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Forever young

The YBAs, or Young British Artists, are a group of artists who came to prominence in the 1980s. I have an Argentinian friend, AKA Juan, who is baffled and confused by the constant use of acronyms in England. He says it hardly happens at all in Argentina. Once he pointed this out I started to LMAO – they’re everywhere! Perhaps we english speakers are lazy. Anyway, these YBAs have no shared style or purpose. They are mainly related by participating in a famous group show put together by students from Goldsmiths College in London, led by an entrepreneurial Damien Hirst. More group shows followed, more artists joined and, with the patronage of Charles Saatchi, the YBAs very quickly became a phenomenon. 
Imagine having the moniker “Young” forever associated with you. It must be weird hitting your fifties and people still calling you a Young British Artist. I know how they feel. For decades people have pointed at me yelling “Tremendously Wise And Talented”. Sure it’s flattering but … ok, I’ll be honest, it’s great.
In the cartoon I show some Very Young British Artists at Goldsmiths making some very juvenile mental connections, together with their teacher Michael Craig-Martin. Given the variety and success of his pupils, Craig-Martin has gained a reputation, along with the American John Baldessari, as being one of the best art teachers of his generation. For a glimpse of how they went about things here’s a great conversation between them on the teaching of art. Craig-Martin, whom I have had the pleasure to MIRL several times, has a real curiosity about the world which is really stimulating. I doubt very much he would have acted as I have made him in the cartoon but I liked having him tell those famously Young artists to grow up.
Gary Hume first came to prominence with his paintings of doors, which lit the fires of many critics. Sarah Lucas’ provocative Self Portrait With Fried Eggs has become quite iconic. I couldn’t resist the Egon Schiele / egg on sheila rhyme. For those who don’t know, sheila is the correct term for woman.
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Don’t let yourself down.

Did I get this wrong? I can’t properly tell. The idea for this joke was to have the British artist Julian Opie as Dorian Gray. The stock Julian Opie character has a heavily outlined normal body, but with a featureless circle for a head, which floats, neck-less, above the body. You know the story don’t you, the Oscar Wilde story, ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’? Dorian Gray has his portrait painted. The portrait ages while he remains eternally youthful. Dorian becomes more debauched as time goes on and the portrait keeps changing, reflecting not only his physical degradation but his moral one as well. My idea was for the Opie circle head in the portrait to be half deflated. But I ran into an unexpected problem. Any photographic reference to ‘deflated’ or ‘deflated ball’ on the internet always has a flat bottom – it is always resting on something. But a typical Opie head, sans neck, is a circle that floats. How to draw it? A straight line at the bottom was obviously wrong. But what shape was right? All deflated balls have creases within the silhouette, but I ruled this out (perhaps wrongly) as it suggested 3-dimensionality which felt out of kilter with Opie’s flat 2-D circles. I also thought that crease lines within the silhouette would obscure the whiteness within the circle head and I worried that this already small (and shrunken) head would then be completely lost in the cartoon. In the end I went for a roughly circular bottom with a caved in top that flowed over the sides a bit. It makes no sense really but I couldn’t for the life of me think what did. This intriguing mystery will have no further interest for me or anyone else for the rest of time. The irony is that the whole joke depended on my depiction of the head in the portrait. And I just don’t know if my intended meaning translated. The response to this cartoon when it was published was a bit underwhelming, so perhaps it didn’t. It has left me feeling a little deflated. (I have quickly rushed to the mirror but am again disappointed – I’ve got a flat bottom)
For the room and the portrait I used as reference the 1945 movie ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’. I have only seen clips but a good friend who has seen it says it is really terrific. I don’t doubt it – the ‘before’ and ‘after’ paintings they had painted for the movie are very impressive. In the several movie remakes since 1945, the paintings don’t really compare. I don’t know who painted the ‘before’ painting but the ‘after’ is by Ivan Le Lorraine Albright, an early enthusiasm of mine and an inspired choice to paint the ancient, degraded Dorian Gray.