|A Stuckist on Stuckism
The Art History Archive - Stuckism
A STUCKIST ON STUCKISM
BATTLE OF TRAFALGAR
I was rather surprised to see Sir Nicholas Serota, the Director of the Tate Gallery, appear in front of me in Trafalgar Square. He had made his way from the celebrity group through the common throng to seek me out. I thought at first he had come along for a friendly chat, till I noticed an expression taut with suppressed rage and heard him intone (he intones rather than talks), "That was a cheap shot, using another artist's work to promote your ideas."
The artist in question was Rachel Whiteread, whose sculpture Plinth (a resin cast of an empty plinth inverted on the empty plinth, thus making two empty plinths) had just been unveiled by the then-Culture Minister, Chris Smith before a renta-crowd of dignitaries. Smithy was my political rival, as I was standing against him in Islington South and Finsbury as a Stuckist candidate in the then current 2001 General Election. The moment he left the podium, I saw an unexpected opportunity, leapt over the metal crowd barrier (scraping my shin in the process), stepped onto the now-vacant platform and began addressing the crowd through the PA system about the shortcomings of conceptual art and the Turner Prize, which was delivering its yearly snub to Turner and all other painters by completely ignoring them.
I was holding a large placard which read 'MR SMITH, DO YOU REALLY THINK THIS STUPID PLINTH IS A WORK OF ART?' Simultaneously other Stuckist artists and supporters, strategically situated, held up placards with their own messages. Among this elite cadre were fiery poet S.P. Howarth (soon to be kicked out of Camberwell College), 'the Giggly Girls' (Susan Finlay and Katherine Gardner), an African Stuckist, a Basque Stuckist, Kat Evans and Stella Vine. One of the Royal Society of Arts organisers then summoned the presence of mind to turn off the power to the PA, and I returned to what I erroneously assumed was anonymity in the crowd.
"It's Dada," I retorted promptly in an attempt to placate the irate Tate man with a reference to the disruptive World War One artists, whose weak latter-day descendents in Britart he so tirelessly promotes. The suggestion that he had just witnessed an historic act in a recognised art tradition did nothing to placate him and he carried on his attack: "So that gives you the right to do whatever you want to do whenever you want to do it?"
It seemed fairly obvious he meant the opposite to this, and, remembering he had in the past talked enthusiastically about his desire to work closely with artists' needs (and indeed how art should be challenging and artists not afraid of causing offence), I thought I would try an appeal in this direction: "You and a few people like you control the art world and what goes on in it, and as artists this is the only way we can put our point of view across."
I'm not sure whether he understood he was checkmated, or whether he
realised he was being video'd, but he gave a dismissive wave of the
hand, as with a feudal lord to an irritating serf, and stalked back
through the throng. Obviously we had mounted the wrong kind of challenge
and not been afraid of causing the wrong kind of offence. Nevertheless
the encounter was a fine piece of street theatre. "That was Sir Nicholas
Serota, the director of the Tate Gallery," I shouted. "Three cheers
for Sir Nicholas." But no one did.
is a radical and controversial art group that was co-founded in 1999
by Charles Thomson and Billy Childish (who left in 2001) along with
eleven other artists. The name was derived by Thomson from an insult
to Childish from his ex-girlfriend, Brit artist Tracey Emin, who had
told him that his art was 'Stuck'. Stuckists are pro-contemporary
figurative painting with ideas and anti-conceptual art, mainly because
of its lack of concepts. Stuckists have regularly demonstrated dressed
as clowns against the Turner Prize. Several Stuckist Manifestos have
been issued. One of them Remodernism inaugurates a renewal of spiritual
values for art, culture and society to replace the emptiness of current
Postmodernism. The web site www.stuckism.com, started by Ella Guru,
has disseminated these ideas, and in five years Stuckism has grown
to an international art movement with over eighty groups round the
In January 1999 I was propped up in bed late at night in my suburban Finchley semi, which overlooked a stream and trees. During the previous three months I had assembled an embryonic art group, but had frustratingly failed to find an effective name for it. I started thinking about conversations with Billy Childish, with whom there had been a recent reconciliation after several years of little contact. On more than one occasion he had recited part of one of his poems to me, which recorded Tracey's invective that he was 'stuck' with his art, poetry and music. Apparently to make sure he didn't miss her drift, she reinforced it with: 'stuck! stuck! stuck!'
Impressionism was derived from the criticism 'impression' (i.e. that Claude Monet's work was not a properly finished painting) by Louis Leroy in 1874 in Le Charivari magazine. One hundred and twenty-five years later, I felt it would be best to be pre-emptive with this new insult: 'stuck-ism' would do nicely.
I buttonholed Billy in his Chatham kitchen a few days later as he
was about to leave for a nearby poetry reading, and he agreed fairly
casually to co-found this new art group Stuckism, once I had assured
him I would do all the work, as his schedule was already full. There
wasn't a problem with membership. That had been sorted out over the
previous two decades.
The 1979 version was called The Medway Poets, whose core membership and associates subsequently formed the first Stuckist art group. It started in 1975 when Bill Lewis and his friend Rob Earl ran a series of poetry performances Outcrowd at the Lamb pub (later renamed Drake's Crab and Oyster House) by the River Medway in Maidstone, Kent. I was a student at Maidstone College of Art at the time and read at one of them. Billy read at a different one. These readings led into more of the same from 1979 onwards, promoted in The York pub backroom in Chatham by Alan Denman, a tutor at Medway Art College. That was where I first encountered Billy.
Driven on by Bill Lewis's fetish for all things Berlin Cabaret and the current punk explosion, in 1979 we formed an anarchic poetry performance group named by Bill The Medway Poets. As well as the later-to-be-founding-Stuckists Bill, Billy, Sexton Ming and myself were Rob Earl and Miriam Carney, my then girlfriend. Other subsequent founding Stuckists, Philip Absolon and Sanchia Lewis (Billy's girlfriend before Tracey), also contributed poetry.
Sheila Clark (whom Billy secretly married during his relationship with Tracey), Wolf Howard and Joe Machine were accrued over the next few years, although by then I was out of the loop, though not out of the area. I used to bump into Charles Williams in Safeway after he became a student at Maidstone Art College. His girlfriend was a friend of fellow student Tracey Emin - and eventually ended up, to her (innocent) chagrin, on a wall of the now incinerated tent. I met Eamon Everall when my first wife left me for him. Thus eleven out of the first thirteen-strong Stuckist group had been drawn into a small but complex network, where some people knew most people, but no one knew everybody.
