ARTISTS: Charles Thomson is Stuck in the Remodern

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Charles Thomson “Top Hat”

The Stuckist is not a career artist but rather an amateur (amare, Latin, to love) who takes risks on the canvas rather than hiding behind ready-made objects (e.g. a dead sheep). The amateur, far from being second to the professional, is at the forefront of experimentation, unencumbered by the need to be seen as infallible. Leaps of human endeavour are made by the intrepid individual, because he/she does not have to protect their status. Unlike the professional, the Stuckist is not afraid to fail.

-Billy Childish and Charles Thomson, The Stuckist Manifesto

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In October, the international art movement Stuckism will be the subject of a significant exhibit at the University of Kent, Canterbury England.

It’s not easy to gain such institutional recognition when a large part of your reputation comes from directly challenging the pretensions and presumptions of the arts establishment, instead of conforming to their elitist notions of socially acceptable targets. And yet, over fifteen years after the first group was founded, Stuckism is gaining a grudging acknowledgement as a relevant and historic part of the ongoing continuum of art.

I had no idea: Conceptual art
I had no idea: Conceptual art

In 1999 London was arguably the art capital of the world, and there was sensational hype around Conceptual art: the idea that an idea was all that mattered, and the more off putting the idea was, the better. Conceptual artists mostly aren’t talented enough to create their own art, which is farmed out to technicians and craftsmen. The main functions Conceptual artists fulfill is to act as loutish PR agents for their own awesomeness, suck up to high roller investors, and enact the exhausted and hollow rituals of shocking the bourgeois. They are enabled in these charades by a compliant media, the thoroughly compromised academy, corrupted cultural institutions, and ignorant, trophy hunting tycoons. In the Post Modern age, admittance to the New Class aristocracy of the well connected requires capitulation to their nihilistic and decadent world view, in addition to the usual grovelling and throne sniffing. The results of all this collusion are hideous.

But confronted by this festering pit of cultural suicide, some chose to articulate the promptings from the still, small voice inside. The voice that pointed out art is not about money, power and celebrity. Art is about seeking integrity, accepting responsibility for our own struggles for personal growth, and sharing that process so others can see. Art is a tool for communication and connection, and to treat it as an exclusive toy for an arrogant ruling class is an insult to humanity.

Such ideas led to the founding of Stuckism, codified in a manifesto written by two English creatives, Billy Childish and Charles Thomson. The first group exhibit of these independent artists was held in September 1999. Since then, over 230 Stuckist groups have been established in 52 countries all around the world.

Stuckism made a splash by embracing the kind of urgent, expressive figurative painting considered unfashionable at the time by art world technocrats. There’s not one set style of Stuckism; it’s more a matter of motivation. Instead of aiming to create slick commodities, a Stuckist is more concerned with trying to trying to honestly engage with the process of creation, making both mistakes and discoveries along the way.

Childish and Thomson took their ideas a step further in the Remodernism manifesto. There they identified the elite have broken their credibility by favoring materialistic, relativistic Post Modern thought. The neglect of the spiritual nature of life is corrected by recognizing the experimental nature of Modern art as an expression of the soul.

Like Groucho Marx, another infamous mustached iconoclast, Childish wouldn’t be a part of any club that would have him as a member. Billy soon left the group that he helped to define, although he continues to paint, with increasing success. He now describes himself as “an armchair Stuckist;” while he appreciates the ideas, the tasks involved in organizing and maintaining a global network of artists aren’t for him.

However, his co-founder Charles Thomson has remained committed to providing a structure in which idealistic artists can operate and network. Since starting Stuckism, Thomson has continued to perform as an arts activist and advocate.  He writes, speaks, protests and critiques, as well as creating his own Cloisonnism inspired paintings; his most recent solo exhibit is being held this fall in Prague. His efforts have provided a much needed perspective on the dysfunctional establishment art world.

I was honored to be asked to take part in the Kent exhibit, and wanted to take the opportunity to find out more about Charles Thomson’s thoughts on the past, present and future of the arts and culture. We completed the following interview in email exchanges.

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Founder: Charles Thomson
Founder: Charles Thomson

How did you initially get involved in the visual arts?

Charles Thomson: I did a coloured crayon drawing of my teddy bear and sold it to my grandfather for a penny. I was about five at the time. It’s carried on from there. I have – with occasional lapses – always been involved in a creative field, poetry or painting.

How did you come to found the Stuckist movement?

