A large canvas depicting a soldier on a horse, in the battlefield by ‘Stuckist founder’, Billy Childish has sold to the YBA artist Tracey Emin for an undisclosed sum. It was purchased from the Lehmann Maupin Gallery booth at Art Basel Miami, on the opening day of the fair. It is always interesting to have one of your works bought by another leading artist, but when that artist is also your ex it becomes newsworthy.
“Stuckism” was founded and coined in January 1999 by Charles Thomson in response to a poem read to him several times by co-founder Billy Childish. In it, Childish recites that his former girlfriend, Tracey Emin had said he was “stuck! stuck! stuck!” with his art, poetry and music. Later that month, Thomson approached Childish with a view to co-founding an art group called Stuckism, which Childish agreed to, on the basis that Thomson would do the work for the group, as Childish already had a full schedule. There were eleven other founding members: Philip Absolon, Frances Castle, Sheila Clark, Eamon Everall, Ella Guru, Wolf Howard, Bill Lewis, Sanchia Lewis, Joe Machine, Sexton Ming, and Charles Williams. The membership has evolved since its founding through creative collaborations. The group was originally promoted as painters, but members work in various other media, including poetry, fiction, performance, photography, film and music. The group is best known for their annual protests outside the Turner Prize competition. Their ethos aims to promote figurative painting in opposition to conceptual art. Childish left the movement in 2001 but continues to expound their principles.
A modern day renaissance man, prolific artist, writer, and musician Billy Childish truly embraces and encompasses the expression “walking to the beat of his own drum.” Over thirty-five years of continual creative activity, Childish has gained a cult status world-wide, writing and publishing over forty volumes of confessional poetry, recording over one hundred LPs, and painting several hundred works, all the while refusing to conform to the contemporary art world’s standards and placed importance on the market. As a poet, novelist, and painter, Childish has explored throughout his work, and often with a startling honesty, his struggles in coming to terms with addiction, abuse, and a childhood spent in a dysfunctional family setting. Presented in two sections, curator Matthew Higgs highlights Childish’s recent body of work and places it alongside his music, literary and polemical projects. The first section of the exhibition focuses on the artist’s recent paintings that depict volcanoes and mountain-climbing scenes, influenced by the last climb of mountaineer Toni Kurz. These works will are juxtaposed with paintings of pastoral landscapes such as “Sibelius Amongst Saplings.” The exhibition continues upstairs with a survey of the artist’s music and literary projects, including fifty of Childish’s albums and a collection of poems and books written by the artist.
Childish unashamedly acknowledges his artistic, musical and literary lineage – springing from the Punk movement of 1977 he has cited and aligned himself within a tradition of visionary heroes: Edvard Munch, Vincent van Gogh, Dada and Kurt Schwitters – his recent paintings include portraits of the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, tribal leader Spotted Elk in death at Wounded Knee and the legendary German mountaineer Toni Kurz, as well as Helmet divers and a series of landscape paintings each depicting an erupting volcano. Persistently aligning his own identity with these singular historical subjects, Childish’s recent paintings might be read as an expanded form of self-portraiture, and display what curator Matthew Higgs has identified as “an economy and directness that is analogous to the fundamental nature of his poetry and stripped-down, blues-inspired music. Childish seeks to explore – in all his work – those aspects of his own life that are both essential and universal. Eschewing contemporary mannerisms and modes of production, even down to his dandyish attire, Childish instead privileges seemingly anachronistic aesthetic and literary styles, to create works – in painting, music and literature – that are somehow, and paradoxically, timeless and radical.”
Billy Childish was born in Chatham, Kent in 1959. After leaving secondary school at age 16 he worked at the Naval Dockyard in Chatham as an apprentice stonemason. Initially denied an interview to the local art school, he produced hundreds of drawings that gained him entry to St. Martin’s School of Art. Childish’s defiance to authority led to his eventual expulsion from Central St Martins in 1981. Childish then embarked on an artistic odyssey exploring a broad range of worldly themes including war, history, social protest, as well his own experiences of alcoholism and the sexual abuse he suffered as a child. With no qualifications and no job prospects Childish then spent some 12 years ‘painting on the dole’, developing his own highly personal writing style and producing his art independently. Billy Childish is arguable the greatest living figurative painter living in Britain today. His work which utilises a mixture of charcoal and paint wash is reminiscent of Manet and German Expressionism.