:: Article

Stuck Inn II

By Charles Thomson.


(for PART ONE click here)

“This is a private gallery. Admission is by invitation only. FUCK OFF!” was the less than welcoming response from Gina Bold when I entered the Arlington Gallery in Camden to see her solo show of art, Born to Be Bold. This enters the dictionary of quotations just below Stella Vine, whose reply to Mark D when he attempted to buy one of her paintings was “GO FUCK YOURSELF!”, and, before that, Tracey Emin, whose observation on former fellow student, Steve Coot’s, factual letter to The Times about her college days was “WHO THE FUCK DOES HE THINK HE IS?”, although that has of course been completely overshadowed by the condemnation of her ex, Billy Childish’s, work: “YOU ARE STUCK! STUCK! STUCK! STUCK!”, the prompt for me to name Stuckism, which has grown since 1999 from 13 artists to an international movement of 160 groups in 39 countries. Fuckism wouldn’t have done it, and I doubt if former brief Stuckist Angela Edwards’ derivative of Shitism will progress much beyond the public lavatory where its first show was held.

The Arlington Gallery in Camden, bringing people together

If I hadn’t been so taken aback, I might have asked, if it was so private, why it had been promoted with flyers, included in gallery listings, posted on the internet, and a press release issued, advertising, in bold capitals, free admission. By now the gallery manager, Richard Seymour (recognisable by an outstanding Rip Van Winkle beard) was in front of me, communicating fuck off rather more politely by informing me that he had instructions from “senior management” (he mentioned Paul Everitt, Head of Artistic Programmes for Novas, who run the gallery) that I was not to be admitted. I found this surprising, as I had taken the precaution of consulting Paul previously about admission to the show, when he had assured me that this was not a problem, that “artists don’t dictate the policy of the gallery” and that he would ensure Gina wouldn’t be there when I visited. It was even more surprising as the Novas web site boasts an “Equality and Diversity policy to ensure no-one is discriminated against because of age, race, sex, disability, offending history, sexual orientation, culture, religion etc.” so you would think I was covered on all bases there, even the etc..

The tirade also came as something of a shock to my companions, a Hampstead doctor with his wife and six year old son. She immediately left the gallery, concerned for the child’s safety. Two other visitors inside also fled, while the doctor and I were herded onto the street, with Richard not very successful trying to pacify Gina, who had pursued us outside and was still in full flood, telling us all once more to “FUCK OFF!”, presumably believing that it was also a private pavement. As I was obviously her primary target, I offered to wait down the road so the family could go in, but they were refused admission even so because, as Richard put it, “Gina is upset.” So was my son, age three, when he wanted his own way over a bar of chocolate, but I didn’t think a temper tantrum was a good reason to give in to him.

The Saatchi Gallery let these people in

Paul Everitt seemed allergic to telephones and my emails asking for an assurance that I was welcome to visit the gallery as a member of the public without being harassed by staff or artists went unanswered, despite being cc’d to Maria Donoghue-Mills, Group Chief Executive, and Michael Wake, Founder and Executive Director, of the Novas-Ouvertures Group Ltd, to give it the full name. The Arlington Gallery is not, pace Ms Bold, private in the same way as, for example, the Saatchi Gallery, though even that failed to exclude me from a private view, despite the fact I had been demonstrating outside minutes earlier wearing a tall hat with Saatchi’s face on it and holding a placard announcing Saatchi had copied the Stuckists. Novas is registered with the Financial Services Authority (FSA) as an Industrial and Provident Society, which means by law that it “must be run … in the interests of the community at large.”