CT: It was a vehicle to promote a group of artists who paint contemporary pictures with ideas, emotion and meaning, as opposed to exhibiting a dead shark and calling it art (whereas most of the rest of the world calls it a dead shark). I had the idea for the group and co-founded it in 1999 with Billy Childish (who left after a couple of years).

Why do you think it has gained such an international following?

CT: It embodies the values that a lot of artists have, but who find themselves sidelined by a Postmodern ethos that puts celebrity, cynicism and commerce above any spiritual or deeper human values.

What makes an artist a Stuckist?

CT: They appoint themselves, in the same way that people became Impressionists or Surrealists etc.

You collaborated on two major manifestos: Stuckism and Remodernism. The Stuckist Manifesto directly addresses the mismanagement and excesses of the contemporary establishment art world. The Remodernist Manifesto evokes a larger social context with vast implications. It provides a positive alternative to the sophistry and manipulations of the Post Modern mindset so prevalent among cultural elitists. How did the writings of these two works develop?

CT: With great difficulty. It’s not too difficult to know what your values are. It’s a lot harder to express them. It’s harder still to express them in a meaningful and memorable way. That last part was quite an ordeal. Fortunately both Billy Childish (with whom I co-wrote the manifestos) and I had worked for many years in writing and poetry, so we had a lot of verbal resources to draw on.

Another issue was that Billy and I came from very different directions. I would say that he was rhetorical and I was analytical. The meshing of these approaches was very trying at times, but ultimately very rewarding.

Why do you think the cultural elites advocate such dysfunctional art?

CT: Because they are dysfunctional elites, cultural in professed aspiration but driven by a realpolitik of kudos and cash.

The arts and media elites reacted with hostility when the Stuckists were founded. But now it seems whenever the press wants a comment on the latest conceptual art outrage they seek you out. What has your relationship been like with the establishment cultural industries? Has there been any change through the years?

CT: The situation has not substantially changed. In the UK, the press in particular – and the media in general – is divided into two sections, namely art criticism/review and art news, the former mostly written by specialist critics, i.e. collaborators of the art establishment,  and the latter mostly written by standard journalists, i.e. opponents of the art establishment. Arts journalists speak to a much wider readership than the arts pages at the back of the paper, and they provide a much more rounded view.

The art establishment has softened slightly, but is still very much opposed to Stuckism. What is happening now though is that a new generation is growing up with an acceptance of Stuckism as a valid entity, embodied in, for example, the Penguin Modern Classics book, “100 Artists’ Manifestos: from the Futurists to the Stuckists”, edited by Alex Danchev.

There seems to be a connection between Stuckism and alternative music. Black Francis of the legendary band the Pixies founded the Amherst Stuckists, and is represented in this exhibit. Kid Congo Powers of the Cramps has expressed his admiration. And movement co-founder Billy Childish is a prolific garage rock recording artist. What do you think inspires these musicians about an artistic philosophy like Stuckism?

CT: They basically have the same philosophy – of making art that is genuine, expressive and inspiring. The music world interacts with its wider audience, as does Stuckism, whereas the established art world ignores its audience and interacts with its power brokers.

Stuckist protest at the Tate Museum 2002
Stuckist protest at the Tate Museum 2002

The Stuckists were infamous for protesting the annual art event the Turner Prize, but now have discontinued the process. What were some notable things about the protests? Why have you discontinued them?

CT: One notable thing was longevity – we protested from 2000 for 15 years. Another was the spectacle and ridicule. We dressed as clowns initially and walked through the gallery like that. Last year we were there handing out leaflets to apologise that we weren’t protesting because the exhibits were so bad they weren’t worth protesting about. (That amused the press.) The protests struck a deep chord with the general public and also the news pages of the press. The protests were a lot more meaningful than the exhibits. We may have discontinued them, but then again we may not.

How did this show at the University of Kent come about?

CT: The students of the MA Curating course invited the Stuckists for a show as their end of course project. I collaborated with them on the form it should take, which is a representation of Stuckism now, based on UK Stuckists but showing the relationship with Stuckists internationally.

Are you optimistic about the direction the arts are going in? Why?

CT: I do my work and I see my colleagues doing theirs. This has been a collaboration stretching back in some cases to the late 1970s. This is the direction art is going in as far as I am concerned. As for the wider picture, I recommend a study of history. We are in a mirror image/parallel world to the nineteenth century, where an ossified establishment was opposed by pioneering radicals.

What is happening in your own art now?

CT: A mini-renaissance. Finally after about three decades, I am painting the way I have always wanted to, which marries the opposites of free expression and disciplined definition.

Why does art matter in the 21st century?

CT: It is an aspect of human experience that is valuable and cannot be accessed through other means in quite the same way.

