for that press promotion.
But you want to talk about Stuckism. You see, for me, I’m kind of jaded with talking about Stuckism because I’ve been doing it for 22 years and you get fed up saying the same thing. I mean, I used to work on a hospital switchboard. I was on there seven years part-time. And I calculated at the end I said ‘ophthalmic hospital’ a quarter of a million times. But eventually, when I walked away from work all my limbs were aching. As soon as I left the job all the ache went. So I’ve learnt to recognise that now. I’ve got no control over it. I mean, I went to art college, obviously, then I gave up art, got into poetry. I was doing children’s poetry. I was going round schools. I was earning a lot of money. Really good money. I went to 700 schools over thirteen years, but at the end of it, it was just like a money machine. And I thought, ‘This is not why I’m doing poetry.’ I was jaded. I was fed up with it. And I was very successful. I mean, you know, I’m in over a hundred anthologies for children. For Penguin and Oxford Press. I was doing really well. And I got back into painting, and I had to give up the children’s poetry even though I was doing really well in it because I couldn’t do both at the same time.Because you’re doing children’s poetry, I mean, you get an editor getting in touch saying ‘I’m doing a book on ghosts for nine to eleven year olds.’ and you have to sit there writing half a dozen on ten poems. Well, that takes time and energy and I needed that time and energy for doing painting. Or promoting Stuckism, or whatever. I had to ease my way out of it. And I stopped doing it. I haven’t done any children’s poems for the last twenty years. In fact, I didn’t do any adult poetry because before, when I was doing children’s poetry, I squeezed out all the adult poetry as well. And then after twenty years, and this happened about three years ago, suddenly the tsunami happened inside. You know, the dam broke and I wrote about four hundred poems in a year and a half. I wrote as many in eighteen months as I had written in eighteen years. They’re the best ones I’ve written.
EJ: You tend to paint a bit like that don’t you. You just have an avalanche of paintings. Then a long period of nothing. Then another avalanche of paintings.
CT: Yeah, phases of things. I’ll illustrate with the poetry, but it applies to the paintings as well. When I was doing this big outburst of poems about three years ago, I put everything I could to one side. Because one came after another, after another. I’d opened up the tap. And now I’ve had to switch the tap off. I could open it again and more poems would come out, but I’ve got to do other stuff. So when I went through a change in my painting, in 2013 I think it was, I put everything to one side, and some very interesting opportunities came up. New things came up, like at the time things came up and I thought ‘This could make a story. This could get in the national press.’ And I thought ‘I can’t do it because I’ve got to do the painting.‘ You know, if I get involved with that I won’t be doing the painting. And the trouble is, when you’re multi-functional, when you’re doing all sorts of things. Not just doing the painting. You’re doing the PR. You’re doing the press. You’re doing the curating. You know, you’re doing the timetables. You’re sending out the emails. You’re doing all the secretarial, all the administrative stuff. You’re doing the whole lot, it takes over. It blocks everything out. So in order to be a painter I had to block all that out and not do any of it. And it worked.
What’s really awkward and difficult is that recently I’ve had to do some commission work, and I’m not in a painting phase. So some of it’s taken ten times as long as it should, because I haven’t got it right. Because I’m not really, kind of quite in that zone. And also I’ve sort of defaulted back to an earlier style which takes loads of time, which I didn’t want to do. So I would say, if you like, I’ve got it a bit wrong in what I’ve done. The paintings are good, you know. I’m doing a good job on them. But for me, artistically, that’s not what I want to do. Next time I will do it differently because I’ll know what the mistake is. And that’s another interesting thing in life. Often you have to make the mistake to know what it is. You have to get it wrong to learn why it’s wrong, because otherwise you won’t know it’s wrong. And obviously you didn’t know it’s wrong, or you wouldn’t have done it.
EJ: And the fruits of all your wrong labour will have their own value anyway. So you can’t go wrong really can you? Whatever you do.
CT: Well, that’s something else as well because nothing’s wasted. I do believe that. I’m thinking of bringing out a book called failed relationships. Of poems, called ‘Failed Relationships’. Because most people’s relationships have failed, aren’t they? In conventional terms because people don’t stick together. And actually people that do stick together, sometimes their relationships aren’t very good anyway. So is that a failed relationship? I mean, you could say ‘My parents stuck together their whole lives. Probably sixty years. But there was stuff underneath the surface. There was tensions. There was issues, you know. So is that a successful or a failed? These are just values you put on things. To me, everything’s an experience and I’ve…I’ve talked to somebody about that recently. They said ‘Oh, I’ve mucked up my life’ I said ‘No you haven’t.Because through doing this you’ve got an awful lot of depth of experience. Of knowledge and insight into various things that you wouldn’t have had if you’d just had a superficial easy life.’ I said ‘You haven’t mucked it up at all.You did what you could at the time and now you’ve left that behind and you’re in a different phase. Suddenly you’re free from that. But what you’re now thinking of doing, some creative work. Some writing or whatever, you’re talking about actually using that material. So obviously it’s not wasted.’ I mean, there’s a lot of things. Simple things that society should change.