Category Archives: art

➤ Sullivan’s manifesto for the Rebel Rebel life

Club-host and artist Chris Sullivan: as he renders himself sporting Dennis-the-Menace T-shirt in NYC 1981 and as he is today in Portobello Road

NOT MANY PEOPLE KNOW that Chris Sullivan – legendary Welsh frontman of Soho’s Wag Club which he founded in 1982 – switched from the fashion course at St Martin’s to pursue painting instead. Despite his instinctive sense of style, he says today: “I was great at the design and fashion drawings, but not very good at actually making things, stuff like sewing and pattern cutting. So I moved over to fine art. At the time I kept on being in the newspapers, and the college didn’t care what I did, just happy another St Martin’s student was getting press. It was good for their PR.”

It also positioned him as a pivotal influence on the whole British youthquake that transformed London nightlife, music and fashion in the Eighties, while his own mantra of “One look lasts a day” has propelled him through such guises as flaneur, deejay, journalist, nightclub host, pop star, northern soul dancer, style commentator, entrepreneur and fashion designer. A terrific route-map to the Sullivan cosmos occupies 12 pages of the April issue of GQ magazine, blessed with a photo-portrait by David Bailey.

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This month Sullivan publishes his third book, an anthology of “people and things that broke the mould” titled Rebel Rebel: How Mavericks Made the Modern World. What he dubs a “paperback manifesto” is an excuse to celebrate his own outsider approach to life: never having a proper job and always staying one step ahead of the pack. The book was launched in 2015 as a crowd-funded project through Unbound Books and for reasons unknown it seemed to take four years either to raise the cash or finish the writing, at which point Sullivan says there was still no money set aside for photographs of the 60 subjects he was profiling (some new, some vintage). “So I said I’ll paint or draw them, all these people like Rod Steiger, Fela Kuti, Louise Brooks, Orson Welles, David Bowie. . .”

In the mix are criminals (Brilliant Chang, Allan Heyl), musicians (Charlie Mingus, Joe Strummer), actors (Robert Mitchum, Anita Pallenberg), artists (Egon Schiele, Man Ray, Jackson Pollock), directors (Kenneth Anger, Wong Kar-wai), photographers (Horst, Weegee, Capa), as well as iconic items such as Levis, the pork pie hat and the white T-Shirt.

“Because I was so worried as the deadline loomed,” Sullivan says, “I did 35 illustrations for the book, really quickly b-b-boom! Then a friend Barnsley saw one of a zoot suit I wasn’t using for a chapter on outsider clothing, and he snapped it up. Before I knew it someone else was asking could they have one, then I did another one as a commission and stuck that up online and since then I’ve had more than 10 commissions to do these paintings.” Some of the results are here for all to see, inspired by time spent in New York back in the day. What the Rebel Rebel book contains will be revealed any minute now.

David Bowie, books, Unbound, Chris Sullivan, illustration

David Bowie: Sullivan’s illustration of the Thin White Duke for his Rebel book

➢ Meanwhile here’s a taster of a chapter from Sullivan’s
forthcoming book Rebel Rebel on the curious life of the common or garden sun-glass

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2019 ➤ George Michael’s art for sale: funky, X-rated and naughty as you’d expect

Antony Gormley, Christie’s London, auction, art, George Michael, sex,

Visitor posing at Christie’s London beside George Michael backdrop – at right, Another Time III (2007), cast iron statue by Antony Gormley

PARENTS BEWARE! The extraordinary exhibition of singer George Michael’s art collection currently showing in London would in any other medium be X-rated, yet at Christie’s the auctioneers it comes without any parental PG warning despite displaying images of rats copulating and a team game between naked men ejaculating. It delivers the highest genitalia count in auction-house memory: we see at least 40 penises, 27 vaginas and photographs of 108 positions of the “Karmasutra” enacted by a rubber-clad woman and a garden gnome. These are extraordinary counts for a show numbering 174 artworks. They go under the hammer this week in two auctions.

The penises, let’s hasten to add, are not George’s own. The biggest and probably most prestigious penis on show is attached to Lot No 1, cast in iron and belonging to Antony Gormley, Britain’s most respected living sculptor, famed for casting himself life-sized and naked, here under the title Another Time III (upper estimate £250,000). Another set of male genitalia is confected with typical bawdiness by Sarah Lucas from coiled wire, appropriately titled O Nob (est £25,000).