If someone is concerned about the state of the culture, what should they do?

CT: I guess that depends on what they are concerned about exactly. From my perspective, they should support Stuckism and seek to understand what is really driving it, not what its media reputation is.

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Stuckism: Remodernizing the Mainstream

Studio 3 Gallery, Jarman Building, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent CT2 7UG

1 October – 11 December 2015

Artists include: Philip Absolon, Floyd Anthony Alsbach, Virginia Andow, Richard Bledsoe, Godfrey Blow, John Bourne, Nick Christos, Jonathon Coudrille, Adam Crosland, Mark D, Elsa Dax, Hamed Dehnavi, Artista Eli, Eamon Everall, Black Francis, Andrew Galbraith, Ella Guru, Paul Harvey, Jiri Hauschka, Wolf Howard, Edgeworth Johnstone, Jacqueline Jones, Jane Kelly, Shelley Li, Joe Machine, Terry Marks, Peter Murphy, Bill Lewis, Persita, Justin Piperger, Emma Pugmire, Farsam Sangini, Frank Schroeder, Jasmine Surreal, Charles Thomson, Marketa Urbanova, Yaroslav Valecka, Charles Williams, Odysseus Yakoumakis, Chris Yates, Annie Zamero.

EXHIBITION: Patriotic Art Auction to Benefit the Families of the Chattanooga 5

 

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The Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium, Chattanooga Tennessee

THE PATRIOTIC ART AUCTION

September 24 – October 8, 2015

Opening Reception Thursday 9/24 5:30-7:30 pm

The Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium Lobby

399 McCallie Ave.

Chattanooga, TN 37402

 

It’s painful to contemplate. The rotted husks of what were once our cultural institutions are profoundly failing to serve their vital role in civil society.

Fortunately, when the institutions have succumbed to corruption, it gives the people a chance to rise up, and take matters into their own hands.

We are seeing a dramatic shift in the ways the American people respond to the systematic failures of our government, media, and academia. One upcoming event shows this new direction, made in response to the existing establishment’s wholly inadequate response to a horrific act.

On July 16, 2015, a man named Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez opened fire on two military facilities in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Before he was finally killed by the police, he had inflicted fatal injuries on four US Marines and one sailor.  Sergent Carson A. Holmquist, Gunnery Sergent Thomas J. Sullivan, Lance Corporal Squire K. “Skip” Wells, Staff Sergent David A. Wyatt,  and Navy Petty Officer Randall Smith all died as a result of the attack.

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Killed in the line of duty, right here in the United States

The Islamic shooter researched “martyrdom” as recently as a day before his murderous spree. However, we are fortunate to have government officials and media around to assure everyone the degenerate killer’s motives were unknown. Such a mystery!

Within days of this horrific mass murder inflicted on American service members right in the heartland, the story sunk from sight. It’s a terrible reality that does too much to disrupt the happy talk narrative the entire establishment class is so invested in: that the results of their corrupt pursuit of unaccountable power for themselves on one hand, and abject capitulation before our enemies on the other, means peace, happiness and pet unicorns all around.

Barack Obama, the Commander in Chief of our nation’s armed forces, didn’t even order the ceremonial lowering of American flags to half mast until days after the incident, and only after being confronted with intense criticism.

Burying the story was easy, because most media, academic and cultural elitists engage in dogmatic hostility towards the US Military anyway. But outside of the insular, incestuous Beltway/Ivy League Axis, and their coastal strongholds of Post-Modern magical thinking,  there are still those who understand the sacrifices our fighting men and women make on the behalf of the rest of us. We want to show our gratitude to not only the warriors, but to their families as well.

Before the visual arts became a plaything for the decadent crypto-Marxist glitterati, there was a time when the arts served as a force for communal bonding and communication. There are signs that this function, art’s traditional role in our civilization, is undergoing a resurgence.

The grassroots had to step in where officials were failing to lead. Local artists in Tennessee were moved to create an art show in tribute to the fallen, hoping to be able to raise some funds for the loved ones left behind. They devised the idea of a Patriotic Art Auction, not the sort of thing you would ever find in today’s typical establishment-networked galleries and museums.

I was invited to take part in this DIY show through my social media connections with Liberatchik founder Frances Byrd, a culture warrior in her own right. Frances took some time to describe the art show and  her larger mission:

What is the Patriotic Art Show Event?
Frances Byrd: Following the July 16 shootings in Chattanooga, a fellow artist from Tennessee reached out to me for help organizing a tribute to the fallen. He then contacted Hart Gallery in Chattanooga, offering to donate art to the families of the fallen service members. This gesture turned into a full-scale art event that will run Sept. 24 through Oct. 8 at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium.

