Billy Childish (English, b. 1959): sailish fisherman, 2015. Oil and charcoal on linen. Courtesy the artist and Carl Freedman Gallery, London, UK. Photo: Andy Keate.
“My paintings are traditionally modern. I’m not romancing a past time but I’m not nailing myself to the 21st Century either. I think there’s nothing as dated as the contemporary: much of the output by young artists in the 1990’s who ‘reflected their time and culture’ looks dated already. Great art transcends time. I don’t choose my influences – they choose me.” (Billy Childish)
Billy Childish, aka William Hamper, is much more than the sum of his widely known, many moving parts. A creative dynamo, to his credit are over 150 or so albums, 40 poetry collections, 5 novels. He is a co-founder of Stuckism, an internationally recognized painter, an influencer of the YBAs. Ever true to himself, he is a creative force to be reckoned with. Key to this achievement may reside in an imperative drive and desire for freedom. His work, his paintings, emerge unfettered by the clutter of passing artistic trends and fads and a unique voice rings clear and strong. Compelling.
I Require Art: Your poetry and writing, your music, your painting, coalesce and converge — and then, you pump them out. The results: raw power, unique, staggering, utterly compelling. I can’t get enough. Clearly, I’m not alone. I say “raw” in the sense of your clear-eyed brutal honesty in extending outward, an essence, a piece, of your complex and unique life. Powerful stuff.
—Speaking now of your paintings — energy surges from your works. Palpable.
What goes on within you when you paint? … and around you when you paint? … and when you’re finished?
Billy Childish: I paint the large works in my studio which is in the old boatswains office in Chatham Dockyard. Often I conduct interviews as I paint, or chat with one of the young artists I’ve invited to work in the studio. I seem to paint largely from a different part of the brain I use for everyday communication so I can paint pretty much without concern or worry. I seem to be able to paint and talk simultaneously without too much confliction. A painting is started and finished on the same day then I forget about it and get on with life.
IRA: Are you aware of a sense of timelessness in your works? What do you think might contribute to this sense of the universal in these vigorous, bold pieces?
BC: I like writing and painting (and to some extent music) that can’t be precisely pinned down to the era in which it was made. In his novel Hunger, Knut Hamsun encapsulates this – there’s no big reference to the period it’s written in, so it can fit any time. My paintings are traditionally modern. I’m not romancing a past time but I’m not nailing myself to the 21st Century either. I think there’s nothing as dated as the contemporary: much of the output by young artists in the 1990’s who ‘reflected their time and culture’ looks dated already. Great art transcends time. I don’t choose my influences – they choose me, and I definitely don’t choose to be ‘cool’ or ‘relevant’. Someone mentioned that my group Thee Mighty Caesars, (1985) though often dismissed at the time as being retro – now sound like ‘any time’ where as the pop of the period is very dated.
IRA: Can you tell us about your physical process of painting? What interests you most about the process? The when, the where, the mood, the how?
BC: I draw quickly with charcoal on raw linen, finishing the drawing with speed (and boldness hopefully). I then paint immediately and allow colours to suggest themselves. I try to get out the way and let the painting paint itself.
IRA: In what way(s) does autobiographical content affect your work?
BC: I often paint my daughter, son, wife and many self-portraits, but they are best seen as universal representations. I believe that a landscape is a self-portrait – it’s all gods face
IRA: Is photography an influence in your work?
BC: I have used photography extensively since the early 1980’s. As long as you can escape the 2 dimensions of the photograph (and see round the corners into what’s hidden) it’s not a problem, but I don’t recommend it for everyone.
IRA: You are noted as advocating for the artist, the pursuit of the essential values of the amateur vs. the professional. I believe this is extraordinarily relevant in today’s art world. Can you tell us about this distinction, as it affects you personally and perhaps more broadly?
BC: I use that as a joke – but a true joke. In French Amateur means ‘done through love’, not to pay the mortgage (which in French means death grip). Amateurs enjoy freedom. I wanted to become an artist because I wanted to be free – not be bound by a job. I also tell people I make pictures, not art – this is another joke at the artists.
IRA: How important to you is the act of painting? Is it something you would be able, or choose, to put aside?
BC: No I must paint at least every week or two. I believe you can tell if someone is an artist by if they would still create their work on a desert island, or commercial isolation with no audience.
IRA: You are a creative gale force wind. How do you navigate the creative flows of music performance, writing, painting? How do your various talents affect or engage with each other?
BC: They are joined in that I like the bare bones in all of these disciplines.
I write every morning, I paint on Mondays, and I make music when I get the urge. I try not to be a wimp, but also don’t force it.
IRA: Does inspiration always flow? Can you speak to what lies at the core of your wellspring of inspiration?
BC: I don’t worry about inspiration (actually I do – but i ignore my worries) the best way forward for all is work. Freedom through work (excuse the nazi connotation – they are bastards)
IRA: Is there anything you’d like to share with the viewers?
BC: Perhaps a few new canvases.
IRA: Where and when can viewers next experience an exhibition of your artwork? Our viewers often mention your music performances. Where and when can we next hear you perform?
BC: Lehmann Maupin will feature a solo presentation of paintings at ADAA: The Art Show in March 2017, followed by an exhibition at the Goss Michael Foundation in Dallas, Texas in April 2017. It’s also worth keeping an eye on the L-13 (L-13.org) website for forthcoming editions, books and other shenanigans, and the Damaged Goods site (damagedgoods.co.uk) for recordings and news of any gigs (though we have none planned in the near future).
— Jules Cavanaugh
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