Friday, 19 February 2010
I’ve just written my first love poem. I think it’s probably best if I refrain from imposing it upon you at this stage. Or probably ever. It’s a bit amateurish I’m afraid, because of course, I’m an art historian by training, not a poet. The last line reads “…or am I just afeared of love?” Yes you see, I told you, bit amateurish. It is what I might this month refer to as “a bit Billy Childish”. By which I mean, it’s not without a certain rough charm, but neither is it really much good.
Still, I don’t think one should allow the possibility that one might spend decades of one's life creating stuff that isn’t really much good, prevent one from creating it anyway. Absolutely not. Creativity is everything. Creativity is our connection to the divine. Quality control is a secondary consideration. The thing is though, you might want to exercise a bit of caution in choosing who to share its results with. Or perhaps I should speak for myself here. Perhaps I should exercise some caution in deciding who to share my creative output with. So I’ll spare you the love poem. Don’t mention it. It’s the least I can do.
Of course, a lot of people like Billy Childish’s work. Or so we’re given to understand. If indeed that is what the term ‘cult figure’ means. Or does that just mean most people don’t like it but there’s one or two noisy ones as do?
Actually, you know, to be brutally honest with myself in a support group kind of a way, I didn’t even dislike it that much. His painting is technically inept to a large degree and stylistically derivative. A poor man’s Kirchner, only a hundred years out of date, lacking the compositional and colouristic sophistication and definitely without the fierce edge. But there’s some sort of channelled rawness there that one doesn’t find in a lot of so called ‘outsider art’.
It seemed oddly fitting at the private view that whilst standing in front of Robert Walser Lying Dead in the Snow with Footprints, a rather eccentric looking fellow with very, very rouged cheeks and equally cerised eyelids, loomed his face about an inch from mine, in a voice reminiscent of Mr Bean and with absurdly exaggerated lip movements, spoke the words:
“It’s called Snow isn’t it? Snow?”
I turned around to face him and I said,
“Do you know,” I said, “I’m not sure what it’s called.”
“It’s called Snow,” he repeated, and lest there be any doubt,
“It’s called Snow… Snow.”
“Righteo,” I chortled,
“Righteoooo...” repetition being contagious apparently and Viksie’s expression reading: don’t engage this man Bev, he’s clearly off his onion. It probably wasn’t worth mentioning, I decided, that the painting was in fact called Robert Walser Lying Dead in the Snow with Footprints.
“Wise decision,” opined Viksie.
After that altogetherly engaging interlude the fellow wandered off. We followed him with our eyes for a few seconds before returning our attention to Robert Walser Lying Dead in the Snow with Footprints. “I do believe he was wearing a PE skirt,” said Viksie. And so he was. And plimsolls. And little white ankle socks. This is what happens when a person becomes a “cult figure”. They become a nutter magnet.
If anything I preferred Childish’s poems to his paintings – “writer of poems to lick the thighs of the dead” – but that’s probably because I know nothing about poetry and therefore have no basis for comparison nor depth of understanding beyond the purely intuitive, which will get you so far, but beyond that a bit of education is a real boon, in my no doubt hopelessly middle class view.
It’s a bit like the environmental debate. We’ve all got an opinion of course, but how many of us really have a wide enough understanding of the immense historical, scientific and ethical complexities of the subject to have any sort of an educated opinion? How many of us have read the primary sources? And how many of us are simply paraphrasing a chaotic amalgam of second and third hand subjective journalistic sources usually sponsored by some right wing billionaire or other? It’s very easy to spout off. We can all do that on any given topic under the sun. But to spout off in an informed fashion is a far rarer thing.
It’s education. I just can’t help thinking there’s something in it actually.
So it often is with people who choose to slag off conceptual art. It may well be that Billy Childish’s criticism of concept driven art - “I hate conceptual art, our contemporary culture is as facile as the fucking Victorian chocolate box stuff, but not as talented” – grows out of a deep art historical investigation. But I can’t help wondering when he might have found the time to study the history of art when he’s been so busy getting kicked out of Central St Martin’s for obnoxious behaviour and under-performance and subsequently creating an alleged 2500 canvases, forty volumes of confessional verse, a hundred plus albums, and generally disappearing up his own backside in a rush of self important denigration of something he simply doesn’t happen to go a bundle on, or, dare I say it, understand. If you don’t like something fine, then go off and talk about something else. But leave those who do get something from it to enjoy it in peace. Please.
Born Steven John Hamper he named himself Childish. Not totally without insight then.