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What is a Stuckist?

Billy Childish and Charles Thomson interviewed by Richard Dean in 2000

Billy Childish and Charles Thomson are the co-founders of Stuckism. They originally met in the 1980s as members of the Medway Poets, many of whom are today core members of the Stuckist group. Childish and Thomson have presented the case for Stuckism in a series of pamphlets, manifestos and open letters, as well as in exhibitions, lectures and public demonstrations. This interview with Richard Dean is the first formal online discussion of their ideas and intentions.

Question: What is a Stuckist? Not "What is Stuckism?" but what makes a Stuckist different to other artists?

Childish: There are a few writing factors in the Stuckists. We paint. We paint figurative, recognisable images; almost all the pictures are of the human figure or the human condition. I think to be a Stuckist admits where we all are.

Thomson: Someone who calls themselves a Stuckist, I suppose. This may or may not be one of the thirteen artists in the Stuckist art group. A Stuckist exists at a point in history when it is necessary to bring art back to values that have been lost, as stated in the Stuckist manifestos.

Question: Does Stuckism seek equal time with BritArt or do you want to displace it?

Childish: I think that BritArt is a commercial exercise at the expense of the artists and the public. I don?t want to replace BritArt, I want to bring into question the whole notion of the artist as celebrity- which is of little use to the artist and no use to their admirers/detractors.

Thomson: Stuckism has already displaced BritArt in historical terms.

Question: One criticism of Stuckism is that the manifestos are good but the pictures are another thing altogether. How do you respond to this?

Childish: On the whole, I like the work of the Stuckists and think that a lot of so-called art lovers don't love art at all and are only interested in autographs. There is quite a large range of artists in the group, from highly trained to no training at all. I think that this is too open and challenging for your average art lover.

Thomson: This shows that some people have not properly understood the manifestos. Don't forget, the manifestos were written to to explain the context and background to the paintings. It also shows that some people read selectively, or perhaps like the theory but are not so happy with the reality.

Question: Does Stuckism compromise itself by using the same publicity apparatus as the BritArtists?

Childish: Stuckism's publicity apparatus is as home made as its art.

Thomson: We do not use the same publicity apparatus. We are not promoted by great institutional resources, Charles Saatchi, Mathew Freud PR, a full-time team of eighteen people at the White Cube Gallery, etc etc. Our "publicity apparatus" has been the kitchen table- and yes, we are compromised by that certainly.

Question: What would a Stuckist art world be like?

Thomson: It's like it is already for those who belong to it- which anyone can if they wish.

Question: Do you believe that the State should play a role in contemporary culture or maintain its distance?

Childish: Maintain its distance-not be in bed, as in the Turner Prize, with hungry media manipulators.

Thomson: It has to play a role- unless, for example, the Tate Gallery closes down.

Question: Guy Debord said that artists now are "the court jesters to the kings of junk". Do you agree, or is there an alternative?

Childish: He would be correct about a certain kind of artist who will pander to anyone for money. Of course, there are thousands of artists up and down the country who maintain their integrity and are therefore "out of sight" at the moment. We are very naughty and have come "into sight" without permission.

Thomson: I thought the artists were the kings of junk. Anyway, there is always an alternative.

Question: Would you let yourself be nominated for the Turner Prize?

Childish: Most definitely.

Thomson: Thanks. That is most kind of you.

Question: Finally, who's going to win this year?

Childish: To show they are in fashion they must let one of the "painters" win: either the ironical copyist or the chap who does embroidery. "Painting", for them, must employ cheap gimmicks.

Thomson: Let us try to transcend this low level of winning/losing.

Notes on Richard Dean
Richard Dean teaches art history and cultural studies at the Kent Institute of Art & Design in Canterbury, UK as well as teaching for the Unit for Regional Learning at the University of Kent. He studied at the Boston Museum School and The Art Students League of New York before receiving a Masters Degree in Fine Art at the Kent Institute and completing a Certificate in Education at Canterbury Christ Church University College. Richard continues to paint at his studio in Whitstable, Kent while maintaining his interests in outsider and abstract art. He reviews books and exhibitions for www.Imagespeak.com and is working on a history of modern art.

This interview first appeared in 2000 on www.imagespeak.com [site defunct]

Richard Dean reviews the Real Turner Prize Show 2000 [site defunct]