The Stuckists put themselves forward now as artists, but there is, and always has been, work in all media - film, photography, performance, music, fiction, poetry and painting. In 1979 there was a series of one-man painting shows at Peter Waite's Rochester Pottery, though at that time it was poetry that was to the fore as a group identity.
The Medway Poets performed at pubs, colleges and festivals, notably the 1981 International Cambridge Poetry Festival. Bill Lewis jumped on a chair, threw his arms wide (at least once hitting his head on the ceiling) and pretended he was Jesus. Billy sprayed his poems over anyone too close to him and drank whisky excessively. Miriam told the world about her vagina. Rob and I did a joint performance posing, with little difficulty, as deranged, self-obsessed writers. Sexton finally introduced us to his girlfriend, Mildred, who turned out to be a wig on a wadge of newspaper on the end of an iron pipe. She liked his poems.
In 1982 TVS broadcast a documentary on the group. The night it was filmed, Billy ended up in tears over a parting from Sanchia, but found consolation afterwards at a party in Gillingham, when he melded with a new woman 'Dolli' aka 'Traci' (later 'Tracey') Emin, an eighteen-year-old fashion student, in what turned out to be an intense obsessive relationship. I had a lot of sympathy for her (if you want to know what Billy was like in 1979, then look at what Tracey was like in 1999).
She called round occasionally to seek solace and show me her writing, which Bill later 'edited' into reasonable shape, I printed and Billy published as Six Turkish Tales (Hangman 1987). This was one of dozens of publications at the time. After only a couple of high-powered intense years, the poets drifted apart, with intermittent awkward reconvenings, such as the 1987 reading for The Medway Poets LP (now £46 on EBay).
In 1997 I bumped into Billy and his then-partner Kyra de Coninck at the back of the Leicester Square Warner cinema, after watching Wayne's World, and over the following two years entered into an increasing dialogue with him. To my surprise, the intervening years had brought a convergence, especially through the overlap of our spiritual interests - his via Buddhism and mine from Kabbalah - including research into astrology and 'past lives', as well as an overlap in cinematic entertainment.
I also called into Tracey's Waterloo Road 'Museum'. I had only just
re-entered art after a fifteen year sabbatical (so, coincidentally,
had Bill Lewis) when I was a full-time poet and took no interest in
the art world. I was rather taken aback that Tracey obviously now
considered herself on a different level and something of an art celebrity.
She didn't look much different to me, although she did look at me
Billy was on board and the group had (re)constituted itself fairly quickly and easily. It turned out that Billy had also already garnered an embryonic group with the name Group Hangman, and had even issued some manic manifestos, which were the starting point for the later Stuckist manifestos. Hangman Communication 0001 (7.7.97) states, 'The conceptual artist arrives on the scene and frozen with fear, like some anal retard, is too scared to transmute their ideas into paint.'
Sexton Ming began proclaiming confidently he was 'stuck', and then
asked, "My girlfriend Ella (Guru) does good paintings - can she join?"
She in turn enlisted her friend Frances Castle. Ella provided the
expertise to start the Stuckist web site, and I spent hours with her
cooped up in the room she shared with Sexton off the Holloway Road.
It was an exciting project and there was the sense that we could reach
out to the world. However, for the first few months there were only
thirty-two hits on the site, thirty of them from Ella updating the
site (and the other two, we suspect, from Frances). The site kept
chugging quietly along and it's now over 100,000 - and not all from
Ella. Most of the Stuckist groups have made their initial contact
through the site. Stuckism is the first significant art movement to
spread via the Internet.
A DYSFUNCTIONAL DECADE OF SAATCHI ART
In the seventies, when I was at college (where my degree show included an installation, was dubbed Postmodern and I succeeded in being the only person to fail in ten years), it was assumed that you concentrated on doing good work and then got passed up the chain till you reached the level you deserved, whether Royal-College-of-Art-graduate-turned-Head-of-Art-Department-on-a-lucrative-salary or independent-go-it-alone-artist-existing-on-a-good-hourly-rate-as-a-part-time-tutor. Eventually, when your career had failed, you became a Royal Academician. There was a system and it worked on some rough approximation to merit.
A decade of Britart in the nineties changed all that. A new factor was introduced into a delicately balanced art eco-system, namely an advertising mogul, whose massive financial, media and personal presence raged through the art jungle like a firestorm and left the literally burnt remains we face today.
Previously galleries nurtured artists and showed their work every five years. Saatchi swept into an artist's studio, bought their entire oeuvre in fifteen minutes and then, if they were lucky, gave them that amount of Warholian fame. His superb promotional acumen shot a handful of artists to overnight (and sometimes durable) success, but his erratic spontaneous inclinations dropped a lot more quietly back into obscurity just as quickly.
It makes the art world randomly exciting, but does nothing to encourage any sustained development. What it has encouraged is a predominance of disposable, take-away, junk art, in a private emporium on the South Bank whose displays have the ersatz quality of a theme park. This kind of art is justified by the argument that it is a reflection of today's society. I find there is quite enough of today's society already, without adding to it.
It became possible because a startlingly innovative and original showman-cum-artist's aspirations synchronised perfectly with Saatchi's needs. Damien Hirst always wanted to be famous, and had the knack not only of finding a loud niche in the by-then febrile art world structure, but also of effortlessly acting the part of a Harry Enfield type character, the ridiculous yob artist, for the tabloids. Saatchi is an ad man, who once ran the biggest agency in the world. He is a genius at advertising, but that is not much use without a product to advertise. Hirst was only too happy (then - he's not any more) to provide one. Saatchi switched from promoting Margaret Thatcher to promoting a dead shark, which some might think was not such a big change. He was certainly equally successful with both.
By the late nineties the predominance of the Hirst-led yBa's (young Brtish artists - a name devised by Saatchi) was undisputed. Those artists who had raised a voice of protest usually wore tweed jackets, sported beards, smoked pipes and had never even visited Hoxton, let alone lived in it, so they carried little credibility and were easily dismissed as 'reactionary' or 'traditionalists', the worst things you can be in brave new artspeak.
David Hockney became a celebrity in the sixties because he was recognised as the leading artist of his generation; he backed it up with a novelty line in glitzy gold jackets and distinctive glasses. Tracey Emin became a celebrity in the nineties because she got drunk and said "fuck" a lot of times on television; she backed it up with a novelty line in embroidered tents and unmade beds. That illustrates the change that had taken place in values.
The celebrity caucus of yBa's promoted by Saatchi effectively excluded all who were not part of it. Art students now saw their goal not as producing good art, but as producing art which they hoped Saatchi would buy, and that art was known to be 'novelty art' for a self-confessed neophiliac. Tracey Emin is remarkable for gatecrashing her way into, and eventually upstaging, that elite circle, which proves that anyone could have done it if they were ambitious and/or desperate enough.