More than 30 pieces of art—sculptures, paintings and mixed media—will be on display and for sale during the event. All proceeds from the auction will benefit local veterans and first responder support groups.

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Frances Byrd “Chattanooga 5”

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Why is it important for artists to show support for our military and veterans?
FB: It is important for everyone to support our military and veterans. They put themselves in harm’s way to defend our country and our freedoms. Often, they come home to a hostile and misunderstanding civilian community. There is entirely too much art out there portraying our soldiers as monsters or opportunists. It is crucial for those of us who support and appreciate our military to step up and create art that is positive and patriotic. In the wake of incidents like the July 16th terror attack in Chattanooga, it is imperative that we find ways to show support for the individuals and communities affected and remind the survivors of the reasons our military makes those sacrifices.

How did you come to be involved with the show?
FB: A fellow artist on Facebook who is familiar with my work organizing libertarian and conservative artists and events contacted me with his idea. He wanted to ask our artist networks across the country to donate something to send to the families or the recruiting centers where the attacks took place. Once he found a gallery to host the show, it was just a matter of asking for the art and organizing the event. If you are interested in learning more, or attending the event, you can get info on Hart Gallery’s Facebook Page and a local paper’s pages.

Liberatchik: Frances Byrd
Liberatchik: Frances Byrd

What is Liberatchik?

FB: About six years ago I partnered with Christopher Cook from Western Free Press to create Liberatchik.com. Our initial concept was to start an art movement that would disrupt the status quo in the arts and unseat the elitist progressive power structure controlling the culture. Over time, our concept of providing an online gallery, blog, and networking forum for pro-American artists has blossomed into an organized group from all across America who are beginning to show their art collectively. Liberatchik is now home to over 30 artists and writers who showcase their work in an online gallery format and maintain several avenues for discussions regarding culture and society; both as a group and as individual artists. Our artists showcase their work at Liberatchik.com in order to promote America, limited government, and patriotism through a wide variety of mediums and styles. We are currently working on a group show for early 2016.

If someone is concerned about the state of the culture, what should they do?
FB: Get involved. If you’re an artist, make conceptual art. Inspire people to learn more, educate them about the things that concern you, and discuss the work with them. Start at the community level. It is difficult, but be patient. It takes time, though there is far more interest and support than there was 12 years ago when I decided to focus on political and conceptual art promoting America and Constitutional principles.
Find networks for interacting with like-minded artists. Liberatchik is a great place for libertarian and conservative artists, but there are other groups as well. If your focus is on purely technical work or a return to classicism in the arts, there are groups for that focus also.
If you’re not an artist, become a patron. That means finding artists you agree with ideologically and buying their work. Every sale, however small, makes a difference. Share work by artists and groups you support. We can’t work in a vacuum, and it is difficult to balance creating art with promoting art.
Finally, become part of the discussion. Follow artists and groups online and via social media. Interact with the artists. Express your concerns and give feedback. If you don’t take an active role in the culture, like the left has done for generations, you won’t get the culture you want. It’s simple economics. Use your money and support to invest in work that appeals to you, get it in front of as many people as possible, and take the time to go to events in your area and interact with the artists directly. Become an active participant in our struggle to #TakeBackOurCulture.

 

Update: Welcome Instapundit readers! In the fight to change the culture, it starts in the art. Please look around to see other posts about the renewal taking place in the visual arts.

STUDIO: The Mystique of the Artist Studio

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The newest configuration of the home studio. Cameo appearance by Motorhead the cat.

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This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be.

-Joseph Campbell

What other professional’s workshop has the same aura as an artist’s studio? When the space dedicated to the creation of art is discussed, there could be some hyperbole involved; words like magical and sacred might be mentioned.

There are elements of surprise and reverence in the process of making art. But other important concepts of the working studio should not be overlooked: efficiency, comfort, and ultimately, enjoyment. Depending on the artist, most of the creative mystery happens internally, and is not generated by their location. What a studio needs to be is a place that best supports the realization of inspiration, and how that takes form is fascinating in itself.

Artists are resourceful, and can make a studio almost anywhere. A corner of the living room, a garage, the spare room; during various times of my art career I’ve found myself with my easel in the kitchen, worrying about getting paint on the table, wondering about the combination of a gas stove and mineral spirits.

There is nothing like having the dedicated space just for art. There is great pleasure in not having to pack up and move all materials at the end of a session, to have the needed tools within reach when an idea strikes. The magic in artists’ studios is in the sense of purpose, a Zen-like meditation on process.