As a member of the community at large, I didn’t consider the way that Novas was running itself over this matter was serving my interests very well. Because it has promised to do so, it has the privilege of registration for tax purposes with the Inland Revenue as an “exempt charity”, a status also enjoyed by the Tate gallery, which is how that institution ended up being censured last year by the Charity Commission for breaching charity law over the last fifty years by buying its trustees’ work without proper authorisation. (That was the ultimate outcome of my drawing attention to the conflict of interest over the purchase in 2005 of its trustee Chris Ofili’s work, The Upper Room, for £705,000, a figure forced out of the gallery, along with previously confidential trustee minutes, under the Freedom of Information Act.) Novas is also funded by 100, mostly public, organisations, including the European Regional Development Fund, four government departments, and various local authorities, among them the London Borough of Barnet, as well as Lloyds TSB Trust – so that is at least seven more bodies to which I contribute financially.

The term “Industrial and Provident Society” sounds like something out of the Victorian era, mainly because it is, with its origin, after 1834 legislation, in the “friendly society”, which was initially the name of a fire-insurance company, but later used for associations where members paid a subscription to provide for their family’s financial hardship in case of sickness or death. In 1852 the Industrial and Provident Societies Partnership Act was passed, “whereas various Associations of Working Men have been formed for the mutual Relief, Maintenance, Education and Endowment of the Members, their Husbands, Wives, Children, or Kindred, and for procuring to them Food, Lodging, Clothing, and other Necessaries, by exercising or carrying on in common their respective Trades or Handicrafts.” Acts in 1862 and 1893, amongst others, led up to the Industrial and Provident Societies Act 1965, which allowed registration for either a co-operative society or a particular kind of business like Novas, which in the words of the FSA, “will usually be charitable or philanthropic in character.” In 1999, there were 8,907 such societies with assets of £56.7 billion.

The Novas-Ouvertures Group Ltd – “promising prospects”

Novas was founded in 1998, numbers 584 staff, and in 2004 had a turnover of £36,875,483. Its initial aim was to provide accommodation for the homeless, its largest contract being £3.3 million with the London Borough of Camden for Arlington House hostel. In 2004, out of a possible poor-fair-good-excellent rating, the Audit Commission gave Novas a rating of fair with “promising prospects for improvement.” Weaknesses included not checking gas appliances (no one’s perfect) and lack of “a comprehensive focus on achieving value for money.” I know what they mean. Recently Novas has been divesting itself of most of its pedestrian housing commitments in order to develop an exciting “series of galleries, art centres, fashion outlets and training initiatives … for established and up and coming artists, and most importantly to people traditionally excluded from arts and cultural activities.” No doubt this will bring creative enrichment to the lives of many who lack such encouragement.

Whilst my emails were vanishing into a Novas void, I managed to find someone on the other end of the phone, namely Darren Asamoa, the Press Officer, who assured me I wasn’t barred from the gallery and Novas “wouldn’t do that” (well, actually, they already had). On the strength of this assurance, I returned to the gallery, circumspectly ensuring Gina wasn’t there, and was told by Richard that I could look round, but that if she turned up, I would be “thrown out”. He seemed understandably apprehensive about the prospect of an unscheduled arrival by her. My visit finally succeeded in evoking a reply from Paul Everitt: “I encourage you to avoid being in the same space as Gina Bold during her exhibition at the Arlington Gallery.” As I had made plain to him that this was my intent from the beginning, I didn’t feel it advanced things very much, apart from continuing to foster the impression that he thought the whole thing was my fault for visiting the gallery in the first place.

Apparently no blame attached to her behaviour because, “Mine and Novas’ main concern is the care and well being of our client base, and in the case of our artists creating a supported and safe environment for them to create.” He obviously hadn’t studied the Industrial and Provident Societies Act 1965, or he’d have realised that by law his main concern is the community at large. Leaving out this minor legal inconvenience, I see on the Novas site that “The term customer is used to describe someone who uses a Novas service. Other words you may hear include ‘Resident’, ‘Tenant’, or ‘Client’.” As I’m using a Novas service, namely their art gallery, presumably that makes me a “client” also, so how about my care and well being, and how about, in the case of their visitors, creating a supported and safe environment for them to view?

