Ridiculously prolific: interview with Billy Childish at the L-13 exhibition
The L-13 Light Industrial Workshop in Clerkenwell, London, is presenting Me, Picasso, and Other Ordinary Kings of Cuntdom – woodcuts and watercolours by the “greatest British art enigma”: famous artist, painter, author, poet, photographer, film-maker, singer and guitarist, Billy Childish.
Following the acclaimed exhibition in Lehmann Maupin, NY, you have been recently painting large-scale paintings for the exhibitions in Seoul, Berlin, Los Angeles and Chatham. But the exhibition at L-13 is much more intimate and modest. What can we see here?
Those are watercolors and woodcuts, made here in the studio on the 1825 Albion Press, based on the paintings I’ve been recently painting. It annoys me when people call them studies, I rarely ever do preparatory studies; they are rather after-studies or variations. I sometimes like them more than the big works.
What kind of wood are they made in?
It’s oak wood. I like it because it’s hard and it is in charge, it’s a battle. Similarly I struggle with paintings; with paints and color I allow them to be what they want to be, I like their limitations.
You are a very prolific creator. In a twenty-year period you have published over 40 collections of poetry, recorded over 100 full-length independent LPs and produced over 2000 paintings. Are all your artistic creations interconnected, do they have common ground?
I have always painted, I was taught to be a painter, and used to admire music, and then ended up liking literature and poetry a bit. They are separate, but there are some common elements. I enjoy doing them, and I am lucky that I can do that. I think all creativity begins inside, not comes from outside. I don’t like showing off. Art is a life attitude.
You have specific experience with artistic education – on the basis of your work you were accepted into St Martin’s School of Art to study painting, where you refused to paint in the college. You were thus expelled for this and other insubordinate behaviour before completing the course. What’s your opinion on artistic education?
In primary school if there are 20 children in the class, you have the possibility of 20 artists. In art school, when they are older, there are none. Art school doesn’t like creativity. People are afraid and worried of creativity, of things not known to them.
You have been referred to as “the greatest British art enigma”, how do you feel about that and how would you describe yourself?
The greatest British art enigma? I don’t think I should comment, but it’s okay. I would describe myself as an Englishman who doesn’t want to be English. I don’t want to belong to the club, and I am constantly reminding them that I am out of the club. And [the] English are interested in suppressing creativity and are afraid of polymaths. I prefer European tradition.
What are you artistic inspirations?
I really like Van Gogh and Munch. I like also Kurt Schwitters, Turner’s watercolors and early Dada.
And among the contemporary?
I don’t know many contemporary artists. The only person I am familiar with [is] Peter Doig, who has been my friend in the art school. I know his art, and we have many things in common that I can relate to.
What do you think about Picasso, who is mentioned in the title of the exhibition?
Although I am not [the] greatest fan of Picasso’s work, he was a fun fellow, he is interesting because he was constantly doing things. I like his output, he was very creative, very prolific. In a way, I am like Picasso. I am ridiculously prolific.
BILLY CHILDISH: Me, Picasso, and Other Ordinary Kings of Cuntdom will be on at The L-13 Light Industrial Workshop and Private Ladies and Gentlemen’s Club for Art, Leisure and the Disruptive Betterment of Culture from 24th May 2012 – 8th June 2012.