It is an exotic environment. Many strange devices and substances are used there. Simple everyday needs like lighting and storage take on whole new urgency. And in the studio there is the artist, a person who puts appearances onto ideas. Might seem like an anachronism in these technological times, but the artist fulfills a deep human need.

EXHIBITIONS – Stuckism: Remodernising the Mainstream, University of Kent, Canterbury England

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Charles Thomson “Top Hat”

It is quite clear to anyone of an uncluttered mental disposition that what is now put forward, quite seriously, as art by the ruling elite, is proof that a seemingly rational development of a body of ideas has gone seriously awry. The principles on which Modernism was based are sound, but the conclusions that have now been reached from it are preposterous.

We address this lack of meaning, so that a coherent art can be achieved and this imbalance redressed.

Let there be no doubt, there will be a spiritual renaissance in art because there is nowhere else for art to go. Stuckism’s mandate is to initiate that spiritual renaissance now.

-The Remodernism Manifesto

I have been dedicated to creating art pretty much my entire conscious life. I’ve been a working, exhibiting artist since the late 1980s. But my whole perspective on art underwent a profound shift in 2010, when I discovered a few powerful documents during some late night web surfing.

Coming across the Stuckism and Remodernism Manifestos was inspirational. Billy Childish and Charles Thomson were able to articulate ideas I’d long held but had not put into a larger context. They showed me I was not alone in my belief in the possibilities of art. They described a new way forward after the inevitable failures of nihilistic, decadent Postmodernism.

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English artists Charles Thomson and Billy Childish

With Remodernism, they created an open source art movement, a convincing alternative to elitist snobbery, and a way to build on the traditions of the past to make the art of the future. I am grateful for their integrity. They demonstrated to me the grassroots are global.

Since 1999, Stuckism has spread to 236 declared groups in 52 countries. DIY shows and pop up galleries are common features for these independent artists, and there’s always some excitement brewing somewhere. In January 2014 I curated “International Stuckists: Explorers and Inventors” here in Phoenix, Arizona, hosting works from the USA, England, Wales, Spain, France and the Czech Republic. Stuckism Russia just held a show in Moscow in August 2015, and created a video of the opening. But the next Stuckist show scheduled is being held in a more established venue.

I am honored to announce I’m taking part in “Stuckism: Remodernising the Mainstream” at the University of Kent,  Canterbury, England. 70 paintings from 42 artists will be displayed, including works from movement co-founder Charles Thomson and original members such as Ella Guru and Bill Lewis. Black Francis, front man of the legendary alternative band the Pixies and founder of the Amherst Stuckists, is also taking part.

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Stuckists meet: Edgeworth Johnstone, Black Francis, Shelley Li

As Carl Jung stated, “All art intuitively apprehends coming changes in the collective unconsciousness.” Stuckism and Remodernism can been seen as harbingers of the growing rebellion against the presumptions of an entrenched and unaccountable ruling class, a revolt which is becoming increasingly visible in society. The movements will continue to grow until the facades of Postmodern sophistry are discredited and eliminated.

This is the piece I contributed which I feel perfectly captures the energy at work here. An image straight out of the writings of Mark Twain, but which evokes Kali, symbol of Time, Change, Power, Creation, Preservation … and Destruction. That’s the spirit of this age.

Portrait of EG

Richard Bledsoe “The Portrait of Emmeline Grangerford” acrylic on canvas 30″ x 24″

Stuckism: Remodernising the Mainstream

Studio 3 Gallery, Jarman Building, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent CT2 7UG

1 October – 11 December 2015

Artists include: Philip Absolon, Floyd Anthony Alsbach, Virginia Andow, Richard Bledsoe, Godfrey Blow, John Bourne, Nick Christos, Jonathon Coudrille, Adam Crosland, Mark D, Elsa Dax, Hamed Dehnavi, Artista Eli, Eamon Everall, Black Francis, Andrew Galbraith, Ella Guru, Paul Harvey, Jiri Hauschka, Wolf Howard, Edgeworth Johnstone, Jacqueline Jones, Jane Kelly, Shelley Li, Joe Machine, Terry Marks, Peter Murphy, Bill Lewis, Persita, Justin Piperger, Emma Pugmire, Farsam Sangini, Frank Schroeder, Jasmine Surreal, Charles Thomson, Marketa Urbanova, Yaroslav Valecka, Charles Williams, Odysseus Yakoumakis, Chris Yates, Annie Zamero.