Sunday, April 14, 2013

Billy Childish: Keeping It Real

Billy Childish Self Portrait

Billy Childish Is one of my favorite painters.  I first learned about his artwork watching a documentary video on Stuckism... an International art movement founded in 1999 by Billy Childish and Charles Thomson to promote figurative painting in opposition to conceptual art.  According to Wikipedia...

Billy Childish (born Steven John Hamper, 1 December 1959) is an English artist, painter, author, poet, photographer, film maker, singer and guitarist. He is known for his explicit and prolific work -- he has detailed his love life and childhood sexual abuse [...] from 1981 until 1985 Childish had a relationship with artist (Tracey Emin, and has also been associated with another British artist Stella Vine.
He is a consistent advocate for amateurism and free emotional expression. Childish co-founded the Stuckism art movement with Charles Thomson in 1999, which he left in 2001. Since then a new evaluation of Childish's standing in the art world has been under way, culminating with the publication of a critical study of Childish's working practice by the artist and writer Neal Brown, with an introduction by Peter Doig, which describes Childish as "one of the most outstanding, and often misunderstood, figures on the British art scene".

You can hear his music at 

Anyway, I visited his show at Lehman Maupin titled "Paintings That Change The Universe Like Digging In The Gutter With The Broken Lolly Stick" exhibits large paintings of delicate abstract seaside landscapes and blackened leathery fisherman on their rickety wooden boats.  His fluid, scribbling, graffiti-like brushwork combined with bursts of brilliant colors charge these pieces with a nervous psychedelic energy.  Perhaps the best way to describe these works is through analogy to music… they remind me of the back water Blues legends like Howling Wolf, Robert Johnson, and the rock group Cream.

I agree with Billy when he says "To the ego ridden individual to become an artist or poet gives them a tin pot identity and the elevated status they crave.  Ironically picture making is undervalued. But digging in the gutter with a lollipop stick can change the universe just as well."  There is something gratifying and magical that can be experienced through the modest means of moving around dirt on the ground with a stick or moving around paint on the canvas with a brush... and that engagement with the physical world and present moment is as important as taking in breaths of fresh air.  To me Billy Childish represents those among us  who know the value and wisdom that can be discovered through the simple craft and timelessness of picture making.  I fear that young artists today going to study art will either fall into the intellectual/conceptual camp or the technical expertise camp.  While conceptual artists have been rapidly growing in numbers for some time now and traditional artists (with their emphasis on technique) have retained their status at many Universities, I hope that there is a pocket of people that can teach their students the relevance of making art in an unselfconscious and simple fashion, as Billy Childish exemplifies.  Students shouldn't be duped into thinking that the Modernist vision of self expression is done and over with.  Artists can still paint a still life according to their individual vision just as Van Gogh, Picasso, and Matisse have done one hundred years ago.  Its still fresh and invigorating, and for eternity there will be something of interest in the process of interpreting subject matter and using it as a means for self expression.

Lehman Maupin Gallery

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