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A STUDY OF STUCKISM
by Kirstie Gregory

Kirstie Gregory was born in Bradford and educated there and in London. She has a BA (Hons) degree from the Courtauld Institute of Art. She has worked at the Jersey Arts Centre, the Candid Arts Trust, the Dover Street Arts Club and the Gilbert Collection of Fine Art and is currently employed by the Barbican. She can be contacted at kirstiegregory@yahoo.co.uk.

CONTENTS
The Stuckists' Space in the History of Western Art
The Stuckists' Space in Modern Art
The Stuckists' Space in the Contemporary Art Scene
The Stuckist Environment, Events and Exhibitions
The International Development of Stuckism
The Holistic Centre of Stuckism
The Artists who Subscribe to Stuckism
Bibliography

 

The Stuckists' Space in the History of Western Art

The history of Western art is frequently divided into distinct periods. The four major periods are Classical, Mediaeval, Renaissance and Modern. This method of separation is at times alternately helpful and unhelpful. Certain works and artists are easy to pigeonhole, while others appear futuristic, steeped in the past (the entire Renaissance period was in essence a rebirth of Classicism), or with definite tendencies towards more than one category.

The Classical sculpture of the Greeks, and later the Romans, is the most influential artistic style in Western art's history. Classical ideals were specifically turned back to not only during the Renaissance period but also particularly emphatically during the later, briefer, Neoclassical period. The Greeks worshipped a plethora of gods who we can see represented in sculptural works and we are told were also represented in painted form. The awesome figures created possess a weighty spiritual presence, however, as with many renaissance pieces, it is extremely difficult to connect the art to our mortal experiences. The superhuman figures transcend reality and do not easily emotionally inspire us.

Classical art was followed by mediaeval art, starkly different in style, yet similarly celestial of subject. Figures in Mediaeval mosaics are not physically supermen, situations are not fantastical, yet the art is well removed from mundane reality. The composition is flat, completely one-dimensional, situations highly confrontational and, stylistically, elements such as glittering gold leaf and the contrived poses of the figures shut the viewer out of the picture. Although Mediaeval art was portraying a heaven very removed from that of the Greeks, and one cannot deny the spiritual investment in the work, we are left with a vision difficult to entirely privately access.

In the Renaissance art began to compromise its spiritual integrity almost simultaneously with the subjects and situations being brought closer to the beholder's earthly world. Artists were given the opportunity to demonstrate their talent and training to the full and art reached new peaks of technical perfection through new discoveries such as linear and aerial perspective. Breathtaking works of painting, sculpture and architecture were produced. It seems in order for these feats to be achieved the importance and support of the donor or patron of the arts had to grow. His or her presence became felt in the art. Often the patron was physically depicted in a piece, at other times they exercised creative control through subtle or unsubtle methods. Thus while art was at once more tangible it was at the same time becoming more spiritually tarnished by the patronage necessary for its production.

This tendency was to develop, though not without exception, throughout the following centuries, right up until the Modernist era. Modernist artists began not only to deconstruct stylistic boundaries but to convey inner emotions, original vision and their subconscious, via multifarious subjects. Since the Modernist painters' spiritual epiphany art has descended once more into materialism, though through novel means. It is the ideals of the Modernist painters which the Stuckists wish to return to, only now without the fragmentation of the movement which duly occurred.
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The Stuckists' Space in Modern Art

If one takes as a basic premise the fact that the Modern period in Western art began around 1860 with the Impressionist movement it is from this that one can began to explain why the Stuckists wish to refer to themselves as Remodernist artists.

Impressionist artists, and those who influenced them, such as Manet, Whistler, Renoir and Monet, over the course of a relatively short time span began to free art from the essentially objective methods of interpreting human experience which it had formerly adhered to. The artist's impression of the painting's subject was more important in their work than the desire for universal truth or contrived realism. Their achievements were taken to further heights by the Post-Impressionists such as Van Gogh, Gauguin, Munch and CÚzanne, who combined incredibly unique personal styles with intense emotional energy in their paintings. At the time the public and even the art dealers and buyers were not entirely convinced of the value of the work these artists produced. The momentum of any potentially powerful movement was lost and a fragmentation of Modern art occurred which led to many artists being unable to attain the essential combination of spirituality and reality which rendered the paintings of those such as Van Gogh so truly amazing.

Post-Modernism duly appeared with artists such as Warhol, Hockney and eventually Hirst, often using innovative methods of representation. Unfortunately new or recently rediscovered formal techniques are often accompanied by a cynical or ironical message, and art often comes to be empty of feeling, empathy or sincerity.

