Billy Childish On Stuckism.
Billy Childish co-formed the Stuckist art movement in 1999 with Charles Thomson. He has subsequently left the group. Jean Encoule recently quizzed him on the birth of Stuckism to accompany the Charles Thomson Q&A elsewhere in this issue.
trakMARX - How did you become involved with The Medway poets?
I met Bill Lewis at Medway College of Design in 1977. I was doing a punk fanzine, ‘Chatham’s Burning’, & writing some nursery rhymes. I did an impromptu reading standing in people’s pie & mash & spitting in their soup on the table in the canteen. Bill invited me along to read with the Outcrowd at the Lamb pub in Maidstone.
trakMARX - How did you meet Charles Thomson?
He turned up at a reading in Chatham in 1979, the York pub. He was doing drawings of Fredrico, a general in an old famous painting, & saying they were pictures of me. Bill & Charles are several years older than me. They were the ex-hippies & I was the naughty punk rocker.
trakMARX - Was the spirit of what would become Stuckism born at these readings?
Me & Charles were at war from 1979 until 1999. He even threatened having bouncers on the doors of Medway poet’s readings to keep me out. There were two camps in the Medway poets from day one - me & Sexton versus everyone else. Bill came down on our side in the end. Rob Earl would have been with me & Sexton, but he wasn’t on the scene so much.
trakMARX - Whose initial idea was it to form the Stuckists & who coined the term Stuckism?
I had Group Hangman, a hang over from a group including me, Sanchia Lewis, Shelia Clark and Traci Emin (about 1983/4). I started it up again in 1997 with a lot of the people from Medway who later came with me into the Stuckists. There were several manifestos, but they were anarchic and contradictory - my favourite! Then Charly got in touch and wanted to form a group. He suggested the Stuckists as a name - taken from a 1993 poem of mine about Traci.
trakMARX - What was the full context of the insult that named the movement?
The truth is, in the poem ‘Poem For A Pissed Off Wife’, Traci was just having a fit at me because I refused to go to an art event with her to watch her new friend Sarah (Lucas) give a talk whilst stuffing cocaine up her nose. Traci thought this was incredible exciting whilst I plumbed for dull and boring. I told her that this Brit Art was pretentious rubbish and had all been done better in 1914. She then told me my music, painting & writing was stuck. Really, she was just being a big cry-baby, because i wouldn’t indorse this stuff. But Charly liked the insult, & so did I.
trakMARX - How involved were you in the writing of the Stuckist manifestos?
They were my idea and I insisted they must be done, much against Charly’s first instinct. Then he saw the sense and we pounded them out between us – 50/50. A good 20 hours doing each document. Me arguing for insanity - and Charly demanding clarity.
trakMARX - Do you still recognise their content?
trakMARX - Why did you decide to leave the Stuckists?
I wanted to leave within the first 6 months but Charly asked me to stay on as long as I could stand it. Firstly, I didn’t mind being in a group where I didn’t like a lot of the work because I feel that an artist can be mature enough not to need a comfort zone of agreement. But in the end, I didn’t like what was being promoted as representing my beliefs. Charly under-used my stuff, but I was sited all the time. Also, Charly was gunning for Traci a bit, and I felt it was the wrong thing to do, but still I pick up the tab for it. The truth is, Charly is as media hungry as Traci.
I grew to like Charles as a person - but not in charge of the group. Likewise, I like Traci, but not her public persona (which, incidentally, is nothing to do with confessional art, but is in fact revisionist in nearly all its aspects). Also, I think that a lot of the artists in the Stuckists are not sincere and don’t believe in the manifesto, or understand what I’m on about.
trakMARX - Which artists currently working under the banner of Stuckism do you relate to?
As picture makers, Phill Absolom, Wolf Howard, Sexton Ming, Joe Machine. As people, I can relate to anyone.
trakMARX - Does art need movements?
People need movements to help them think - then you should drop it.
PS - I’ve been invited by Charles to exhibit at the Stuckists show at the Walker Gallery in Sept, as a historical reference, which I might foolhardily do.
Jean Encoule – tMx 14 – 04/04