Billy Childish - Interview
Since 1977, prolific polymath Billy Childish has released over 150 independent LP’s, published five novels and over 45 collections of poetry. Not to mention a mountain of paintings and drawings exhibited in galleries across the world. As Billy embarks on a weeklong takeover of Coney's Loft, fellow artist Michael Lacey asks what can we expect and reflects upon the artist's career so far.
Hi Billy, thanks for talking to us. You're taking over Coney's Loft this week and known for working across multiple art forms - what can we expect to see?
Some painting, poetry and music, maybe a woodcut, and even a new poster if I get a good idea for one.
What art form are you most enjoying at the moment?
What I like to do is make stuff - I try to keep 'art' or the idea of being an artist out of the mix. I paint pictures, write stories and poems, and record a few songs now and then - when it’s time to do an LP.
Given your vast creative output, how often do you critically revisit your own work, if at all?
Every now and then by accident and occasionally on purpose. Sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised by what a genius I am, other times I'm surprised out how off target I can be. It’s best for me not to get too involved in looking back or worrying over spilt milk.
Are there any paintings, albums or books which you feel are particularly significant within your body of work?
It’s really just one giant project I picked up when I was 5 and keeps pulsating. I'm painting one painting of my life, singing the song of myself. As for any significance given to this: that can be attributed by critics of one generation, then just as easily dismissed and derided by the next.
I encountered your work in the early 2000s at art school. It feels in the intervening years your status amongst critics has risen. How has this felt and has it had any impact on your practice? Do you still hold the view - 'artists who don't paint aren't artists'?
That was a fun thing to say when Traci (Emin) and Damien (Hirst) said painting was dead. Now they both paint again its lost its meaning and bite. Let’s say that form leads everything. Without form you’re a baggy blancmange. The apparent rise in my status hasn’t really affected anything much in itself. It’s nice to have the attention and I’m now able to make larger paintings which has made a difference, but otherwise I continue to make the work as I always did and don’t pay much attention to other people’s stuff.
The Stuckists feelings towards the Turner Prize are well known - do you have any thoughts about the recent lifting of the age limit?
I have little interest in (or knowledge of) the Stuckists or the Turner Prize. I wrote some manifestoes at the groups formation, then promptly left. I had no idea the age limit had risen. If it means I can now win the Turner Prize, then I will humbly except.
Are there any young artists whose work appeals to you?
I'm sure there would be if I looked, but one of the reasons I was expelled from St Martins painting department in 1981 was for refusing to visit galleries, museums, or show interested in contemporary art. In short, I'm a plebeian.
Your painting seems steeped in art history, rich with allusions to Van Gogh, Munch and Schwitters as well as contemporaries like Peter Doig. Do you feel, as I do, that it's unfair for the things you've rejected (conceptualism, for example) to feature so much more heavily in discussions of your practice?
I've not noticed much discussions of my practice. I'm a confirmed Dada-ist since 1977. I have no problem with conceptualism, or particular love of painting (apart from doing it). My only friend at St Martins happened to be Pete, we liked some similar artists - though he was more into pop art - which I actually don't rate. We also liked similar rock n roll. Pete is a great champion of painting and says smart stuff about the practice - and the nonsense surrounding it as well.
Apologies for the trivia, but I'm just very curious - what do you do on your days off?
I practice Indian clubs, Persian meels and shena. I do some running, I'm learning to ride horses and practicing to be a better swimmer. I do some calisthenics. I cook.
What was the last film you saw in the cinema?
Hard to remember - I don't like modern cinema and can't even remember when I last went to one. ActuaIly, think it was Alpha Papa - the Alan Partridge movie - and probably Pirates of the Caribbean 10 years prior to that. Steve Coogan was good. Johnny Depp was a lot of messing about with too many returns to the pirates cave. Modern films are too long and too boring - almost as bad as Andy Warhol’s rubbish.
Are you a good cook?
Three things I'm good at: sex, cooking and painting. The rest I'm just winging it.
Which bands do you love? Which bands do you hate? And why?
I don't like music much. I rate Buddy Holly, the Buzzcocks (Spiral Scratch), Sibelius, the Troggs. and early Rolling Stones (despite hating them)
What has been the most meaningful piece of advice you've received?
No one has ever given me any good advice - they were all cunts.
What has been the best decade of your life so far and why?
My life has been one non-stop unfolding miracle - and I don't believe in time.
Do you think technical ability is important in art and music? What is more important - the idea or the execution?
Technical ability is essential, but not as essential as luck. The idea is unborn execution. Many ideas would be best left unborn, but anyone can be wise after the act.
Images by Derrick Santini.