Even though I’d pointed it out to him, he didn’t seem very interested either in the Novas anti-social behaviour procedure for dealing with clients. This starts with one verbal and two written warnings and can end with expulsion, although there are also other mechanisms such as an Acceptable Behaviour Contract, which I thought might encourage Gina to avoid being in the same space as visitors during her exhibition at the Arlington Gallery, if she was incapable of civil conduct. Paul’s absence of enthusiasm for my suggestion seemed to confirm the Audit Commission’s observation that there was “a lack of clarity for staff over the definitions of ‘incidents’ and ‘anti-social behaviour’”, although I didn’t find any difficulty in making the definitions myself.

3:AM Spot the Difference Competition

At Maidstone Art College, I attended tutorials by Brian Eno, who informed us that David Bowie had happily confessed to nicking the idea for the song ‘TVC15’ from him. Kylie Minogue didn’t have any problem in acknowledging she had taken words from Billy Childish for the title of her Impossible Princess tour and album. Twelve years before Tracey Emin became famous enough to get invited to Liz Hurley’s wedding, she credited Billy Childish as her “greatest influence” and made his name the biggest in her now-incinerated tent, appliquéd with the names of everyone she’d ever slept with. Since she fell out with him in 1999, when he recklessly talked to the press, despite her ordering him not to, he has curiously become not an influence at all and fails to merit even a mention in books and documentaries about her. Stella Vine, former Stuckophile turned Stuckophobe, and admirer of Tracey, adopted the same expediency, when Charles Saatchi bought her painting of Princess Diana in 2004, by claiming no one had previously been interested in her work, until The Independent pointed out gratifyingly (for me, if not for her and Saatchi) that she was “a protégée of the Stuckist movement” and that Saatchi was “following the Stuckists every move.” Instead of the fine example of David and Kylie, Gina has opted for the tack of Tracey and Stella and the hostility which ramps up their revisionism (or vice versa).

Macbeth and Banquo Meeting the Witches on the Heath (detail) by Théodore Chassériau.

I have an image of myself and Billy Childish somewhere in deepest Scotland on a ravaged field in the middle of a thunderstorm. There is a hideous cackling and, discernible in the gloom behind a reeking cauldron are Tracey Emin, Stella Vine and Gina Bold, chanting “Fair is foul, and foul is fair.” Their faculty for transforming reality at will to their preferred version rivals that of Joseph Stalin’s expertise in rewriting text books and amending awkward photographs to remove old companions fallen into disfavour, though I’m not of course suggesting that the ladies would ever dream of lining us in front of a firing squad.

Mundane facts can be maddeningly elusive for those blessed with a powerful creative imagination. Indeed, Buckminster Fuller found “amnesia serving inductively to inspire artists’ imaginative creation to be valid and exciting.” Nevertheless, one can have too much of a good thing. Gina, backed by the modest Novas propaganda machine, is now promoting herself as a self-taught, outsider artist, who, according to an interview in the Camden New Journal, started painting at the end of 2003 (which coincidentally happens to be the time she parted ways with the Stuckists, after she got upset about the proposed promotion of a show with an image of Emily Mann, Stuckist artist and demonstrator, member of girl band The Client and participant in Channel 5 Make Me a Supermodel), or alternatively, according to her web site CV, in 2002, when she attended college art classes.

Emily Mann in front of Paul Harvey’s painting of her

It is true that Gina attended a term or two of part-time art classes at Barnet College, producing predictable drawings of a life model and some jugs, but that was three months after she started painting seriously in my studio at the Stuckism International Gallery in Shoreditch in June 2002, having told me that she had wanted to paint for twenty years but had a block about doing so. She asked me to help her, which I did over the following sixteen months. At the time she expressed the importance of this in an email to Paul Harvey: “I’m lucky to be getting Charlies constant encouragement all the time, he never lets up and I also need the feed back.” During this period she learnt as much as I ever did on an art degree course (I realise that is a questionable commendation) and whatever else since, including technical aspects of oil mediums and colour mixing, theories such as complementary colour and tonal perspective, and an intimacy with my and other Stuckist artists’ work and ideas, influence from which is clearly apparent in her oeuvre. She even bought a painting from Paul Harvey (to whom she emailed, “I love your work”) and Ella Guru.