Other contributors to the penis count in Thursday’s prestigious evening sale include, inevitably, Gilbert & George, the Chapman brothers and Sam Taylor-Johnson, who are all trumped by a clutch of dildos in Tim Noble & Sue Webster’s Dirty Narcissus sculpture in silicone rubber.

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Running simultaneously is Christie’s larger online auction which ends on Friday, where Tracey Emin is a major contender by offering many scribbled vaginas but is beaten hands-down by the artist named only as Linder, a Liverpudlian graphic designer known for her radical feminist photomontages, here offering a gallery of naked Pretty Girls.

Some would say George Michael’s collection of art reflects fairly his obsession with sex and death (the skull count is notable, too). In addition to a soundtrack of his music, the exhibition’s loudspeakers beam out audio clips of George freely eff-wording and describing his sexual proclivities at high volume in every gallery, all in the best possible taste, as Kenny Everett would have said.

By the time we’ve taken in the many shiny works of “art” involving much glitz and a lot of tat, The George Michael Collection must be one of the most tacky shows to have been hosted by a leading auctioneer for years.

Ouch! That sounds far too judgemental for the 21st century, doesn’t it? So let’s hear from his admirers, posted on the Christie’s website. The singer’s former partner Kenny Goss tells us that George started collecting art after meeting artists such as Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Marc Quinn and Michael Craig-Martin: “The art collection was part of him. The YBAs’ openness and honesty about life, death and sex were a huge part of his world.”

Sue Webster, who is well represented in the collection with collaborator Tim Noble, commented on the “sexual nature” of many of the works George Michael bought. “But it’s all got two sides to it, a darkness and a light – and George’s music worked on many levels like that, so I can see the attraction.”

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Photographer Mary McCartney believes the collection is quintessentially George Michael in that it consists of art that’s impossible to ignore. “He was very impactful,” she says of the man who had 15 number-one singles in Britain and America, and sold 125 million records over the course of his career. “[The collection] shows a lot of his character; there are a lot of brave pieces with an opinion.”

The critic Andrew Graham-Dixon concludes: “Traditionally there’s a very strong connection between British pop and Brit art. When the YBAs first came to prominence they did so almost like rock stars.” He goes further by suggesting that Tate Modern would not have opened had it not been for the YBA generation. “They transformed British culture,” he insists. Much as George Michael did with his music.

So – there’s the other side of the coin. Tit for tat.

➢ Results for The George Michael Collection Evening Auction, from 7pm on March 14

UPDATE: THE LIVE SALE NOTCHES £9,264,000

Tracey Emin, Christie’s London, auction, art, George Michael,

Neon heart by Tracey Emin, 2007: after competitive bidding, it realised £374,250

❏ Many George Michael fans were clearly bidding all round the world from Singapore to New York during Thursday’s live televised auction at Christie’s London of 61 works from the singer’s art collection, so for some items the bids were brisk and keen.

Four prominent Brits raised the highest six-figure sums: two iconic Damien Hirst formaldehyde works realised £911,250 and £875,250, while paintings by Bridget Riley and Cecily Brown fetched £791,250 each and the Antony Gormley sculpture £431,250.

The surprise sensations of the show were two pieces by Tracey Emin: her acrylic abstract painting on canvas Hurricane (2007, size 72 x 72in) was estimated by the auctioneer at £120k-180k and actually realised £431,250. . . and Tracey’s neon heart containing the message George Loves Kenny (2007, size 42x42in) which was estimated to be worth £40k-60k, yet after a suspenseful round of bidding finally realised £347,250 !

Another sensation was Noble & Webster’s Excessive Sensual Indulgence (1999), a dazzling, flashing array of 312 coloured UFO reflector caps, lamps and holders, which was estimated at £30k-50k, but went on to fetch £237,500.

Closing the two-hour sale, the final lot by former Blitz Kid Cerith Wyn Evans also exceeded expectations. An elegant wall-hanging neon sign titled And if I don’t meet you no more… (2006) had been estimated at £10k-15k, yet went for £68,750. Proceeds are going to extend the singer’s philanthropic legacy.

PLUS £2MILLION MORE ONLINE

❏ Update – Proceeds from Friday’s online auction of 111 items totalled £2,045,375. Probably the most impressive sum raised was for Harland Miller’s oil on large canvas Penguin book cover, “Death, What’s in it for Me?” which realised £212,500. A superb Aubusson tapestry titled Pallidweave (one in an edition of three) by Rupert Norfolk went for the absolute bargain price of £15,000.