The main requirements are an art gimmick, shameless self-promotion, getting to know as many right people as possible, and, it would seem, finding some way of blotting out the hideousness of it all. Damien Hirst put it with his usual understated eloquence: "I started taking cocaine and drink… I turned into a babbling fucking wreck." (On the Way to Work, Damien Hirst & Gordon Burn, Faber 2001)
There are many worthwhile artists who are constitutionally incapable
of this route. They have too much integrity and are not prepared to
pander to idiots. Their careers are doomed. I had known artists with
doomed careers since the Medway Poets days. I felt particularly outraged
that the reward for their integrity and dedication to their art, in
lieu of dedication to going to the right parties (they do go to parties,
but the wrong ones), was obscurity. I had no doubt their art had considerably
more achievement, originality, intelligence and depth than the art
that was being mass-marketed as the leading brand, sorry - art, of
"A REVOLUTION WAITING TO HAPPEN" - THE
Anyone of reasonable intellect can only look at so many reproductions of a murky greenish pickled shark in colour supplements and magazines, before they start questioning why there are never any reproductions at all of Philip Absolon's witty, haunting paintings of jobless skeletons, Joe Machine's depiction of his gaunt, iconic bare-knuckle-boxer grandfather, Paul Harvey's exquisitely-wrought, affectionately lacerating recast of Tara Palmer-Tomkinson as one of Mucha's art nouveau vamps with a background of razor blades, Ella Guru's beehive wig-wearing demimonde pub musicians, transvestites and absinthe drinkers, or Bill Lewis's depiction of his quest for God through images of tumbling ladders, trickster white dogs and blindfolded unattainable lovers. At the very least it would provide a bit more variety.
This anomalous situation was a spur for starting Stuckism, which aims is to replace Britart with Stuckism in this country and to change art worldwide. It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it. We have everything on our side - a collection of ramshackle artists and a shoestring budget - against the spiritual and creative poverty of an entrenched self-replicating multi-million pound art establishment.
One thing is certain. It is no good relying on good art to win through by itself. If you want to get anybody to take any notice of the art, you have to get the attention of the media, which already had its art agenda dominated by the Saatchi/Serota axis. Most of the Stuckist artists have nothing to do with the PR side of things and wouldn't be in the group if they were expected to, though some such as Philip Absolon and ex-Para Daniel Pincham-Phipps (Southend Stuckists) stand there cheerfully and determinedly holding protest placards in all weathers every year outside the Tate.
In 1969, aged sixteen, I hired a council hall to run the Havering Arts Lab for performance art. When my second booking was cancelled by the council, I informed the local Havering Express, whose next headline promptly proclaimed in the biggest type face they could fit in: "SEX ORGY TALE - GROUP BANNED". So it was that easy to become front page news.
When the Medway Poets started, stories were fed to, and regularly appeared in, the regional and occasionally national press, culminating in the TVS documentary on the group. This level of media prestige greatly impressed the local aspiring art community, and became a model for others to emulate, Tracey Emin being the most, and rather excessively, successful in this regard.
Shortly after the foundation of the Stuckists in 1999, Tracey was nominated for the Turner Prize, and on 29 July Harry Phibbs of the Evening Standard Londoner's Diary relished pointing out the connection. The Sunday Times Culture supplement followed in hot pursuit with the Stuckists featured on their cover, and a story inside that included such gems as Sexton Ming's transformation of Brit Art to 'Brit Shit'. Not long after, Dalya Alberge of The Times wrote a full-page article on a 'revolution waiting to happen', with three paintings in full colour, including Wolf Howard's Dog and Cat Underwater. "I bet you didn't think that would end up in The Times," I said to him. "No," he replied, "I thought it would end up in the skip."
Other papers and television programmes (including Jeremy Paxman's very serious Newsnight) were fascinated by the novel spat taking place with the added potency of the ex-lovers' feud. Tracey was not best pleased. In fact she was privately very angry, felt she was being exploited, ordered Billy not to speak to the press and to tell me, helpfully, that I should be 'careful' whom I spoke to as it could get 'distorted'. She reversed her normal policy of raging at those who displeased her, and maintained an immaculate public silence, with closet irate calls to journalists.
whole of Britart instinctively closed ranks. Artists such as Hirst,
who normally bent over backwards for the media (on more than one occasion
literally) were remarkably unavailable when asked to take place in
debates with the Stuckists. Even prestigious programmes such as Radio
4's Today were left empty-handed and had to substitute Richard
Cork, then art critic of The Times. Newsnight finally managed
to obtain one artist in the Saatchi collection willing to appear for
the defence of conceptual art, Brad Lochore, although, ironically,
he was a painter.
108 AND JOE CROMPTON
Gallery 108 was named after its address, 108 Leonard Street in Hoxton. It is now occupied by the offices of Sally Hope, theatrical agent for the likes of Rowan Atkinson. In 1999, however, she was a behind-the-scenes partner with Joe Crompton, the unsung hero of Stuckism. Joe was fresh-faced, bright-eyed and not long out of college. In 1997 he had converted the initially-floorless ground floor into a small gallery which he dedicated to painting - in a district renowned as the breeding ground of conceptual art. He often stayed the night in a sleeping bag on the floor, which he had by then installed, and relied on food handouts from Home restaurant next door.
Frances Castle lived in a loft apartment just round the corner in
Phipp Street, close by the site of The Theatre, where some of Shakespeare's
most renowned plays, including Hamlet, were first performed before
his company decamped to South of the river. Frances subsequently decamped
also, because of spiralling rent in the area. Fortunately, before
this happened, she wandered into the gallery and introduced herself
Apparently he seemed fairly casual about everything and might well be willing to show the Stuckists. I didn't have any contacts in the London gallery world and pitched up clutching The Sunday Times Culture supplement as my passport. Within five minutes we had a show booked for four weeks time. It was called STUCK! STUCK! STUCK! which was painted at the last minute in bold black letters above the gallery window. Preparation for it was frenzied, TV crews and journalists buzzed around and the private view spilled across the street, as proper private views should. Billy cheerfully responded in interviews, "I don't like a lot of the work." One TV report used background music from Stealers Wheel, whose lyrics went:
It even contained a line for Joe:
The First Art Show of the New Millenium
There was support from another venue also. The First Art Show of
the New Millennium opened at 00.00 on 1.1.00 in the late Danielle
Dodd's Salon des Art in Kensington, which also hosted several talks
and in June that year a Students for Stuckism show, co-ordinated by
Matthew Robinson with students from Camberwell, St Martin's, Chelsea,
UCL and Falmouth.
