Stuckism: progressive or reactionary?
you're work is Stuck! Stuck! Stuck.' With these words of Tracey
Emin to her former lover Billy Childish (poet and painter) Stuckism
was launched in 1999 by a once mutual friend to each, Charles
Thomson. Back in the 1980s all three had been friends out of
Maidstone School of Art and variously connected to the Medway Poets.
Until the late 1990s Thomson was a very amusing poet, who avoided
'rant' and 'rap,' conveying skip-along, punked up rhyming couplets -
a Sir John Betjeman on speed - hilariously accompanied by props,
Emin, one of
the newer Brit Pop artists, gained notoriety for her 1999 Turner Prize
nomination - her own unmade bed. That Childish's ex-lover and previous
collaborator had gained more notoriety than he was bad enough, but for
the two poets, she had crossed over into 'old and retrogressive'
conceptual art, turning her back on the 'real' thing.
with Childish's support, launched Stuckism: "to restore values of
authenticity, content, meaning and communication in art." Press
statements, a manifesto and cobbled together amateur exhibitions of
Stuckists' paintings quickly ensued. What began as a reaction to
Emin's insult, quickly became fixed in the notion that a painting
should be a painting, a film should be a film, a poem should be a
poem, etc. That is, different art forms could co-exist but must not
'cross-over;' they must acknowledge the traditions of their forms, be
pure to the their medium and unsullied by conceptualism.
recently quoted as saying that Stuckist painters "use all different
styles, but what we insist on is that the artist is honest about their
experiences, themselves, their emotions - and that they paint a
picture that is clear to understand. There is so much hype and
pretentiousness that real values have been lost from what makes art
worthwhile to bother with in the first place."
Head of Tate
Modern, Sir Nicholas Serota, is the Stuckists' principle target. Yet,
the numbers flocking into Tate Modern, where conceptual art is centre
stage, calls into question - what are 'real values' in art? In
society? If the multitude are being denied those 'real values,' why
not undermine the Establishment through promoting amateurism? Indeed,
Childish has claimed that he is an 'amateur' and has since left the
the joy of the 'amateur' the Stuckists have now made a break through
into the Establishment and will take part in the Liverpool Biennial,
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, where 280 Stuckist paintings by 37
artists "from across the world" will be exhibited later this year.
As a poet
I can understand both the pursuit of the 'amateur' and the desire to
'make it,' or at least survive through ones practice. However, if
Stuckism is about 'honesty,' 'real values', against 'hype and
pretentiousness,' what of Stuckist art itself? Many of the paintings
are comic strip, copyart, pastiche, busy work - without asides and
depth - jokes in place of irony...
Thomson is an
excellent self publicist. Back in 1999 he invited me to join a
regional group of Stuckists. I was to phone a leading sponsor of the
project "but don't talk politics to him." The contact in question was
the Tory party agent in Ipswich! I didn't phone. Then I heard Thomson
had verbal backing, if not sponsorship, from ex-Chancellor of the
Exchequer, Sir Norman Lamont, met drumming up support in clubs across
London. Thomson even stood in the 2001 General Election against the
then Culture Minister Chris Smith. Despite a full page article in the
Guardian, Thomson received just 125 votes (but for every 25 votes he
received a bottle of champagne...)
can be criticised for its trivial yet self-obsessed qualities, but her
work is entirely explorative and unashamedly full of contradictions.
Some of the Stuckists' utterances against Postmodernism and the
Establishment I can stomach but I feel they fail in their own terms:
the language of painting and the artist's concern to push the
exploration further, rather than reworking the past in the present.
The Stuckists work and writings are
on the web here.
painting or poetry, the rise of Stuckism raises important questions as
to progression or regression in art in the new millennium. What do you