➢ Results for The George Michael Collection
Online Auction, March 8–15

➢ Virtual tour online of the George Michael exhibition at Christie’s

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➤ A personal tale about the genius staring out from a painting expected to sell for £30m tonight

David Hockney, Henry Geldzahler, Christopher Scott, Photography, painting, auction, Christie's London,

Being auctioned tonight at Christie’s: Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott by David Hockney (1969, acrylic on canvas). Private collection. © David Hockney

THIS MESMERISING HUGE CANVAS TITLED Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott was painted by David Hockney in 1969 and is expected to sell at Christie’s tonight for at least £30million and today is the public’s last chance to view it until 4pm. It creates an intense dialogue between Hockney and his soulmate Henry, whose hairline is the picture’s vanishing point. By chance I got to know Henry in 1977, later stayed at his house in Greenwich Village and of course had to try-out the by then fabled pale mauve sofa pictured here.

We’d met during the best holiday of my life that summer at a house party hosted by the painter Teddy Millington-Drake at his vast 17th-century villa on Patmos, the Greek Island where St John had his apocalyptic Revelation. Two dozen guests, several with their kids, had arrived either like me on the weekly boat from Athens or on their own yachts (there were no direct flights to Patmos) for what proved to be a conclave of amusing, clever and influential movers and shakers from across the international art scene who utterly changed my understanding of life, the universe etcetera.

Henry himself, a three-in-one wit, wag and Svengali, undoubtedly changed the course of modern art by shifting its centre from Paris to New York, and affirmed the credibility of the term Pop Art. While only in his 30s he became the Metropolitan Museum’s first curator for 20th-century art and in 1969 mounted the landmark exhibition of 408 contemporary American works executed between 1940 and 1970 by artists he called “deflectors” of prevailing trends, such as Warhol, Gorky, Pollock, Rothko, Rauschenberg, Stella, Johns, Hopper. It was an immediate sensation. A new canon.

David Hockney, Henry Geldzahler, Christopher Scott, Irving Penn, Photography, painting, Andy Warhol

My photo of Henry Geldzahler in 1981: taking receipt of Irving Penn’s new portrait of him, in his NYC cultural commissioner’s office

I met Henry again in 1981 the very day he took receipt of a new portrait of him by photographer Irving Penn. I was in NYC that May during the First Blitz Invasion of the USA when I accompanied the 21 Blitz Kids who included the synth-led Spandau Ballet and Jon (Mole) Baker’s Axiom design collective who played a gig and staged a runway fashion show to introduce Manhattan to the new stars of Swinging London.

By then Henry had become New York’s first Commissioner of Cultural Affairs, appointed by the mayor Ed Koch. I visited his office at Columbus Circle and he played along when I suggested taking a souvenir snap so that my portrait of him cunningly captures him four times over: Henry in life reclining on his chaise, holding the Penn portrait, in the glass of which we see reflected the Warhol lithograph of him from 1979. Behind on an easel stands a further 1973 head-and-shoulders by Hockney (savagely cropped to maximise impact in this post).

Henry, who died in 1994, was described as the world’s “most powerful and controversial art curator”. He must also have been one of the most painted and photographed curators ever. “There are lots of pictures of Henry,” said Hockney. “He didn’t have many mirrors in his home. He knew what he looked like just by asking people to make portraits of him.”

David Hockney, Henry Geldzahler, Christopher Scott, art, painting,

Masterpiece of pictorial drama (detail): the central subject in Hockney’s painting of Geldzahler and Scott stares back, evaluating the painter’s every move. (My photo)

➢ Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott is Lot 8 in the sale An American Place: The Barney A. Ebsworth Collection at Christie’s London, 6 March 2019, from 7pm. Update: the painting went in three minutes flat for £33million.

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➤ My own Rondo moment immortalised by Sullivan, the grand Wag of Soho

portrait painting,

Immortalised on canvas: Chris Sullivan’s portrait of the face behind Shapersofthe80s

ONE OF THE BRAVEST things I’ve ever done – apart from disagree with a newspaper editor – was to pose for my portrait, as mine is the kind of family who can’t boast even one ancestor committed to oil on canvas. So when Eighties uber-Wag Chris Sullivan offered to paint me in the style of one of his band Blue Rondo’s wittily cubistic 12-inch record sleeves, I jumped at the chance to look like any of those cool guys on Me And Mr Sanchez in 1981.

So here I am [up top] and the result is strangely hypnotic, if not actually cubistic – “More vorticist than anything else,” says Chris, though we agreed perhaps closer to the audacious David Bomberg’s later work and that suits me down to ground, a rebel 20th-century style that veers towards abstract and also hints at dynamism. Chris posted the portrait at Facebook and amazing numbers of people said he’d caught the eyes very well, and going by this photo that he took when he handed the canvas over to me last week, I am bound to agree!