The Resignation of Sir Nicholas Serota
next show at Gallery 108 was in March 2000, and titled The Resignation
of Sir Nicholas Serota, though he signally failed to take the
hint. Several artists painted work on the theme; Ella did a fetching
watercolour of the Tate Director with a dead horse hanging upside
down from the ceiling. I managed to finish Sir Nicholas Serota
Makes an Acquisitions Decision just in time. It shows him standing
behind a large pair of red knickers on a washing line, wondering if
they are a genuine Emin artwork or not. Guest artists were shown for
the first time, including the Students for Stuckism group from Camberwell
College of Art. Two of them, Katherine Gardner and Susan Finlay, were
inseparable and became known as 'The Giggly Girls' because they giggled
so much. The show toured The Arts Club in Mayfair, the Red Dot Gallery
in Ipswich and the Folkestone Metropole Arts Centre.
The Real Turner Prize Show (2000)
Then Joe closed the gallery and became the Artistic Director of a new software company superHumanism.com. He persuaded them to turn their company launch into a Stuckist exhibition titled The REAL Turner Prize show, which took place in October 2000 at the other end of Leonard Street in what was then the Pure Gallery. Maeve Kennedy commented in The Guardian (24.10.2000):
The Stuckists believe in getting their retaliation in first, and their bribes upfront: the invitations for their exhibition opening gave the lunch menu, running from champagne to bitter chocolate tarts, more prominence than the artists.
she scrupulously (and with some personal difficulty) refrained from
the bribe of chocolate tarts, she did nevertheless in her report also
succeed in giving them more prominence than the artists. There was
a crammed attendance throughout the evening at the private view, including
a posse of professors from the Royal College of Art, an expensively-dressed
lady delivered by limousine, and someone from my old Foundation course
who thought that entitled him to walk out with bottles of wine. As
an adjunct to the show, we staged our first anti-Turner Prize demo
outside Tate Britain.
NICHOLAS SEROTA KEEPS ON BUMPING INTO PEOPLE
Superhumanism had agreed to fund a catalogue, which was compiled in a frenetic week for the printer's deadline, thanks to Kat Evans, a history of art student at University College London, who, unlike me at the time, owned a computer. Billy and I subsequently left a signed copy at the Tate for Sir Nicholas. It included my painting of him standing behind the red knickers.
Ranko Bon, a sort of 'postcard artist' (i.e. he sends out postcards with a text to his mailing list and has had displayed them in a gallery), had this story on one of his missives:
But the hapless Chairman of the Turner Prize Jury was not going to get off that lightly. Five days after the opening where I'd stood up Ranko, Sir Nicholas Serota was enacting his own performance art piece called Getting the Family Shopping in the Holloway Waitrose, when he was accosted yet again, this time by a mischievous American called Ella Guru. Her journal takes up the tale:
As far as we know he did not visit the show, and nor did the Turner
Prize jury, which Simon Wilson, then Tate Curator of Interpretation,
promised would come along in a Radio 4 Today programme debate
with Joe Crompton.
FIVE SHOWS AND TWO EX-STRIPPERS
On 31 May 2001 we launched five shows simultaneously in South and North London - three in Brixton including the Fridge Gallery and two in Hoxton at Harold Werner Rubin's Rivington Gallery and its annexe. (Harold also hosted the Real Turner Prize Show 2001 and later gained some brief national celebrity after he received a gas bill for nearly six billion pounds.) They were all called Vote Stuckist and coincided with my standing for the General Election as a Stuckist candidate.
the launch, which was at the Fridge Club, Stella Vine introduced herself
to me. She had just started painting, and I included her work in the
show. By mistake we ended up getting married in New York a couple
of months later (and separating a couple of months after that). Ella
Guru, who like Stella, is an ex-stripper, was convinced it was all
a publicity stunt. Maybe she knew something I didn't
ARTISTS IN THE ARTS CLUB
The Arts Club in Dover Street was founded by Dickens amongst others in 1863, and termed 'a most agreeable society'. I was a member from 1998-2002 and was allowed by the then Club Secretary Ian Campbell to use the bar on Thursday evenings for monthly meetings of Stuckist artists and friends. The members were exemplary in their tolerance and friendliness towards some decidedly unorthodox-looking individuals, especially when Billy Childish pitched up one evening straight from a band tour looking like an old tramp.
The Stuckists dutifully followed the dress code of 'smart casual' with obligatory jacket, and the only crisis occurred when one of the young members (termed by themselves collectively the 'young fogeys') complained with a scowl that one of my guests was wearing trainers. However, it transpired the guest had been invited by another not quite so fogeyish young fogey and was not a Stuckist at all.
Remarkably The Resignation of Sir Nicholas Serota show was
hung in the Club basement room after its debut at Gallery 108 (tactfully
renamed The Stuckists: New Paintings, as Serota was an ex officio
member, not that he ever went near the place). Billy and I also gave
a talk on Stuckism and Remodernism which was well-attended and received
by members and guests. There have been some genuine expressions of
regret that the meetings eventually petered out, especially; from
Philip Absolon who does a good Augustus John look-alike act and found
the Club a fitting environment to identify with his eccentric hero.
THE CLOWNS AT THE TATE
This is not a reference to the curators, but to the Stuckist anti-Turner Prize demonstrations, the first of which was on 28 November 2000. We turned up dressed as clowns, on the premise that the Tate had been turned into a circus. There was a lot of anticipation, crowd barriers across the steps of Tate Britain and a throng of orange-clad security guards, borrowed from Tate Modern. I was being video'd for a Channel 4 documentary on Charles Saatchi and had to travel from Finchley by tube in a ballooning bright yellow clown costume with a rainbow wig and red nose, which made me feel a little self-conscious en route.
As I turned into Milbank a guard spoke into his walky-talky, "Clown number one is arriving. Clown number one is arriving." I think this was because I was the first to arrive, rather than an estimate of my status. Meanwhile the Giggly Girls were arriving from Dulwich in their own clown costumes being filmed for an E4 documentary in a series of stars of the future. Ella looked magisterial in a padded red M & M costume, Matthew Robinson managed a red nose under his cloth cap, but the undoubted media hit was Charlotte Gavin (a Student for Stuckism) in a Cat Woman costume flicking a whip.
The winner of the Art Clown of the Year Award for outstanding idiocy in the visual arts was announced as Charles Saatchi by Margaret Walsh, Damien Hirst's godmother. (It was won hands-down for the following three years by Sir Nicholas Serota.) Then the parade of clowns trooped into the Tate to see the Turner Prize Show for achievement in art, which was won by commercial fashion photographer Wolfgang Tillmans. The Guardian's story on the winner was headlined 'Turner winner riles the Stuckists', which probably riled the Turner winner. The Tate refused to allow the BBC to interview me in the Turner show, on the grounds that I would criticise it, and this would upset Wolfgang. The reporter confidently began her report by reporting this.
