"I've almost got Warhol out of my system"
Interview with Gavin Turk
Broodthaers, and again and again Andy
Warhol – no modernist hero is safe from Gavin Turk. Turk, one of the
Young British Artists, appropriates his subjects with laconic wit in order
to radically question mythically charged concepts such as "artist" and
"authenticity." Ossian Ward met with Gavin Turk in his
inventive hive of a studio in an East London warehouse.
Turk,Cave 1991-97, © the artist
Jay Jopling/ White Cube (London)
Turk legend always begins with his degree show submission, titled Cave,
which was nothing but a blue English Heritage plaque stuck on his
otherwise empty studio wall and bearing the words: "Gavin Turk, Sculptor,
worked here 1989-1991." He became the first student at the Royal
College of Art to be refused his Masters for not adequately showing
his artistic progression at the art school. A witty, sparing approach to
producing art has characterized Turk's career ever since.
Gavin Turk, Bagotropic, 2006
Galerie Krinzinger, Wien
In addition to his fascination with adding value to
overlooked objects such as crumpled plastic cups or dustbin bags – this
motif also appears in two paper works that were purchased at the last Frieze
Art Fair for the Deutsche
Bank Collection – by alchemically turning them into bronze, Turk has
always been attached to his own fugitive identity.
Gavin Turk, Pop, 1993
Jopling/ White Cube (London)
His distinctive signature has appeared on clothing labels,
surveillance mirrors, biscuits, and eggs as well as the more traditional
paintings and sculptures, not only as a seal of originality or value, but
as a logo – the artist as brand-name product. Turk's own face also appears
in photographic or life-sized waxwork self-portraits, not to mention on
miniature Oscar-style art awards and an entire troupe of performing
Gavin Turk, Pink Beuys (Nappy Pin),
He consistently and consciously confuses his image with
those of his artistic heroes, which range from Duchamp,
to Sid Vicious of the Sex
Pistols. Turk further probes the impossibility of distilling the
artist's true being into a work of art in his latest works, a series of Piss
Paintings based on Warhol's similar Oxidation
Paintings, themselves made in response to Jackson Pollock's
admission that he pissed on paintings being sent to dealers he didn't like.
Turk, Study for unorignal Signature, 1996
How did you work out the process for making your Piss Paintings?
Turk: Just trial and error, really. The pictures change all the time;
they start off all fluffy and begin to harden up later, but even then they
still have moisture in them. In most books that mention Warhol's Oxidation
Paintings, the references state that they are made of "mixed media." I
add the chemical ammonium chloride in order to patinate the pictures,
which is not only the main constituent of urine, but also produces copper
sulphate, which is the blue color emerging on the surface.
Turk, Piss Painting, 2007,
Why did you start pissing on
pictures in the first place?
I was making camouflage portraits
of myself as Andy Warhol, complete with fright wig, for an exhibition
called Me as Him
(at Riflemaker Gallery),
and I was asked to contribute to one of the gallery's Monday night events.
I tried to think of something that would bring people into the process
rather than having someone from Warhol's Factory
reading his poetry. My first idea was to make a lake of the screen ink
used in the printing. People would come in and get hit by the toxic fumes,
get a bit nauseous, and that'd be their Monday night! I know from doing
graffiti, for example, that if you do a big "piece" on a wall you get
quite high from the spray paint. So people would see the pictures and then
get an aroma that evokes a different attitude or a way of thinking.
I had another idea to create this other dimension for the event. So we
stretched some canvases the same size as the self-portraits, covered them
with bronze or copper paint, and got everyone to piss on them after they
had a beer at the opening. It was a sort of actionist performance, which
is funny because now my gallery in Austria (Krinzinger),
who actually shows Hermann Nitsch,
wants to show these in Vienna (at the end of February). Suddenly the piss
works spin into that whole European history of abstraction and gesture,
they become part of a tradition of bodily excretions and unpalatable,