Paul Harvey and Gina Bold in happier times, in front of a painting by him

I know Novas has an institutional mission to promote outsider artists who, according to the sign in the Arlington gallery have “little or no art historical knowledge”, but surely her (admittedly mediocre) versions of the now somewhat obscure, 17th century, proto-Romantic, Baroque artist Salvator Rosa’s self portrait should have raised a small suspicion. We studied the original together in the National Gallery, along with the rest of the collection and a temporary exhibition, A Private Passion: Harvard’s Winthrop Collection, where an Ingres drawing became the basis for her painting, Jupiter. Other museum visits included Tate Modern for the Matisse Picasso show, the Royal Academy and Kirchner: Expressionism and the City, Tate Britain during its Gainsborough exhibition, and the Courtauld Institute. If not before, then certainly after all this, her art historical knowledge far surpassed that of most art students I’ve met, who seem to have the impression (not that they ever think about it) that prehistoric art is anything before the Freeze exhibition promoted by Damien Hirst in 1988.

As the first and only show now listed in Gina’s CV is Born to Be Bold in 2007, Novas might congratulate itself that they are launching this neglected artist’s career, but they’re five years too late. She was featured prominently at the Stuckism Gallery in 2002 in The First Stuckist International, F-EST, and The Real Turner Prize Show; in 2003 in The Stuckists Summer Show, Stuckist Artists, and Kith and Kids charity show, as well as the first Stuckist show in a public gallery, Stuck in Wednesbury at the Wednesbury Museum, and an auction at The Princes Foundation; in 2004 at the Stuckism stall at the Affordable Art Fair (where she sold 8 paintings); in 2005 in The Stuckist Punk Victorian fringe shows in Edinburgh and the Rivington Gallery, Shoreditch, and in the first solo show of her work, Hysterical Shock, at the Stuckism International Gallery. She turned down the opportunity to be shown in a national museum, the Walker Art Gallery, for the 2004 Liverpool Biennial (as did Stella Vine, who threatened to commit suicide if her work was included), as well as interest from a West End gallery more recently. Her work was given its own page and featured on the home page on the Stuckist website. A summary of this was included in The Stuckists Punk Victorian book (National Museums Liverpool 2004). She has also turned down sales of her work to anyone who speaks to the Stuckists, in particular Mark D (also turned down, somewhat more abrasively, for the same reason by Stella Vine), which prompted him to start painting his own work instead.

Gina Bold at the Stuckism International Gallery 2003

There is some justification to categorise her as someone who has been excluded from the arts, but only because she has excluded herself. Although her work was, and still is, highly praised by Stuckist artists, such as Paul Harvey and John Bourne (and was bought by Jane Kelly), she has nevertheless embarked on a vitriolic Stuckophobic campaign, based on what can only be described as a hyperbolic imagination, coincidentally regurgitated last year in anonymous posts from a certain “freedom” on the Saatchi Your Gallery Forum, elegiacally deploying Manley Hopkins’ sprung rhythm with “sick, stuck, stalker cunts,” and outing another user, “Sir Edmund Redcliff the Fifth,” as Charles Thomson in disguise promoting “the Stuckist Angela Edwards”, except Sir Edmund turned out to be not Charles Thomson, but in fact (surprise, surprise) Angela Edwards, who then became the target instead, along with the hapless “Divee” (someone rashly trying to introduce a note of moderation) and rather randomly, in absentia, Ann Bukantas, the Fine Art Curator at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, until, unable to sustain the “toff” persona any longer, Sir Edmund excoriated the self-righteous freedom for having “a sense of humour bypass” and being a “TWISTED VANDICTIVE LIEING RUMOURSPREADING NOT VERY NICE PERSON”, before concluding, “YOU MAKE ME SICK NOW FUCK OFF AND STOP SPREADING YOUR LIES”.

