First published in The Guardian, 5 February, 2014
Work No. 227: The lights going on and off , by Martin Creed, is exactly what the title says – a light in a ceiling in a room, switching on and off at 5 second intervals. That’s it. It has been described as the first important artwork of the 21st century. Other well known works by Creed are Work No. 850, which saw athletes sprinting through the halls of Tate Britain; and Work No. 1197, where people across England rang bells for 3 minutes at the same time. The Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt took part – his bell broke halfway through. For all you budding art students, this is an example of symbolism.
My cartoon looks like the simplest thing in the world to think up and draw but was actually a bit of a struggle. It was done in the midst of some fluey virus that had knocked me flat for 10 days. The only thing for which I could summon any energy was wallowing, which I did in sweaty puddles of self pity. I am sure in normal circumstances I could and would have done a bit more with it, particularly the ending. Perhaps Martin Creed suffered just as much in creating such an apparently simple looking artwork. Perhaps he too was left feeling like he could have done more with it. He probably walks around slapping his forehead every time it enters his head: “The light should have changed every FOUR seconds. I’m such an IDIOT!!” Anyway he can’t feel too bad as the thing won him the Turner Prize in 2001. For those who don’t know, the Turner Prize is the UK’s most prestigious art competition. For some reason Creed’s winning work prompted quite a bit of discussion as to the merit of contemporary art. I have mixed feelings about it. When the light is on I feel enlightened and when it’s off I get a bit sad. I saw his recent retrospective at the Hayward. It left me ambivalent about his work as a whole but he did manage to produce some strange sensations. His piece ‘Work No. 200: Half the air in a given space’ is a large room half full of white balloons, reaching above head height. You walk through it, pushing a path through the balloons. I had taken my 5 year old daughter and the accumulating static electricity was giving her hair a maniacal life of its own. In her sheer delight this cackling, wild-haired being burrowed faster and faster through the balloons as I desperately tried to keep up. At that moment I experienced a fear which I think even Freud had overlooked – the fear of losing one’s child in a room full of balloons. Since this was my discovery I got to name it – Duggbloons syndrome. After an exhaustive peer review process, the scientific journal “Nature” is on the verge of publishing my paper on the syndrome. There’s just one stumbling block; they demand I credit Martin Creed, at the very least in the footnotes. I am extremely reluctant to do so, for reasons I find hard to analyse. And why should I? I’m not a £%*& psychologist.
First published in The Guardian, 22 Janury, 2014
I had an idea about doing something along the lines of that movie trope where someone (for the sake of convenience, let’s call him/her Keitherine) walks into the room of a friend/acquaintance/stranger to find it covered floor to ceiling with photos, all of Keitherine. Keitherine immediately realises, to his/her great dismay, that his/her friend/acquaintance/stranger is a crazed stalker.
The artists in the cartoon are, of course, Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin, who in 1888 shared a house for a nine weeks. Their famous experiment in communal artistic living, just the two of them in The Yellow House in the small, southern French town of Arles, did not end well. They were two extremely strong-willed, mega-talented, passionate men (their discussions, said Vincent, were “terribly electric”) so it was perhaps inevitable that they would get on each others’ nerves. The “excessive tension” (Vincent’s words) of their relationship ultimately led to Van Gogh slicing his ear off and giving it to a prostitute. The next day Van Gogh was found in his bed by the police, unconscious from blood loss. Despite Van Gogh repeatedly asking to see him, Gauguin stayed away from the hospital where he was being treated and left town a few days later. They never saw each other again.
Perhaps the hopes and dreams of these artists’ joint enterprise are only now being realised, their ambitions finally fulfilled – with this cartoon. Van Gogh’s many self-portraits, along with his occasional bouts of madness, allowed an inversion the movie trope; the Keitherine character is now the crazy one. We can now see that as hard as it was for them both at the time, in the end it was worth it.
The intensity of their relationship, within the confines of a small house – it almost sounds like a reality TV show, but without the cameras. A reality TV show without cameras? I will despair for humanity if things ever sink that low.
First published in The Guardian.com, 8 January 2014.
I drew this cartoon (drew? wrote? created? I never know which verb to use about making cartoons. Yes they are drawn but for me the idea is the most important thing so lots of writing is involved and…Hang on – should I even say verb there? Perhaps I should say past participle? Aaagh! I’m getting distracted. I’ll start again.)…
I manufactured this cartoon the night before it was published. I was at work in my occasional day job when I received an email from the Guardian saying they didn’t want to use the cartoon I had proposed. My previous cartoon had been published on Christmas day, for which I had fabricated 2 Christmas themed cartoons. I liked them both so I submitted the second as my next one. “Er…”, said my editor “You know it’s not Christmas anymore.” This was a very good point, and very well made.
So after finally getting my daughter to bed I frantically went through my notebooks and found this idea. I had been toying with it but had got stuck, thinking that the way forward was to find a married couple of famous pilots – not so easy. I now realised that the two people could be anonymous and it worked fine. A long night. The next day I went back to work, feeling quite unrefreshed.
It may surprise you to hear that an internationally famous cartoonist like myself has a day job. I often go partying mid-week with Madonna, David Beckham, Steve Bell, Cheryl Cole and a bunch of others but I am not in their wage bracket so at a certain point I have to leave, saying that I have to get up for work in the morning. They are normally very nice about it, except for Sting, who sometimes says things like “I hope the batteries in your alarm clock don’t run out, you £*@% loser.” I laugh along of course, but, you know, these things hurt. I guess that’s why they call him Sting.