Modern art and me.

Art and me.

By the time I got to my twenties, I decided to give in and like modern art. This was because most of the classical art of antiquity, architecture, landscape and portrait, historical scenes, statuary, left me deeply unimpressed. You know what young people are like. And it was also because I was a rebel, and I could see that most modern art was about rebellion. I rebelled, by taking an evening class on A-Level Art History, and then immediately regretted it, because the things that I liked only took up a very small amount of the course. It only seemed to perk up by the time we got to the abstract expressionists. Fauvism, Art Deco, modernism, cubism, all seemed too contrived, and I still have no idea what the Pre Raphaelites was all about. Abstract expressionism did it for me.

My taste in art has always been about sixty years out of date. After twenty years of being besotted by Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Elaine de Kooning, etc, I decided that abstract expressionism was now somewhat passé. Pop Art was now my thing. Andy Warhol was a genius and I’m sure that we would have got along fine. OK, so I may have been caught up on the romance of The Factory, and it’s swinging vibe, and the Velvet Underground popping round, but Pop Art seemed to say more to me than the abstract of abstract expressionism, even if the ideals of Pop Art seemed less a social commentary, and more an abstractness than abstract expressionism. The throwaway essence of Warhol, Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein and, indeed, Gilbert and George, spoke more of the world I saw, in much the same way as the poetry of Frank O’Hara.

I call myself a spoken word artist. The first reason for this is that I don’t really call what I do ‘poetry’, even though the pieces that I write, I invariably call Poems. The second reason is that the term has the word ‘artist’ in it. I have a feeling that if I theorise my approach in the context of movements and art history, then I’ll no longer be able to do it properly, but the words ‘avant gard’ have been banded around in the context of my work, along with ‘performance art’ and ‘conceptual’. One of my biggest influences is the po-faced conceptualise of the Pet Shop Boys, who, along with their designer, Farrow, have created a certain unique brand of arch irony. You can do what you like, they seem to say, just as long as you do it with sincerity, integrity.

I’ve often heard it said that comedy and art do not mix. If I wear a hat, and people laugh, then it’s comedy. If they don’t laugh, then it’s art. I’ve done a lot of art over the years. That’s another reason why I am a spoken word artist.

But my biggest influence, and my favourite modern artist, is Laurie Anderson. Laurie is incredibly prolific and uses narrative as well as performance art. She invents instruments,engages with multi media work, creates pop music, and has even written a concert for dogs. Her incredibly inventiveness is an inspiration and through reading her words or listening to her music, I find the energy to embrace different projects and collaborate with different people. I’ve made two short films with film maker John Tompkins, provided spoken word for the avant gard jazz rock group Croydon Tourist Office, worked with photographers and artists in a project called the Trios, collaborated with Jo Mortimer on a set of prints, embarked on an art project of my own called The Most Insignificant Full Stop, and now I’m working on a theatrical spoken word show called In the Glare of the Neon Yak. My previous show, Static, combined long periods of silent prop based performance art with poetry, while my second show, Juicy, was a set of comedy poems. I’ve also written a novel, Reception. I wouldn’t have had the impetus or the inspiration to work on so many diverse projects were it not for the inventiveness of Laurie Anderson.

Author: Robert Garnham

Performance and spoken word artist.

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