I discovered all this purely by chance during a Google search for something else, and left a post declaring, despite freedom’s statements to the contrary, that I had never called Charles Saatchi “a cunt” (he did himself, with irony, to Adrian Searle of The Guardian, who printed it), that I wasn’t happy Stella Vine had cut her wrists, that I didn’t rejoice over the Momart fire, and that women, for example Ella Guru, Elsa Dax, Jane Kelly and Abby Jackson, play a prominent role in Stuckism. Freedom vanished and did a quick Dr Who act, reappearing as anonymous and then “ARA [Animal Rights Activist] Cohen” on another thread to describe a lurid world where Stuckists fantasise about spanking Sir Nicholas Serota (!), whip young girls – with their consent, it was carefully pointed out (where are they?) – and have sex with a dog, to which Abby Jackson helpfully responded, “he’s had a few ex girlfriends matching the description – that should clear that one up.” ARA Cohen quickly clarified that particular remark was aimed not at me, but at Billy Childish – ARA Cohen not being one to let rhetoric be ruined by pedantry, such as, for a start, the stray fact that Billy hasn’t been in the Stuckists for the last six years. All of this is, I’m sure, very good news for PhD students, as well as future biographers and art historians, who will not be short of material to explore, so every cloud has a silver lining, as my mother never tired of saying.

Abby Jackson

Gina is wheeled out by Novas as an exemplar of their core social aid mission (she was even briefly billed as having experienced homelessness, which is an unusual way to describe a North London property owner), in particular their role of assisting those with “mental health issues”, which seem in her case, according to the press release, to be intermittent phases of panic and depression (although they missed out outbursts of untrammelled anger and bitterness – my suggestion for future press releases), sometimes with suicidal thoughts or where she feels “unable to get up from bed”.

If there is an insistence on this defining of mental health, then I’d like to put myself in the same category (indeed, point 7 of the Stuckist manifesto says, “Success to the Stuckist is to get out of bed in the morning and paint”), as well as most of the artists I know: Billy Childish was in therapy for seven years, Sexton Ming is registered mentally disabled (“and proud of it”), Joe Machine has been having therapy since 1998 for sex and violence problems, Naïve John suffered clinical depression and was hospitalised for a suicide attempt, Bill Lewis was in a mental ward after a suicide attempt, and Mandy McCartin has suffered on and off depression for many years.

Their art, and Gina’s, does not need special pleading, which diminishes both it and its creator, nor is it illuminated by this approach – in fact, the opposite, as the art is seen as a product of a particular condition, whereas it exists apart from that to embody the universal, but unfashionable, human condition, albeit experienced with more depth than the norm, and demands to be assessed in that regard on its own undoubted merits.

PART THREE follows here.

Charles Thomson
was the only person in 10 years to fail the painting degree at Maidstone College of Art. In 1979, he was a founder member of The Medway Poets, and then a full-time poet for 13 years, with work in over 100 anthologies. In 1999 he named, co-founded and has since been the driving force of the Stuckism movement, which now numbers more than 150 groups in 38 countries. He has demonstrated for 7 years outside the Turner Prize, and in 2005 applied under the Freedom of Information Act for Tate trustee minutes about the gallery’s purchase of its trustee Chris Ofili’s work. This led in 2006 to the Charity Commission’s ruling that the Tate had been acting illegally for the last 50 years. His painting satirising Sir Nicholas Serota, whose face peers over a large pair of (Tracey Emin’s) red knickers, is a well-known image. He was briefly married to artist Stella Vine in 2001.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, April 27th, 2007.