Billy Childish takes over Lehmann Maupin’s first London gallery
The British artist has temporarily transfered his studio to Lehmann Maupin’s new London outpost in Cromwell Place
In South Kensington, creative polymath Billy Childish has set up a new studio. It’s temporary but promises to be memorable.
Punk rocker, author, poet, photographer, political satirist, painter, and founder of ‘anti-anti-art’ movement, Stuckism, Billy Childish has many strings to his bow, or bristles to his brush, or grooves to his vinyl record, depending on which day of the week you catch him on. He usually only paints on Mondays, but for his residency at Lehmann Maupin, he’s bending the rules.
To call Childish prolific might be an understatement. During lockdown, he recorded five albums, produced 40 paintings and wrote a novel. Is he chuffed? ‘It would be impressive if I took it on board, but for me, it’s like falling off a log. I’m quick and I don’t really identify with any of it,’ he quips over the phone from his home in Chatham, Kent.
Childish is far from a conventional artist, but then Lehmann Maupin’s first London space is far from a traditional gallery model. Moving away from the ‘trap’ of strict exhibition programming, the gallery will instead host a flexible programme of talks, ‘site-specific activations’, book launches, pop-up shows and residencies. ‘I had a lot of talks with our artists, and I really listened to what they were thinking and feeling and what they felt was lacking,’ says Isabella Icoz, senior director at Lehmann Maupin. ‘They were all very excited by this type of idea, it gave them a space to take risks.’
The gallery is set within the newly-developed, multi-purpose ‘arts hub’, Cromwell Place, a stone’s throw from the V&A and directly opposite Francis Bacon’s former home. Within the handsome Grade II-listed Victorian townhouses, Lehmann Maupin occupies three converted rooms on the first floor, complete with original hardwood flooring, lofty ceilings, boundless natural light and period trimmings. ‘There’s such a plethora of galleries, shows and fairs, and I think what we wanted to do was make our London space very intimate,’ says Icoz.
There are no half-measures for the gallery’s coronavirus-delayed opening. Alongside Childish’s residency, Lehmann Maupin will also host a tightly curated show of new works by Kader Attia, Shirazeh Houshiary, Lari Pittman, and Nari Ward who each engage with the concept of identity. Catering for an online viewing audience, the gallery has also launched ‘London Calling’, a digital exhibition featuring work by its six London-based artists including Mandy El-Sayegh, Gilbert & George, Do Ho Suh and Juergen Teller, a show reinforcing both the artists and gallery’s deep connection with the city.
In an upstairs space, Childish is creating a new body of paintings, and viewers have the rare opportunity to witness the artist in action. His paintings will be loosely based on his new, self-published book, Billy Childish, Photography 1974-2020, which will launch alongside his residency.
As with much of his work, these autobiographical images are strikingly intimate. ‘I’ve had this obsession with myself all my life and wondering who I am and why’, he says. The book is filled with black-and-white images of former girlfriends – including artist Tracey Emin, who he had a relationship with in the 1980s – his wife, children, mother, and friends, alongside self-portraits, including one of Childish at the grave of Vincent van Gogh, who he cites as one of his biggest influences. ‘A lot of my muses have been who I was with’, he says. ‘I’ve never searched for subjects, the subjects surround me.’
The last thing Childish wants is for his work, or residency to feel prescriptive. ‘I’ll decide what I paint when I get there,’ he says. ‘The paintings tell me what to do. I’m obedient to the pictures.’ §