Blue Rondo à la Turk, Chris Sullivan, artwork, sleeve,

The Sullivan style on a Blue Rondo sleeve from 1981, itself a convincing echo of Picasso’s Tres Musicos of 1921

How it came about was through his new book Rebel Rebel which comes out in April (after a gestation lasting about four years!). He invited friends to crowd-fund the project through Unbound Books and when I saw that the prize offered for the topmost pledge was a Rondo-esque portrait, I snapped it up (never forget Sullivan switched from fashion onto the fine-art course while at St Martin’s and turned out a lot of visual material right through the 1990s, quite apart from designing the dreamworld interior of his Wag Club in Soho).

We discussed all this and more when he asked me onto his Soho Radio show last month for nearly an hour and a half. Somewhere between Bowie’s TVC15 and Was Not Was’s Wheel Me Out, I dared to ask whether the approaching deadline for his book being published and finishing this portrait had provided a trigger for his recent return to painting and drawing. We’ve seen a sudden outpouring of witty caricatures of his friends in a mix of paint and pencil and ink flying around on the web. He almost agreed, saying: “It certainly got my chops together, put it that way. . . I’m not trying to be Rothko or Caravaggio, but I’ve always been a big fan of George Grosz and even Picasso did some caricatures.”

My A3-sized portrait is much more fully worked up in acrylic and crayon on canvas than Sullivan’s fun drawings on paper and even though he started chortling sarcastically when I said I’d wanted him to paint me not out of vanity but for love of Rondo, the fact is I’m chuffed to bits to own an image that makes a substantial statement about his talent. It certainly raises an eyebrow when friends come visiting.

JAWING on ART AT SOHO RADIO (@55 MINS)

Chris Sullivan, Sullivan’s Suits, Soho Radio, interview, DJ,

Chris Sullivan: spinning the discs on his show Sullivan’s Suits at Soho Radio while interviewing me on January 30. (Photo by Shapersofthe80s)


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➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: Sullivan the wag changes hats at the touch of his paintbrush

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➤ Sullivan the wag changes hats at the touch of his paintbrush

Chris Sullivan, Swinging Eighties, Carioca, Blue Rondo a la Turk, Wag Club

Carioca then and now: left, the cover for Chris Sullivan’s band’s 1982 single Carioca and, right, his new upfront reworking for 2019

Chris Sullivan,Leah Seresin, caricature,

Leah Seresin and mum Deirdre, newly painted by Sullivan

WHO IS CHRIS SULLIVAN THIS WEEK? That all-round creative dynamo who drove much of the Swinging Eighties and ran the influential Wag club for 19 years epitomised that New Romantic era by declaring “One look lasts a day”. Suddenly he is enjoying another creative spurt. Fans will have noticed a series of bold and comic painted caricatures of his friends appearing on Facebook this month. As affectionate portraits they speak for themselves. But then last week he posted one called Carioca, inspired directly by the 12-inch single sleeve for his band Blue Rondo a la Turk. It was included in their album Chewing The Fat which dates from 1982.

Fans will also recall that Sullivan as vocalist not only put the band together as a septet of crazy soul-jazz-latin musicians on a 0-to-10 sliding scale of eccentricity where all of them scored at least an 11 – but he also painted every one of their vinyl record sleeves in his own playful version of cubism. So here above we can now compare his restrained vamp Carioca from 1982 with her current rather more in-your-face madame for 2019. So what’s this all about, Chris?

Bear in mind Sullivan was one of that gang of St Martin’s heroes who put London clubs such as the Blitz, Beat Route and the Wag on the map from 1980 on, and had studied first on the college’s fashion course, then switched to fine art. I am off to Soho to find out and will be reporting back. . .

Chris Sullivan,caricature, Soho, beats, art,

Sullivan caricatures: A pair of what the painter calls Beat Peeps from Eighties New York

STEPPING OUT TO CARIOCA ON
THE ITV SHOW RAZZMATAZZ 1982

➢ Elsewhere at Shapers of the 80s:
Yours truly writes the first magazine feature about Blue Rondo a la Turk as they created a new buzz with Latin sounds and an extreme suited dude look – from New Sounds New Styles in August 1981

➢ Razzmatazz, the weekly pop show beamed out to 6 million ITV viewers from Tyne Tees TV in Newcastle

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