We repeated the clown demonstrations the following two years, and varied it in 2003 by swapping red noses for blow up sex dolls referring to the Chapman brothers' sculpture of the same subject. As guests arrived for the prize ceremony, they were greeted by the announcement, "Turner Prize preview - see the original here and the copy inside." Jay Jopling walked past stony-faced. Jake Chapman took it in his stride. Tracey Emin acted as though she hadn't noticed we were there (she probably hadn't).
the guests were safely seated inside for dinner and the Prize ceremony.
Sir Nicholas Serota introduced the guest of honour Sir Peter Blake.
Tension was at its height. The live broadcast was about to reveal
this year's winner. Blake began his short speech with a comment that
he was surprised to be invited, as he had previously been invited
to judge the Not the Turner Prize and to join the Stuckist
demonstration outside. There were cheers. Probably from Sir Nicholas.
demonstration in 2001 against Rachel Whiteread's Plinth has
already been described. There was a different one on 25 July 2002,
when the Stuckists in customary clown regalia carried a coffin marked
'The death of conceptual art' down Charlotte Road and deposited it
outside the White Cube Gallery (which represents Emin and Hirst) in
Hoxton Square. This is the official date for the demise of conceptual
art, though I think we were wrong, as I don't see how something can
be dead if it didn't have any life to begin with.
Charles Saatchi and the OFT attack
In March 2004 a dozen complaints were lodged with the OFT (Office
of Fair Trading) by Stuckists and others such as Christopher Fiddes
of the Movement for Classical Renewal, alleging Charles Saatchi's
practices were a breach of the Competition Act. After a few weeks
of intense deliberation and media features, the OFT replied, 'we do
not have reasonable grounds to suspect that Charles Saatchi is in
a dominant position in any relevant market,' which was just another
cruel smack in the face for him.
A demonstration we didn't even do deserves to be recorded. It was carried out independently in Spring 2003 by someone called Piers Butler, who, it transpired months later, was also the founder of the Notting Hill Stuckists. Cornelia Parker had been allowed to create an 'artwork' in Tate Britain by wrapping Rodin's sculpture The Kiss in a mile of string. Piers turned up at the Tate with a sharp implement, cut the string and began removing it, on the reasonable premise that if Rodin had wanted it wrapped in a mile of string he would have done so himself in the first place.
I was puzzled that Parker had been allowed to do her string-wrapping
- thereby using another artist's work to promote her ideas - as this
was precisely the allegation that an enraged Serota had thrown at
me in Trafalgar Square and dubbed a 'cheap shot'.
WRITTEN A MANIFESTO"
"How do I deal with this?" I thought to myself in August 1999, as Billy read to me over the phone a Stuckist manifesto he had just written with such gems as "the Stuckist must always endeavour to fail," "Stuckists… are glorious in their courage to be loathed, hated and despised," and "personal expression should… allow the artist to experience him/herself as crap."
It could provide a clue as to why he felt the artists weren't always in tune with his ideas. I asked him to explain what he meant by some of the phrases and very soon I had got sucked into co-writing a new manifesto The Stuckists based on it. I don't even like manifestos, but I recognised we needed some kind of public text. Billy was determined and provided the driving force for this and subsequent co-written effusions.
It is sadly simple to arouse an incandescent reaction in the current art climate of doctrinaire thinking, especially when opponents readily refer to statements we have never written in the first place and ask, for example, how we can possibly defend the statement that nobody should do anything apart from painting. As they've fantasised it into existence, it's up to them to find a suitable defence, I reckon.
Most people either never get as far as the end of the first manifesto or suffer from some form of temporary blindness when they do, as they seem oblivious of the clause that exempts us from everything (well, not quite everything):
The best known, most quoted and most contentious statement is:
This arouses criticism for being dogmatic, usually from the same people who would have no problem reiterating a dogma that suited them such as 'painting is dead'. Our statement seems to me quite clearly a happy logical contradiction. However, people are welcome to see it as dogmatic and get angry about it if it helps.
Billy has studied Buddhism and practised it with Vipassana meditations, sitting still for ten hours a day. I have studied and taught Kabbalah (though not the Hollywood brand of it) for nearly thirty years. Both these spiritual disciplines have fed into the manifestos, which were always intended as catalysts and not a creed. Artists were attracted to Stuckism because they identified with the spirit of it. The manifestos are only one manifestation of Stuckism, but, because we are in a culture where it is generally easier to read words than pictures, they have assumed more importance than they should. The real manifestos are on canvas and written with brushes. Nevertheless, it has to be said that the manifestos are classics in the genre.
Billy was very keen on putting God into our second manifesto Remodernism,
and this succeeded in rousing even more hostility than non-painting
artists not being artists. God, we discovered, is customarily squashed
in the recesses of the contemporary collective shadow, causes even
more offence than tradition, and should not be freely thought about
in a free-thinking society. No wonder art theorists stick to acceptable
miasmas such as 'I'm an artist, so if I say something is art, then
it's art', and don't risk their reputations by even getting as far
as its logical corollary: 'I'm an artist, so if I say something isn't
art, then it isn't art', let alone God.
STUCK ALL OVER THE WORLD
In October 2000 an email arrived from Regan Tamanui, who then started the Melbourne Stuckists. He staged a Real Turner Prize Show concurrent with ours in what he called his backyard, which I assume is Australian for art gallery, and then had the same debate on Australian TV that we were having on British TV.
Connie Lösch, a journalist for Junge Welt, curated five Stuckist shows in Germany, including a concurrent Real Turner Prize Show 2000. A month later Mary von Stockhausen formed the Lewenhagener Stuckists in Germany, has a room in her castle dedicated as a Stuckist gallery and is building an outdoor sculpture park in the form of a maze.
We decided to 'franchise' Stuckism, so that interested artists, of which there were a growing number, could form their own independent, self-directed groups, named after their location. It was based on the model of linked but separately run sites on the web. In 1999 there was one group, in 2000 there were four, the next year thirty-five and now there are ninety in twenty-two countries (Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, England, France, Germany, Greece, Ivory Coast, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jersey, Poland, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, USA and Wales).
Jeffrey Scott Holland of the mid Kentucky Stuckists organised a travelling
show of Stuckist paintings in America in 2001 from Richmond, through
Los Angeles, Seattle, Orlando and eventually New Haven. Elsa Dax curated
a Stuckist show in Paris the same year. Jesse Richards and co. in
New Haven (two hours drive from New York) opened a gallery in 2002
and staged demonstrations including the 2003 anti-war Clown Trial
of President Bush on the steps of the New Haven Federal Courthouse.
