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WHAT IS STUCKISM?

Stuckism is a radical and controversial art group that was co-founded in 1999 by Charles Thomson and Billy Childish (who left in 2001) along with eleven other artists. The name was derived by Thomson from an insult to Childish from his ex-girlfriend, Brit artist Tracey Emin, who had told him that his art was 'Stuck'. Stuckists are pro-contemporary figurative painting with ideas and anti-conceptual art, mainly because of its lack of concepts. Stuckists have regularly demonstrated dressed as clowns against the Turner Prize. Several Stuckist Manifestos have been issued. One of them Remodernism inaugurates a renewal of spiritual values for art, culture and society to replace the emptiness of current Postmodernism. The web site www.stuckism.com, started by Ella Guru, has disseminated these ideas, and in five years Stuckism has grown to an international art movement with over 187 groups in 45 countries. These groups are independent and self-directed.

Interview by John Wisniewski

JW: What may have sparked the Stuckist Manifesto? What artists inspired you?

CT: I think one could say the deep force was a need to shout something out to the world. It was to put across a message that many people felt, but were not necessarily articulating or, if they were, it was not getting a public platform. There was a need therefore to make sure it got a platform and reached a wider audience.

The artists that inspired me were the ones I work with in the Stuckist movement. Of course, the Stuckist manifesto has to acknowledge all the other manifestos that preceded it, but more particularly those in the early days from Futurism onwards. That is not to say I admire their content – as I think a lot of them are full of hot air – but they undoubtedly provided a model.

Billy Childish, my co-founder of Stuckism (he left in 2001 after two years) came up with the idea for a manifesto and an initial draft, which we worked on together. Many of our ideas overlapped, but our means of expression were virtually opposite: his were rhetorical and mine were analytical. We managed to fuse them and learnt from each other.

JW:  Which artists were attracted to your Manifesto? Did it drawn in members of the art community?

Charles Thompson at his Trispace Show

Charles Thomson at his Trispace Show

CT: There were a lot of isolated artists, occasionally in tiny groups, all round the world who felt alienated and disempowered by the conceptual, commercial art establishment, and who thought new media practices such as video and performance so-called art were boring, false and pretentious, and did not plumb or express the depths which were ascribed to them by critics, curators, collectors, gallerists and auctioneers. These alienated artists are deep and have an honesty and integrity which they have to maintain, regardless of the material disadvantage it brings them.

When Stuckism began to get media attention, it was like a flag being raised, which like-minded people could rally round. And they did, quite incredibly. Stuckism has turned from 13 artists in London in 1999 to an international movement of 240 Stuckist groups in 50 countries and something like 2,500 artists involved.

JW:  Are there any movements currently that you champion in art?

CT: The simple answer is no, apart from Stuckism. If there were movements that embodied what I value in art, then I wouldn’t have needed to start an art movement myself. There is a larger period of “Remodernism” that came out of Stuckism as an umbrella term for the same values, which other people could interpret with their own initiatives, some of which are Defastenism, Remodernist film, Stuckist Photographers and Remodernists of Deviant Art, though I’m not sure how many of them are active now.

JW:  What was the reaction to your Manifesto, Charles, by the art community in the UK and USA?

CT: It’s hard to separate reactions to the manifesto from reactions to Stuckism as a whole, as the two things are so strongly related. The reaction from a lot of artists round the world was recognition and joy. It had a great effect in galvanising support. That is, of course, from people who agreed with us.

Those who disagreed could be quite vitriolic. I was even told (by an art tutor in front of his students) that I shouldn’t say such things. So much for free speech! The arts correspondent of The Times newspaper said Stuckism was “a revolution waiting to happen”. Broadcaster and critic Matthew Collings said, “insider art world people find it hopelessly naive.” However, it seems to be here to stay: in 2011, Alex Danchev included it in his book 100 Artists’ Manifestos: From the Futurists to the Stuckists, published by Penguin Modern Classics.

JW: Who were some of the key figures in The Stuckist Art  Movement, Charles?

CT: To begin with there was only me, as I had the idea and came up with the name, albeit that it was inspired by a Billy Childish poem where he had recorded his ex, Tracey Emin, calling him “stuck! stuck! stuck!” for painting rather than doing conceptual art. Billy had a painting group; I was forming one; I suggested in January 1999 that we join forces as the two co-founders of a new group Stuckism. So then there were two.

"Ring Of Fire" by Ella Guru

“Ring Of Fire” by Ella Guru

We had worked or had connections on and off over the previous 25 years or so with a number of artists, mainly based in North Kent, so these were the obvious people to enlist. Sexton Ming asked for his partner, Ella Guru to be admitted, and for the next six months, she was the third important member, as she could do websites! Thus the Stuckist website came into being with at least 30 hits, 28 from us and two from Ella’s friend.

Later in 1999, we had our first show and wrote the first manifesto, The Stuckists. Billy and I collaborated, but we did have some different ideas and methods. Since Billy left in 2001, there has been – to generalise – a steady development with some wobbles and many leading figures have stabilised, particularly – in the UK – Joe Machine, Ella Guru, Eamon Everall and Philip Absolon of the original group, joined subsequently by Paul Harvey, Mark D, John Bourne, Elsa Dax and Jasmine Surreal. Edgeworth Johnstone made a significant input, but his focus has shifted to collaboration with Billy Childish (with whom I am on amicable terms, by the way).

Terry Marks from New York has been the longest-established Stuckist in the US. Recent key figures there have been Ron Throop, collaborating with Moscow Stuckists, and Black Francis of The Pixies, who founded the Amherst Stuckists. There was some strong activity for a time in Australia with Regan Zero (subsequently a graffiti artist) and in Germany with Peter Klint. Hamed Dehnavi and Farsam Sangini are active in Tehran.

Top Honours, though, have to go to the Czech Republic, where there is the oddest Stuckist situation, as Robert Janas with The Prague Stuckists is operating independently of (and seemingly in opposition to) all other Stuckists, including two in Prague with whom he fell out, namely Jaroslav Valecka and Jiri Hauschka, both of whom are incredibly enterprising and talented in a new group. I still haven’t got to the bottom of all this, but it’s doubtless all good stuff for art history students of the future.

Easy to overlook, but deserving of recognition are those gallery owners/directors/curators, who played their part and without whom… Joe Crompton, Harold Werner Rubin, Ann Bukantas, Fraser Kee Scott, and Ondrej Skarka, as well as collectors such as David Roberts and Zbynek Orlicky.

JW:  Were there ever disagreements about art among the artists?

CT: I think it would be more apposite to ask whether there were ever not disagreements about art among the artists! It was almost comic at the first show of 13 artists, not all of whom had previously known each other, when people would sidle up to me with various protests, pointing to one raw display and hissing, “That’s everything we’re opposed to in Britart”, or looking in blank horror at a more polished oeuvre and condemning it as commercial art. Billy Childish happily went on camera saying he didn’t like any of the work (apart from his own, I presume).

I was very happy indeed, as the group fulfilled exactly what I wanted, namely a diverse and non-stylistically defined contemporary figurative painting group that could only be unified by an ethos of honesty and communication. That aspect of it did work for most people, who, even where they disagreed aesthetically, could respect the integrity and commitment of their colleagues, and felt they were working to the same goal with the same enemies.

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