This descent into zero spiritual content has accelerated in the art world, culminating in the presence of work in galleries which one might just as easily stumble across in a squat, on a building site or in an abattoir. The super modern artist smugly utilises what amounts to little more than a random object or an angle askew on an everyday scene, "think about this", they urge, as if one were not capable of doing so without their dull art direction.

The Stuckists, as they clarify in their book The Stuckists: the First Remodernist Art Group, wish to take the original, laudable principles of Modernism and use them to produce art with a tangible spiritual content and with relevance to everyday reality. Each member of the group has a natural commitment to this.
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The Stuckists' Space in the Contemporary Art Scene

The Stuckist artists actively working within the London group have not received the attention of major art critics as often as one might have expected. This is especially unusual considering the coverage they have achieved in the wider press, the interest they have inspired amongst art students, and the popularity of their exhibitions with the public. The group have also featured in recent literature, including Styles, Schools and Movements: an Encyclopaedic Guide to Modern Art by Amy Dempsey and The Tastemakers: UK Art Now by Rosie Millard who describes their situation thus, 'blatantly ignored by critics, black-balled by Time Out, without dealers, collectors or any major fan base, the Stuckists have nevertheless got remarkable sticking power'(1).Their lack of appeal to the fashionable visual arts journalist is perhaps due to the artists' personal disdain of all things fashion (bar the Shoreditch location of Stuckism International), their failure to ostentatiously court the media, and their declared apathy towards many contemporary artists and mediums widely deemed cool, bankable, relevant, or all three.

Despite over the past four years having appeared many times in the national press, the sporadic nature of the features, and the lack of journalistic follow-through has left the Stuckists currently in an established but peripheral position in the contemporary art scene. It should be noted though that this reality cannot lead to any credible judgement of artistic merit any more than a popular musical release can be seriously judged by it's achieved chart position alone. The Stuckists have founded their own gallery in central London wherein they continue to display their work without the intervention of Machiavellian middlemen. Their refusal to compromise or comply artistically with current trends and their commitment to producing art of visual and personal integrity renders them central to any worthwhile future for contemporary art other than one dominated by mundanity, mediocrity and pseudo-concept over spiritual content. The artists are not attracted by the prospect of being media muppets but in creating work in accordance with their inner selves.

1. Rosie Millard, The Tastemakers: UK Art Now, p.205
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The Stuckist Environment, Events and Exhibitions

The artists who make up the Stuckists have in the main been working and exhibiting in diverse solo and group capacities for many years, as one might expect from their personal histories. Since the group was formally founded in 1999 they have participated in a number of exhibitions both in London and around the United Kingdom.

A Stuckist art exhibition is often as much an unpredictable event as a static display, as is evident from past exhibitions. The first official group show was entitled The First Art Show of the New Millennium and opened on the stroke of midnight in central London. Exhibitions since have had such provocative titles as The Resignation of Sir Nicholas Serota (8 - 30 March 2000), the Vote Stuckist events of 2001 and The Real Turner Prize Show 2000 (24 - 30 November 2000), followed up on the 5th of November 2001 with The Real Turner Prize Show 2001 and on 9th of December 2002 with The Real Turner Prize Show 2002. These exhibitions are just a few of the artistic collaborations the group has organised since the beginning of 1999. There have been other group shows as well as members of the group holding solo exhibitions. Stuckist artists have also been and continue to be involved with other areas of the arts such as lectures, poetry readings and performing with bands. The first Stuckist show in a public art gallery will be held at Wednesbury Museum and Art Gallery from 24th March until 10th May 2003.

As well as these organised happenings the Stuckists have also made their artistic views known in public demonstrations on frequent occasions at the Tate Britain gallery and also outside the White Cube gallery in Hoxton. These events have not been intentionally confrontational but rather an appropriate mixture of humour and seriousness, given the laughable quality of some of the works put forward at these galleries as profound art.

The Stuckism International Centre opened in London on 25th July 2002. The Stuckist gallery does not have the sterile ambience of the majority of modern art spaces. The whole building comprises four floors. On the basement and ground floors not only can one view changing exhibitions but there are also comfortable sofas accompanied by art publications on which to rest and read, or have a chat, and also access to the Stuckist website. The centre also encompasses an office, as well as Charles Thomson's living quarters and studio space which may in future be used for art classes and kabbalah meetings.