In this country independent groups have also been active. Paul Harvey,
of the Newcastle Stuckists, curated a show in the Newcastle Arts Centre
in 2002 and another with the Japanese Ryu Art Group in Northumberland
in 2004. Dan Belton in Brighton relentlessly puts on Stuckist exhibitions
in Worthing library. John Bourne nominated his home a Stuckist Centre
for Wales. The Maidstone Stuckists, founded by Remy Noe, go on group
outings for life and landscape painting and getting drunk, as well
as staging shows in the Kent Music School, fairs, art shows, and their
favourite venue, pubs. Raj Patel, not a Stuckist but Head of Museums
in Sandwell near Birmingham, deserves a special mention for promoting
the first Stuckist show in a public gallery at Wednesbury Museum in
There are various 'ex Stuckists' for various reasons. The most significant in their interaction with Stuckism are Billy Childish, Tracey Emin, Stella Vine and Gina Bold.
Billy Childish leaves the Stuckists
Billy's parting from the group in June 2001 was amicable, sensible and unavoidable. He continues to liaise frequently on a personal basis with Stuckist friends. Wolf Howard is the drummer in the same band as Billy - The Buff Medways. Here are notes compiled from a recent phone conversation with him.
"Before 1999, Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas offered to get me exhibitions, but joining the Stuckists put a kaibosh on all that - because I wasn't prepared to be controlled. I agreed to co-found the Stuckists to be allowed to say what I wanted, and I left the Stuckists because I didn't really want to be in them in the first place. Tracey still says I'm in the Stuckists, as a weapon, even though she knows full well that I'm not.
Stuck! Stuck! Stuck" was actually written about 1991 or 2 in a poem about how I wouldn't go to a party to see a friend of hers put cocaine up her nose. Tracey was basically having a hissy fit because I wouldn't bow down to her demand that I endorse her new kind of art, which I told her was old hat, so she attacked mine. Seven years later Charlie fancied it as a name for a group.
I'm far too interested in doing paintings, not organising shows, so if someone else wants to organise things on a group level, then fine - it gets more momentum. I thought the opinions might be heard more. My problem was being a member of a group. I'm very independent. I'm a leader of one person. I'm very arrogant and petulant in situations where anyone has any control over me.
I thought 'my God, what am I in?' at the first show. I was asked to stay on by Charles. Charles is the founder of Stuckism. I'm the excuse. That's how I feel. I didn't like a significant amount of the work. I found that I'd be exhibiting with a catalogue or poster which I thought typified Britart and not my views.
The manifestos were the only thing that made sense to me in the Stuckists. I believe in the ideals stated within the manifestos but I don't think many of the other Stuckists were bothered or interested in them. The Remodernist manifesto was received in a very hostile way. Even my friends within the group were obviously not motivated by the same things that I was. I didn't get on with Joe Crompton, and doing a press thing outside, holding our paintings above our heads - too Beadle's About for me. "All publicity is bad publicity" (Hangman manifesto).
I thought I'd done what I needed to do. The group had done what it needed to do. And for me that was writing the manifestos - understanding what was happening and having the guts to tell people. It was all about having a voice to expose what a bunch of charlatans they all are, although I knew full well we wouldn't be given credit for doing it.
I think Stuckism has been very successful. People like Matthew Collings,
who would never criticise the edifice of contemporary art, now criticise
in the same way, but three or four years later. I predicted that right
from the beginning."
Tracey Emin was never in the Stuckists, so can't by strict definition be an ex-Stuckist, but the Stuckists grew directly out of the Medway Poets, and Tracey was certainly a graduate of that school (mainly, but not exclusively, from her association with Billy Childish) and not of Goldsmith's College, which, unlike the other yBa's, she never attended although it is often assumed that she did. It is this early artistically-formative time of her life that makes her art with its emotional confessionalism so different to the clinical detachment of other Brit artists. But don't take my word for it. Let Tracey speak for herself in the Minky Manky catalogue (1995).
there you go. It's not a person. It's Billy Childish. 'Hanging around'
is a bit of an understatement. Curiously this quote was not mentioned
in the 2002 Thames and Hudson book The Art of Tracey Emin (edited
by Mandy Merck and Chris Townsend) which trumpets 'distinguished critics'
apparently 'tracing her influences.' Rather sloppy to have missed
out the greatest one. Scholarship is obviously not what it used to
Stella Vine had started painting in part-time classes at the private Hampstead School of Art, shortly before her work received its first public exhibition in the Vote Stuckist show in Brixton in June 2001. She took part in the Stuckist protest in Trafalgar Square against Rachel Whiteread's Plinth and founded the Westminster Stuckists. She also bought two Billy Childish paintings, one by SP Howarth and one by Joe Machine.
She rejected the group after five months and now expresses extreme hostility to the Stuckists. She denies there has been any influence by the Stuckists on her work. However, motifs, subjects and ideas which were in Stuckist paintings in the Vote Stuckist show or which she saw elsewhere at the time - and which were not then present in her work - have appeared subsequently, such as blood dripping from the mouth (Joe Machine's Until the Last Dog Is Hung), and the depiction of a public personality with their imagined private thoughts written on the canvas (Sir Nicholas Serota Makes an Acquisitions Decision).
Both of these elements are present in her now (in)famous picture of Princess Diana, Hi Paul Can You Come Over bought by Charles Saatchi. Ann Bukantas, the Curator of Fine Art at the Walker Gallery, identified this as a 'Stuckist' painting as soon as she saw the image in the press, and commented, 'It jumps off the page at you as that.'
successful worldwide promotion of Stella and her painting as his 'discovery'
without any reference to her previous Stuckist involvement threatened
to hijack important elements of our identity as his own innovation
in art. This was particularly threatening as he has also restated
other ideas which we previously promoted, such as the need for art
to exist outside the mandatory 'white wall gallery' - iterated in
1999 in our manifesto and reiterated by him in Time Out in
2003. The press has subsequently drawn attention to Stella's Stuckist
connection, and this is now generally accepted as an important part
of her story, though not by her.
Bold did her first painting at Stuckism International in June 2002.
She was exhibited for the first time as a Student for Stuckism in
The First Stuckist International 2002, and in subsequent shows,
including Wednesbury Museum, as a guest artist. She took part in the
White Cube and Anti-Turner Prize demos in 2002. There was a big bust-up
at the end of 2003, which resulted in the cancellation of the Real
Turner Prize Show 2003 and her rejecting the Stuckists. She now
describes herself as 'an independent London artist', and is currently
painting prolifically. A successful outcome then.
