Aside from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones were pretty much the most tedious British Invasion band of the 1960s. Both these acts lacked the mod flash and live excitement of the way superior Who, Small Faces and Creation; not to mention the raw primitive energy that enabled the likes of The Troggs, The Pretty Things and The Downliners Sect to completely outclass bigger rock and pop names. While Mick Jagger’s staid middle-class mannerisms and absurd attempts at imitating Tina Turner’s high sixties dance moves meant that his glossed lips were forever begging for a mod fist to bust them open, Rolling Stones bass player Bill Wyman proved himself to be the biggest tosser in the group by dating 13 year-old school girl Mandy Smith in the 1980s.
While Whyman’s affair and subsequent marriage to Smith generated a lot of media coverage, he somehow managed to avoid the kind of excoriation heaped upon other kiddie fiddling scumbag pop paedophiles such as Gary Glitter or Jonathan King. That doesn’t necessarily make Wyman better than Glitter or King - he was just lucky to have been operating from the more powerful position of belonging to one of the very biggest acts in the entertainment business.
Throughout October and November 2011 there has been an exhibition of Whyman’s photographs entitled Second Nature at Rove in London’s Hoxton Square. Like most celebrity exhibitions the show sucks. The selection and presentation of work is incoherent – a mix of music related shots and nature photographs; with stuff such as a portrait of Marc and Bella Chagall thrown in for no good reason (this is the only portrait of a painter). Wyman is a mediocre photographer and there is little of interest in his nature pictures. For those in thrall to celebrity, his snaps of his fellow Rolling Stones and those around them (Jerry Hall, John Lennon) may hold some interest although overall they are nothing special. Constant privileged access means that there are a couple of lucky shots – but even those pictures showing the Stones looking completely threadbare and worthless (such as a scrawny and bare chested Keith Richard pathetically holding up his fists) pale in comparison to the way the Maysles brothers film Gimmie Shelter explodes Jagger and Company’s empty posturing.
Looking at Second Nature I couldn’t help but feeling I’d seen exactly the same kind of celebrity junk art many times before. Then I remembered I’d not only seen it all before, I’d also written about it for The Big Issue back in the 1990s. What goes around comes around, so rather than saying any more about Wyman – who is a typical Tory supporting rich toe-rag – I can just reproduce what I wrote about celebrity art 14 years ago…. it remains as valid today as it was then!
But first a quick comment on the celebrity art claims made by a pair of academic clowns – Dr John Schofield and Dr Paul Graves-Brown – as reported by the BBC yesterday. The Beeb quotes these ejits as saying: “The tabloid press once claimed that early Beatles recordings discovered at the BBC were the most important archaeological find since Tutankhamun’s tomb. The Sex Pistols’ graffiti in Denmark Street surely ranks alongside this and – to our minds – usurps it.” The Beatles and The Sex Pistols both contributed massively to ruining rock and roll – the success of these fifth rate acts led many others to imitate everything that was bad about them.
Schofield and Graves-Brown are reported as dating all the Sex Pistols graffiti from 1975. If this is in fact the case it illustrates nicely why they are archetypal academic idiots: one piece of graffiti features Nancy Spungen and it wouldn’t take much research to discover Johnny Rotten (who allegedly did the cartoons) wouldn’t have known what she looked like until she arrived in London in 1977. Thus this part of the ‘art’ either dates from at least a couple of years after 1975, or else it isn’t by Rotten. Of course, it also remains possible that none of the graffiti is by Rotten and it is not anything like 36 years old. Judged on what the Beeb report Schofield and Graves-Brown as saying, it would take someone with considerably greater historical and archaeological skills than they possess (zero basically) to determine the provenance of this work.
And after that detour here’s my old article about celebrities and art.
THE ANTIQUES ROADSHOW
Throughout the swinging sixties a good many young people imagined that they belonged to the first generation that could do anything, which mostly meant being a bohemian. Although no longer far out and fabulous, sixties has-beens still cling to the belief that it is possible to do one thing today, and another tomorrow. The sheer number of once beautiful people who’ve waddled onto the gallery circuit in recent years is proof of a tenacious, if largely misplaced, belief in their own creative capacities.
Thirty years ago, self-important groovy people like David Bowie and the recently dead Allen Ginsberg were inspired to mix different art forms by the burgeoning ‘happenings’ movement. More recently, mixed-media experimentation has given way to self-indulgence, with sixties stars attempting to revitalise their celebrity status through exhibitions of paintings. Most pop icons who’ve made credible art works did so at the height of their fame, through a marriage of music, theatre and painting. Attempts by former members of the glitterati to reinvent themselves as artists are rarely successful.
Sixties movie icon David Hemmings shot to fame when he starred in the Antonioni film Blow Up. This portrait of swinging London included a scene where a game of tennis was played without a ball. Eclectic Similarities by Hemmings, a solo art show which opens this week at London’s Osborne Studio Gallery, promises to be considerably more pedestrian. Working in the highly traditional mediums of pen, pencil and water-colour, the faded luvvie now finds artistic inspiration in what Pimm’s swilling toffs still call ‘the season’. Occasionally broadening his horizons beyond Henley, Lord’s, Ascot and Goodwood, Hemmings has also knocked out some London townscapes and a series of pictures on the theme of magic. However, it’s with the storyboards from his film and tv production credits, including The A Team, that he finally manages to scrape the bottom of his threadbare barrel. Don’t expect any surprises, Hemmings doesn’t have it in him to fling a pot of paint in the public’s face.
Infinitely superior to Eclectic Similarities is Brian Eno’s current show Music For White Cube, running at London’s White Cube gallery until 31 May. Eno being Eno, it comes as no surprise that there is nothing to see in this exhibition. Instead, there is a room of randomly generated ‘ambient’ music, something the former Roxy Music star pioneered in the late-sixties. In the words of White Cube, ‘the installation consists of four CD stations each playing a specially cut CD containing between eight and sixteen tracks. The CD players are set to ‘shuffle’ mode, thereby selecting tracks at random, to produce a landscape of sound that continually remakes itself.”
Don’t be put off by the po-faced promotion, the work is a lot more interesting than the press release implies. After all, Eno has a great sense of fun. He is rightly notorious for having relieved himself in the dadaist ready-made Fountain – an ordinary urinal that artist Marcel Duchamp signed R. Mutt and then submitted for exhibition.
Considerably less successful are the paintings and sculpture of Eno’s fellow glam rocker David Bowie. Some of these were shown a couple of years ago under the title New Afro/Pagan and Work 1975-1995 at Chertavia Fine Art in London. Bowie’s pictures were a mixture of expressionistic squibs and fantasy figures set against an underlay of Laura Ashley wallcoverings. With his usual aplomb, Bowie admitted in the accompanying brochure ‘in neither music nor art have I a real style, craft or technique. I just plummet through on either a wave of euphoria or mind-splintering dejection.’
Beyond the obvious financial rewards, one is left wondering why Bowie bothers himself with creative matters. The same might be said of actor Tony Curtis, who is currently showing his sub-Cubist paintings in Cannes. The Berlin based art curator Berthold Golomstock is currently putting together an exhibition of social realist style paintings by original Stones guitarist Brian Jones, to be toured internationally in 1999.
Art exhibitions by long forgotten sixties stars are likely to become an increasingly common feature of the cultural landscape. Former teen icons suffering from middle-aged spread find painting landscapes on a Sunday afternoon a considerably less demanding pursuit than making innovative music and films.
First published in The Big Issue #233, May 19-25 1997.
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!