Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Billy Childish - Artist and Artisan

He cuts a fine figure does young Steven John Hamper with his bristling 'tash and his wanton, if highly stylish, dress sense. He is a man with polymath tendencies which, upon closer examination, prove to be of sterling worth. In other words, this chap is rather good at what he does and what he does is make music, write poetry and paint some of the most exciting art seen in years. 

I confess I have none of his music so I cannot comment on that but what I do have, and what I do like, are his poems and his paintings. His poetry has been described as being confessional. I guess it is but what surely matters is if it is good or not? It is. 

the strangest thing

today dolli isn't hard and arrogant
she isn't puffed up and bitter
I can hear tiredness and a tremour
in her voice

she wants to know
if she can
come and visit me
things aren't working out between her and her
new boyfriend

-ive been in margate
visiting my mum
it reminds me of when we were together
you were the first great love
of my life
now theres M
youre the same in lots of ways
hes fucking these stupid little art sluts
theyre fucking nobodys!
i tell him
theyre fucking
nothing compared to me!
but he still does it
i need to talk to you
if it tell my friends in
that I want to kill myself
theyre not interested
they don't want to know about that part of me
its really doing my fucking head in!
you know
my mum said the strangest thing to me last night
she said that it doesn't matter if things don't work out
between me and M
because you can get back together again with billy
i said -
but mum what about kyra? He's still with kyra mum
and she said that that dint matter
we arrange a time to meet and I replace the receiver

this girl isn't hard and arrogant
she is lost and alone
and somehow
i wish I could have been kinder to her

It may have grammatical issues, I have them too, but it has an honesty and purpose that is strikingly powerful with its folk-like desire to write about matters that have happened in as real a way as humanly possible. The whole punk, Stuckism thing mildly irritates me as both seem to be re-inventing something (or somethings) that were invented long ago. Punk is like skiffle is like blues is like folk - of the people. Stuckism is, by and large, figurative art and again, of the people. My views, my opinions should not and do not detract from how good Billy Childish stuff is. It is superb.

Born a little after me (December '59) in Chatham, Kent, the following is from his own Hangman Books website and says far better than I could write what needs saying.

"Billy Childish  left secondary school at the age of sixteen an undiagnosed dyslexic. Since then, despite the good advice of his betters and the obvious disadvantage of not being able to spell, he has written and published numerous volumes of prose and poetry, ultimately carving himself a reputation as Britain's most powerful independent voice."

"Childish’s activities have always been firmly rooted in the underground and his methods - now being trendily feted as ‘guerilla’ - have gained him both the  respect and  envy of those who pose as 'being on the margin'  whilst still enjoying the benefits of a corporate budget."

Mention of the man called Billy Childish's (so named during the punk days) childhood bears reference even if it is, as the man himself has said, only part of what made him what he is. He was molested, sexually abused by a 46-year-old when only nine. Things like that may not define or warp you but they do leave a cruel mark. His response seems to have been to create art, music and poetry and a prolific rate. 

His art though does seem to have been influenced somewhat by Van Gough. It has a thick, dense use of paint that gives it a tactile quality. I want to touch it. I want to walk into it and be part of what it depicts; to smell the salt coming off the spray, to dig my fingers deep into the earth. It has the invitational feel. It wants to share with and for you to be part of it. 
It also presents to me a fear of the way in which modernity, globally accepted and welcomed, seems to be treading its hobnailed boots all over our communities.The paintings are not a forum for nostalgia but they do seem to reflect on the passing of days; of a time when men went and toiled with the sea and the soil rather than a finger, keyboards filling out excel spreadsheets. What is suggested to be progressive is only so for commerce. For the large majority, it is nothing less than shape up or ship out. There is no consensus just a slow erosion of the good bits as they are subsumed into the mechanics of the tool we created to serve us. Ideally, it would be better if we had the advantages of now, computers, mobile phones, health care etc; but also that earthy quality of our forebears.


The older I get the more in touch with my roots I seem to become. It is not that I have some misty-eyed nostalgia for the past - I don't, I would not willingly revert to a time before the industrial revolution. As a diabetic, I am eternally grateful I was born in the era I was and forever thankful to the NHS but still I wonder if the world of technology, of corporate shenanigans, could not be cross-wired to fit the world before that period, with its root and branches approach to life? It really does feel as though industry, commerce runs the world and politicians dance to their tune as we, without wishing to sound socialist, the people, get somehow overlooked.
It is that feeling I have that Billy Childish confronts with his work be it music, poetry or art, people, working people, come first. He really does it incredibly well.

For more detailed info on Billy, read a biography or trawl the web, this is but an appreciation and observation.
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers and whistles a tune by Freddie and the Dreamers.

1 comment:

twh said...

i had to take a look and read/see more about billy and his various pursuits. i came across a handful of paintings with sibelius as the figure strolling in the woods or next to a pond or where ever billy imagined him and i kept hearing a line from a poem we covered in high school '...humming as i catch the bus something by sibelius...'. which i found from further investigation was written by thomas kinsella. i also found another poem(s) that i studied all those years ago that stuck in my mind. i mistakenly thought it also gave mention of sibelius as it was centered around a piano.

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