Sexton Ming and Ella Guru were together before Stuckism, but married
during it in 2001 (in drag on a Dorset cliff top). Charlotte Gavin
- actually an (amicable) ex-Stuckist and cat woman in the first Tate
demo - met Joe Machine at The Real Turner Prize Show in 2000; they
married two years later. Rachel Jordan left London in 2001 to embed
herself in Chatham with Wolf Howard.
In 2002 I moved to a converted Victorian warehouse in the art heartland of Shoreditch, seventy yards from Jay Jopling's White Cube gallery in one direction and not much further to the Prince of Wales The Prince's Foundation in the other. Some people call their homes Rose Cottage. I called mine Stuckism International, and hung paintings in my living room, which is, according to the Stuckist manifesto, where they should be viewed 'with access to sofas, tables, chairs and cups of tea'. This unique collection of Stuckist paintings became quite popular. The most unexpected visit (or rather non-visit) was on 15 May 2004.
I learnt about it when my neighbour (who designs packaging for the Tate) bounced in excitedly, and reported that a black cab had earlier pulled up outside his front door, disgorging Charles Saatchi and domesticated goddess, wife Nigella Lawson ('even more gorgeous than she looks on TV'). They had made a beeline for my window and stood there reading some posters I had put up, most of which were about Charles Saatchi - particularly one declaring 'STUCKIST ART IN 2001 IS SAATCHI ART IN 2004' referring to his recent 'discovery' of Stella Vine.
There was also a cutting from the Independent on Sunday, which
stated that Stella was 'a protégée of the Stuckist movement' and that
Sarah Kent, art editor of Time Out who moonlights as a book
editor for Charles Saatchi, might have to revise her scathing opinion
of the Stuckists 'now that Saatchi is following their every move'.
Having just proved the statement true, the inquisitive couple then
returned to their black cab, with its engine still running, and drove
off, obviously not realising that not all doors open automatically
for them and you have to ring the bell to get in.
The Condensed One Thousand Years of Art
art was theocentric. The Renaissance was materialistic. Remodernism
The Pocket One Thousand Years of Art
Medieval art placed God at the centre and portrayed the biblical vision of another world. The flat forms and decorative gold of icons reflect this non-material reality. From the Thirteen- hundreds and Giotto onwards there is an increasing three-dimensionality, as perspective, modelling and perceptual proportion (as opposed to Medieval conceptual proportion) evolve to maturity.
Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) discussed whether several angels can be in the same place at the same time (not necessarily as ridiculous as it seems, since quantum physics has its own variant on this, and Aquinas only ever apocryphally mentioned angels dancing on a pin), whereas Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) sliced opened illicit cadavers to reveal the topography of a cold heart.
priority switched from the inner to the outer, until the 18th Century
Enlightenment and subsequent scientific materialism reduced the inner
to measurable interactions of neurons in a squidgy brain. Then scientific
materialism was pushed to an extreme where it undermined itself and
the clockwork of Newtonian mechanics was revealed on a deeper level
to be underpinned by Einsteinian phenomena as strange Aquinas's. We
have been through the whole panoply and the resolution of the dichotomy
is neither heaven nor earth but a union of the two, which has been
a cornerstone of Kabbalistic teaching for centuries.
The Last One Hundred Years of Art
The two building blocks of two-dimensional visual representation are drawing and colour. The third element is the consciousness or vision that informs them. Before there is art, there is the human being who creates it. The outcome of the art is entirely dependent on what the artist brings to bear on it, this in turn being strongly modified by the surrounding culture. To have a profound and meaningful art, there must be a consciousness of profundity and meaning to generate it. Then the appropriate means must be available for the expression of this.
The Medieval period provided means for a partial expression of wholeness - the spiritual element. The Renaissance developed means for a different partiality - the material. The story of Modernism is a panic to find something as substantial as either of them, when neither of them makes sense any more. But a new durable art only comes about from an equivalent philosophical depth, and that clarity was not there.
It was certainly necessary for Modernism to free drawing and colour from the strictly observational, which is an assertion of the material as the real and the subordination, or even denial, of the inner world of thought, feeling and imagination which is the greater part of our experience.
The Pre-Raphaelite Dante Gabriel Rossetti moved away from systematic single-point perspective, though his early ineptitude may have been just as contributory to this as his desire to bypass the High Renaissance. The Impressionists did not move from the drawing of externally observed form, but the career of Claude Monet took him from exquisitely observed light (pre-Impressionism) to a vision of the soul in his later work, where observation becomes a catalyst not an aim.
The Impressionists did, however, give Van Gogh the stepping-stone he needed to depict the synthesis of inner state relating to outer environment. His spiritual commitment to God and humanity, his personal striving and the impact of nature all fused with an equivalent innovatory technical vehicle in a holistic art. That his own life finally fell short is a different enquiry. A new art was created where form was the conduit of honesty, depth and intensity of consciousness. But thereafter no one artist could match this stature.
Modernism became a story of fragmentation. Each supposed innovation and movement, far from being a story of progress as it is often depicted, was part of a static uncompleted whole, rather as if each tradesman on a building site considered himself to be the entire workforce necessary to construct a house. The plumber comes along and puts in the boiler and pipes. The electrician turns up, tears out the central heating system and substitutes cables and light bulbs. Then the chippy does the same in turn, and the bricky, and the plasterer. At first they all believe in the value of their individual work as the only thing that matters, but eventually word spreads about what is really happening, until finally they are all disillusioned and just going through the motions to earn some dosh. That's the state of art today.
The key to understanding Modernism is of brave, but misguided enterprise. Each movement arrived at a truth, and thought it was the whole truth. Kandinsky introduced the spiritual in art with an appropriate form of abstraction, but negated the importance of material experience. The ultimate result of this divorce from the mundane is madness, as can be evidenced by those poor souls talking to God in mental wards and being spoon-fed tomato soup. Mondrian unearthed the geometrical skeleton which had always been there in art, but previously concealed, for very good reasons, by the flesh of image.
The Surrealists advocated the irrational, the dream and the unconscious, all again vital infusions into great art, but only of value when their meaningful relationship with daily life is revealed. Otherwise the endless irrationalities have no more import than neurotically toying with a Rubik's Cube. Jackson Pollock isolated the physical making process, and strove to contain his insecure alcoholism in repetitive patterns. The spontaneity of sensitive feeling was absent, but is confused in appraisals of his work with the urgency of muscular dynamism. By the time of minimalism and conceptualism the enervation of the heart is complete: a dry detached academia has squeezed all the blood out.
The two giants of the Twentieth Century stand out because they come closest to the whole vision, but fall short in equal but opposite ways, Picasso because he could only see the ugliness, and Matisse because his art was only beautiful. Picasso's dazzling genius at plastic manipulation blinds an easy observation of his true status. In psychological terms he failed to evolve. He stayed at an infantile, egocentric emotional level and merely invented, with each new period, a different way of saying the same thing - which generally was a very limited thing to say in the first place. Can you trust his art? Well, would you trust him? I wouldn't, but I'm still fascinated by his prowess. Matisse gives us a pleasant holiday from life and that in itself is welcome, although eventually one pushes against the gilded bars.
Warhol was the bridge between Modernism - the genuine belief in the new - and Postmodernism - the cynical view of moral and artistic relativity, and the retreat into irony, novelty, cynicism and commercialism. Warhol's life, as a churchgoer and soup kitchen helper, was greater than his art.
legacy of Modernism is the creation of viable languages. Postmodernism's
response to this is to play their forms off against each other in
a superficial exercise, often to demonstrate the negation of any intrinsic
worth in them. Impressionism has been 'done'. Expressionism has been
'done', likewise Cubism, Pop Art et al. That is the same as someone
in Elizabethan England saying that the English language had been 'done'
by Chaucer. The creation of a language is its beginning, not its fulfilment:
that only comes about through the deeper and more extensive use of
it through time and collective evolvement. Remodernism recognises
that the one achievement of the previous hundred years is the bequeathal
of these means, and that their development and deeper employment is
a legitimate task for us now.
THE MEDIUM MODIFIES THE MESSAGE
Artworks are now predominately defined, distinguished and given accolades in terms of the material they are made of. This is an incredibly limited approach to art, particularly when the medium itself is so incredibly limited. There is not much subtlety and flexibility possible if you are using a dead shark as the expressive material. In fact you can really only use it once, because beyond the fact that it has been used at all, there is little else it has to say.
The equivalent in verbal language to this level of achievement would be the vocabulary of a very young child, able to say that he or she hurts, but barely being able to say whether the hurt is in the stomach or the ear, and certainly not able to relay whether it is a sharp continual pain or a dull intermittent one. That necessary communication is only available with a more extensive and sophisticated dictionary.
Materials in art are a means to an end, not the end in themselves. The end is to address life, and to condense it to a symbolic form that enables us to relive and/or broaden experience and understanding through a 'magical' process.
Stuckists use paint as a medium, not because it is traditional, but because its flexibility has a potentially Shakespearian breadth, depth and subtlety. This medium takes second place to the subject; the material is not the cause celebre - the subjects depicted and the consciousness embodied are the primary concern. Even when paint asserts itself as a medium, to be experienced sensually in its own right, it still translates the artist's hand and mind unavoidably.
To see the materials used as the purpose of using the materials, does communicate, but what it communicates is the vacuity of that process and the lack of depth that informs it. This is why the general public are instinctively averse to such art. They may articulate their aversion in philistine clichés which makes it easy to dismiss them, but the origin of their aversion is a deeper sense that recognises that what is being promised is not what is being delivered, and that will not change even if Sir Nicholas Serota delivers Dimbleby Lectures till the pickled cows jump out of their vitrines and jump over the moon.
The diversification of 'artists' into other media, such as video,
installation and performance, is equally futile. It is not that those
media are not valid - quite the opposite. The futility is because
they have been validated and brought to summation by the skills of
others, who leave the so-called artists in the shade, snatching whatever
scraps are left over from the main meal. Most video art is either
an endless repetition of something that would normally form a brief
sequence in a major film, or else something which would have ended
up on a major film cutting room floor because it was so boring in
the first place. Performance art is better known as theatre, which
is what its best practitioners call it. Installation and site-specific
art is carried out with consummate achievement by architects and environmental
designers worldwide, and, even though their ideas can often be dehumanisingly
barren, the Fine Art version of this form doesn't do any better on
that score. Text Art, just for the record, is known by people who
do it well as literature, and, if it's written in short lines, it's
BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO STUCKIST ART
Stuckists and their art have been called many things in the press and by observers. A quick cull reveals that we are neo-conservative, revolutionary, reactionary, progressive, traditional, anti-establishment, old-fashioned, new, obvious, controversial, clichéd, original, a backlash, radical, pop, expressionist, outsider, conceptual, anti-conceptual, craftsmen, daubers, trained, crude, precise, unfinished, thought-provoking, gauche, witty, naïve, deep, a joke, serious, contrived, authentic, insensitive, heartfelt, puerile, high-flown, clumsy, genuine, grotesque, important, bad and great.
These things may well be in Stuckism, but none of them is Stuckism. The contradictions that result from attempting to impose conventional definitions are inevitable, because the nature of Stuckism is to contain these opposites and integrate them. There's a very useful word which can be accurately applied to the nature of Stuckism, but it hasn't quite sunk in yet (although it is being 'tracked' by the OED so hopefully people will believe it sooner or later). It is 'Stuckist'.
It needs a new word for a new paradigm, just as, for example, Surrealism could not be meaningfully defined in terms of previous movements such as Classicism or Cubism: it had an entirely different segment of concerns, and interestingly, like Stuckism, it used a whole range of previous styles for a new purpose.
Bill Lewis, one of the founder Stuckists, comments:
Eamon Everall, another of the founding Stuckists, states Stuckist practice:
The signal difference between Stuckism and former movements, many of which individual Stuckists are undoubtedly influenced by, is that, unlike them, Stuckist artists are not bound by a single easily identifiable stylistic 'look'. Visiting a show of Stuckist work the viewer will be first struck by the diversity and eclecticism of the works on show, and it is this which makes Stuckism so difficult for the critic. They find here no easy stylistic or technical hooks upon which they can hang their outmoded critical methods.
The unification of Stuckist art is through the values that drive it, namely truth to self and experience in its content, and clarity and directness in its expression and communication.
In 2003 documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock tried to live on a McDonalds fast food diet and was soon experiencing headaches, vomiting, chest paints, listlessness, high cholesterol and toxic liver. These are not known to occur with a whole food diet, but that doesn't provide such a cheap quick sensation of seeming to fulfil a need. The fast food on the high street is mirrored by the fast art in the gallery. The effect on the physique has its equivalent in the psyche. You're welcome to them if you really want them.
Stuckist art can be novel, but it is not made for novelty appeal. It gives a deepening rapport over time that I fail to find with a fish carcass floating in a glass coffin. Its directness results from a meaningful and balanced insight into complexity, and an unflinching acceptance of our humanity. Like all true art it brings us closer to who we really are, and I have to confess I do eat McDonalds from time to time (I blame it on my son).