Stuckism is a vibrant, vital movement, but importantly not one with material rather than spiritual aims. This is evident from the nature of their gallery, shows, demonstrations and social activities.
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The International Development of Stuckism

The fact that artists who are now describing themselves as Stuckists came to have similar reactions to the art world surrounding them, simultaneously, is indicative of how very necessary a spiritual renaissance in art is to our time.

There are currently over 50 Stuckist groups and 4 Stuckist international centres worldwide. The groups are all aware of one another and in contact with the original London Stuckists, yet at the same time developing independently, free from constrictions or obligations. It is fundamental to the Stuckist artist to follow their own path, while they acknowledge that to work with and around others can be mutually helpful.

The first Stuckist exhibition in Germany was opened in Hamburg on the 2 April 2000, and was attended by Ella Guru and Sexton Ming. Melbourne Stuckists held their debut show on 27 October 2000. Artists have been working under the Stuckist title in New Haven, USA since 2001. These three groups have now opened international Stuckist centres (in addition to the London base) and hold regular Stuckist exhibitions. The New Haven and Melbourne Stuckists have recently produced films which have achieved international exposure.

Stuckist exhibitions have been held over the years in places as diverse as Paris, Cologne, Devon, Leipzig, New Jersey and Newcastle. There is a student movement supporting Stuckism. Groups of varied size with members of many backgrounds and beliefs exist all around the world. The people who make up Stuckism are as intelligent, interesting and unpretentious as the events they participate in, and most importantly, the work they produce.
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The Holistic Centre of Stuckism

If one examines the works of the Stuckist painters one might remark as much upon the many different subjects, styles and techniques as on the similarities. The Stuckist artists are all working according to their personal vision, while recognising that an individual's life experience necessarily and happily clashes with that of others. An artist's personal journey would be bleak if completely removed from the presence of other creative people or indeed, from the world around them. One imagines any austere isolation could also only result in art others may find impossible to relate to and would therefore be of very limited value.

As many modern artists claim to aspire to, the Stuckists seek to share their insights with others. They see intrinsic worth in the phenomenon of shared experience and do not aim to prompt a reaction simply to perceived cleverness or novelty. As Matthew Collings puts it, 'the Stuckists' platform is sincerity,'(1) although it is more than a platform or posture. In art sincerity is imminently important. Shallow witticisms are better muttered in conversation, if they must be shared at all, rather than being represented by a random object and a sound biteable title in a gallery.

The Stuckists have various spiritual beliefs but they all believe that art should enrich the soul and enflame the spirit, and that this should be achieved through welding our inner emotions with our conscious actions. Art should not worry us, puzzle us, confuse us or lead us into self doubt whilst failing to elucidate. Art should be relevant to private feeling and public life.

1. Matthew Collings, Art Crazy Nation, p.68
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The Artists who Subscribe to Stuckism

The Stuckist artists are linked by a common desire to produce art of artistic worth, other than this they are a disparate collection of individuals. One can read a brief history of key members in the publication The Stuckists: the First Remodernist Art Group.

The Stuckist group was officially founded in January 1999 by Billy Childish and Charles Thomson, however many of the relationships between the artists were founded far earlier. Bill Lewis met Childish and Thomson separately at poetry readings organised by him in Maidstone in 1975. Childish and Thomson first met in 1979 at a poetry event in Chatham. Group members who attended Medway College of Art include Childish and Lewis, Philip Absolon, Sanchia Lewis and Sheila Clark. Sexton Ming, originally from Gravesend, came into contact with the others again through public poetry readings. The artists have been working with varying degrees of contact, in parallel, ever since. Other members have joined the group, all of whom continue to work independently while finding the essential infrastructure of the Stuckist ethos one they can honestly subscribe to and continue to produce meaningful work within.

In order to formulate a more extensive answer as to why the unique vision of each artist can be exhibited beside that of another and result in a balanced environment it is necessary to engage oneself directly with the work and perhaps to learn more about the thoughts and personal histories of each of the Stuckists.
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Bibliography

Michael Archer, Art since 1960, London 1997

Iwona Blazwick and Simon Wilson (eds.), Tate Modern: the Handbook, London 2000

Matthew Collings, Art Crazy Nation, London 2001

Amy Dempsey, Styles, Schools and Movements: an Encyclopaedic Guide to Modern Art, London 2002

Katherine Evans (ed.), The Stuckists: the First Remodernist Art Movement, Berkshire 2000

Rosie Millard, The Tastemakers: UK Art Now, London 2001

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