In 1999, a group of multidisciplinary artists who support the statement that ‘artists who don’t paint aren’t artists’ came together to form an art movement. Partially in response to the rising popularity of contemporary expressions of art, and taking particular aim at ready mades, the name they chose was inspired by an intended insult by Tracey Emin (a former partner of one of the founders). The Stuckists are perhaps the only group of artists working today who identify as a cohesive movement, an actual ‘ism’ (Stuckism). In this way, the Stuckists are purposefully perverse, delighting in what is construed by many in the contemporary art world to be an anachronistic approach to producing art and operating in the contemporary art world. With a deliberately lo-fi aesthetic, to look at photographs of the Stuckists over time gives the impression of looking at the Lost Boys in a land where children do grow up.
But rather than simply being another ‘ism’, the Stuckists consider themselves to be ‘the first Remodernist art group’. Founding member, Eamon Everall, differentiates them from what has come before.
“The Stuckists as a group are not wedded to some formulaic and often stultifying notion of what a painting should look like, as in past movements. For them the unifying element is not visual: it is their overriding and enduring search for emotional veracity and their concern with the authenticity and honesty of the creative impetus.”
What is Stuckism?
The Stuckists were founded in Kent, UK. In their official history, the group presents two beginnings to the movement. The first, when the founding members first encountered one another as art students at Medway College and Maidstone College of Art in 1979 and formed a punk-poetry group called The Medway Poets. The second, when Charles Thomson and Billy Childish formally established the group, giving them a name and presenting the world with their manifesto. The original group had 13 members including Bill Lewis, Philip Absolon, Sanchia Lewis, Sheila Clarke, Charles Williams, and Sexton Ming. Although all members are painters, they work in a variety of media: film, photography, performance, music, fiction, poetry and painting.
“Your paintings are stuck,
you are stuck!
Stuck! Stuck! Stuck!”
Although members have come and gone, the group has defined itself through adversarial manifestos and controversial statements. Notable examples have included ‘An Open Letter to Sir Nicholas Serota‘ (the former director of the Tate Galleries; they also awarded Serota their ‘Clown of the Year’ award for several years running), ‘The Turner Prize, The Decrepitude of the Critic‘, and ‘Handy Hints‘ (detailing their theory of ‘Remodernism’, a numbered manifesto aimed at students).
Among their planned disturbances, the group arranged protests outside Tate during the Turner Prize exhibitions every year from 2000 to 2008. Members dressed as clowns held placards taking aim, through antagonistic statements and caricatures, at members of the British artistic establishment. Although no longer a member of the Stuckists, in 2009 the group’s founder, Billy Childish, employed familiarly old school tactics to advertise his National Art Hate Week. Choosing analog over digital, he produced war-time propaganda-style posters to summon people to a silent revolt, simply telling readers to meet outside the Institute for Contemporary Arts in London.
But the group’s antics have not made them popular in the contemporary art world. Scorned by much of the art press, Jonathan Jones of the Guardian considers the group’s members to be “enemies of art” with “cheap slogans”. The journalist dismisses their manifestos “To say ‘painting good, ready-made bad’ is not a view of art – it’s a prejudice.”
But whether “rabble-rousing nonsense” as Jones puts it, or emotionally and creatively honest, the group’s disapproval of the direction of the artistic establishment has struck a chord with many artists and fans of traditional art. Today, the Stuckists report that the group has expanded from one original group of 13 practitioners to 236 groups working in 52 countries.
The Stuckists at Auction
One of the group’s two founders, the mustachioed Billy Childish, combines the rock and roll aesthetic of The Clash with the style of a man living through World War One. Childish left the group in 2001 but still works as a multi-disciplinarian poet, musician and painter. No longer shunning the artistic establishment, this year Childish was invited to take over the Lehmann Maupin gallery during Frieze week.
The other founding member of the Stuckists, and still a driving force behind the group, Charles Thomson is a highly satirical artist who is said to have been the first person in ten years to have failed his degree in painting at Maidstone College of Art. He has worked as a professional poet as well as painter, and has been responsible for many of the Stuckists’ “rabble rousing” antics, including standing as a candidate in the 2001 UK general election in opposition to the then Culture Secretary Chris Smith, and reporting the figurehead of the contemporary art world, Charles Saatchi, to the Office for Fair Trading.
Stella Vine, the artist who later, much to the disapproval of the Stuckists, became one of Charles Saatchi’s proteges, briefly joined the Stuckists. The group gave Vine her first exhibition in 2001, around which time Vine had an extremely brief marriage to Charles Thomson, which famously lasted only two months. Vine’s honest and tongue-in-cheek depictions of celebrities took her into the mainstream media, and she has had large-scale solo exhibitions at major galleries, and a collaboration with UK high street leader, Topshop.
Other Stuckist artists include Sexton Ming, Ella Guru and Jesse Richards, although their work has not sold at auction.
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