How We Met: Peter Blake & Gavin Turk
'He's kind of a party animal, in a nice way. He has a hell of a lot of social energy'
Sunday 18 January 2009
Peter Blake CBE, 76, is one of England's best-known Pop Artists, most famous for his design of the sleeve for the Beatles' album Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club. The 1961 exhibition Young Contemporaries, with David Hockney and Bridget Riley, helped put him at the forefront of the 1960s art scene. He lives in Chiswick, west London, with his wife
The first time I met Gavin, in the early-1990s, was at a private view of an exhibition he had in Denmark Street – a friend, [the writer] Gordon Burn, who was doing a book on the YBAs [Young British Artists] invited me as I wanted to meet them all. Tracey, Damien and the whole gang were there; they were very open and friendly. I remember being impressed by the way they kissed everyone hello and goodbye on the lips. After years of "mwah mwah", it was extraordinary.
I was also impressed by Gavin – I knew that at his diploma show he'd simply put up a [blue] plaque in a white room which read "Gavin Turk worked here" and the dates. I think he failed because of it. I particularly liked his waxwork of himself as Sid Vicious as Warhol's Elvis painting. To make yourself be someone else, playing a piece of art is just great thinking, and I liked his brightness and intelligence and wit.
Our two scenes – mine in the 1960s and his in the 1990s – are remarkably similar. There's a sense of being kindred spirits – and I slightly contrived the meeting at Gavin's show because of it: had I not gone, I might have been an artist of an older generation grumbling about "these young artists" and complaining about Damien Hirst being so rich.
The next time I met Gavin I was out in Soho. I'd ended up at the Groucho Club, where Gavin stumbled up, put his arm around me and introduced me to someone with the words: "This man is a fucking legend." Ever since, I've liked to refer to myself a "fucking legend". That night, Gavin invited me along to Gaz's Rockin' Blues club, after which I vaguely remember stumbling into a cab and making it home.
Gavin's quite eccentric. I love his sense of humour: we've done a few art car-boot fairs, where you make a piece of art and have a stall and sell it at a reasonable price. One year Gavin went to a breaker's yard and bought about 30 actual car boots, signed them "Gavin Turk" and sold them out the back of his battered old van. Another time, on a working trip to Norway, we'd all got pretty drunk and the next morning, in the hotel, had to be ready to do interviews. Gavin came down looking very white, then immediately rushed off and opened the nearest door – someone's hotel room – to be violently sick inside it. The person was still in their room. We've shared a few rock'n'roll moments.
Gavin Turk, 41, is a British artist who came to prominence as one of the YBAs and was included in Charles Saatchi's influential 1997 exhibition Sensation, along with Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Sarah Lucas and the Chapman brothers. He lives with his family in east London
Peter tells me I met him at an exhibition I had in 1993; I can't remember more than him being rushed past me and shaking his hand, although quite flatteringly he seems quite keen on remembering the occasion.
After that, I ran into him in Dean Street, told him he was a fucking legend and dragged him to Gaz's. He was probably supposed to say "No thanks" but it all seemed perfectly natural. Peter is a pretty rock'n'roll kind of guy and just loves pop music. Obviously he's an elderly guy with a big white beard so he doesn't necessarily fit in, but then I don't think I do either.
The next time we met, he'd invited me to put some work in a room at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and, after that, I'd visit him in his studio. I get a strong sense that he wants to share his experience and I'm really happy to be in a place where I'm able to take advantage of that.
He's kind of a party animal, in a nice way; he has a hell of a lot of social energy. I DJ'd at his 70th birthday party, at the Dover Street Arts Club, where he got the remaining Blockheads to play.
We amuse each other; we have an understanding of what each other is doing; we laugh at the more pedantic elements of art. He likes to make me sign bits of tree bark, which is funny because whenever I'm with him, people run up clutching the Sgt Pepper's cover and ask him to sign it.
About three years ago he said a really nice thing to me – that he'd retired. It seemed strange as he was at a point where he'd been doing more shows and work than ever. But what he meant was slightly different. Having always been slightly political with his decisions and holding grudges – an attitude that didn't necessarily do him any favours – he decided that it didn't matter any more. That if he wanted to do something or make something he was just going to do it. In a way it was a renaissance moment, and a great liberation – and a great thing to say to me as a younger artist: I just thought, "Wow, how incredibly inspiring."
What do I think Peter likes about hanging out with younger artists? Ha ha ha, I don't know. Drinking, some sort of blind optimism perhaps.
Peter Blake: The Venice Suite is at Paul Stolper, London WC1, from 23 January until 28 February (www.paulstolper.com). For more on Gavin Turk: www.gavinturk.com
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