Billy Childish, (Elgar) Man Sat on Chairs, 2011 oil and charcoal on linen 48.03 x 59.84 inches 122 x 152 cm Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York.
I Am The Billy Childish is curated by Matthew Higgs, and runs until 21st January, 2012 at 201 Chrystie Street. A modern day renaissance man, prolific artist, writer and musician Billy Childish is the pinnacle representation of the expression “walking to the beat of his own drum.”
Over thirty-five years of continual creative activity, Childish has gained a cult status world-wide writing and publishing over forty volumes of confessional poetry, five novels, recorded over one hundred LPs, and painted several hundred paintings, all the while refusing to conform to the contemporary art world’s standards and placed importance on the market. As a poet, novelist and painter, Childish has explored throughout his work, and often with a startling honesty, his struggles in coming to terms with addiction, abuse, and a childhood spent in a dysfunctional family setting.
Presented in two sections, curator, Matthew Higgs highlights Childish’s recent body of paintings alongside his music, literary and polemic projects. The first section of the exhibition focuses on the artist’s recent paintings that depict volcanoes and mountain-climbing scenes, influenced by the last climb of mountaineer, Tony Kurz. These works are juxtaposed with paintings of pastoral landscapes such as “Sibelius Amongst Saplings.” The exhibition continues upstairs with a survey of the artist’s music and literary projects and includes fifty of Childish’s albums, with covers designed by his friends, and a collection of poems and books written by the artist.
Childish unashamedly acknowledges his artistic, musical and literary lineage – springing from the Punk movement of 1977 he has sighted and aligned himself within a tradition of visionary heros: Edvard Munch, Vincent van Gogh, Dada and Kurt Schwitters – his recent paintings include portraits of the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, tribal leader Spotted Elk in death at Wounded Knee and the legendary German mountaineer Toni Kurz, as well Helmet divers and a series of landscape paintings each depicting an erupting volcano. Persistently aligning his own identity with these singular historical subjects, Childish’s recent paintings might be read as an expanded form of self-portraiture, and display what curator Matthew Higgs has identified as: “an economy and directness that is analogous to the fundamental nature of his poetry and stripped-down, blues-inspired music. Childish seeks to explore – in all his work – those aspects of his own life that are both essential and universal. Eschewing contemporary mannerisms and modes of production, even down to his dandyish attire, Childish instead privileges seemingly anachronistic aesthetic and literary styles, to create works – in painting, music and literature – that are somehow, and paradoxically, timeless and radical.”
Billy Childish was born in Chatham, Kent in 1959. After leaving secondary school at age 16 he worked at the Naval Dockyard in Chatham as an apprentice stonemason. Initially denied an interview to the local art school, he produced hundreds of drawings that gained him entry to St. Martin’s School of Art. Childish’s defiance to authority led to his eventual expulsion from art school in 1981. Childish then embarked on an artistic, odyssey exploring a broad range of worldly themes including war, history, social protest, as well his own experiences of alcoholism, and the sexual abuse he suffered as a child. Over 35 years, Childish has gained a cult status worldwide; writing and publishing over 40 volumes of confessional poetry, 5 novels, recorded over 100 LPs, and painted many hundreds of paintings.
Matthew Higgs is a British artist, writer and curator based in New York. Since 2004 he has been the Director of White Columns, New York’s oldest alternative space, where Billy Childish had a solo exhibition in 2010. In 1993 and 1995 Higgs co-curated, with the artist Peter Doig, two exhibitions of Billy Childish’s work at London’s Cubitt Gallery. In 2010 Higgs and ICA curator Richard Birkett co-curated ‘Unknowable But Certain’, Billy Childish’s first survey exhibition at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts.