They may now be MABAs rather than YBAs, but age has not withered nor custom staled the anarchic spirit of both Sue Webster and Gavin Turk. Both these 50-something mavericks recently confirmed their rebel status with a pair of projects that has made sure 2021 ends with a blast rather than a whimper.
During the first lockdown Sue Webster says she “regressed back into [her] teenage self” and this teen spirit was channelled into the act of painting images of the British post-punk band Siouxsie Sioux and the Banshees onto the front and back of 18 vintage leather biker jackets she’d either bought or been given. “I found I still held a steady hand as I dipped the cheap nylon brushes into a pot of leather dye from the local leather shop in my De Beauvoir ‘hood',” she remembers, adding that the experience was “almost as sensual as spreading Lurpak onto a slice of Mother’s Pride.”
The fruits of these labours were unveiled on 1 December when a crowd of art- worlders and fellow artists including Rachel Whiteread, Fiona Banner and Gavin Turk were treated to Full Leather Jackets, a spectacular performance-cum-fashion show of all 18 of these lovingly customised leather jackets.
This took place in the basement studio of the Mole House, Webster’s David Adjaye-designed Islington home and workplace which is a permanent installation in its own right. Modelling these wearable works of art and further merging Sue with Siouxsie was a multigenerational parade of Webster’s friends, who including Sandra Esqulant, the legendary landlady of The Golden Hart pub in Spitalfields, East London and Webster’s multi-tasking lawyer John Shield, all resplendent in spiky black Siouxie wigs and striking Banshee makeup.
As a finale, and still accompanied by a full volume Siouxsie soundtrack, down the concrete runway came Webster herself, accompanied by her leather clad 18-month-old son Spider, who was born just after the first lockdown in June 2020, and is already a signed-up Siouxsie fan, having heard so much of the music both in and out of utero.
Gavin Turk has also demonstrated a punkish spirit from an early age: one of his first major works was Pop (1993, a waxwork self-portrait of the artist as the late musician Sid Vicious, in the pose of Andy Warhol’s screen print of Elvis Presley as a gun-toting cowboy.
Now this seasoned artist-provocateur is making an even more subversive Warhol reference with his new limited-edition work Artist’s Piss, which offers a characteristically multi-layered art historical nod both to Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup cans as well as his Oxidation paintings (1978), together with other such excretory works as Piero Manzoni’s canned Merde d'artista (Artist's Shit) (1961) and of course Marcel Duchamp’s urinal.
Described by the ecologically minded Turk as “a minimal impact artwork for a profligate society”, this most sustainable of sculptures comes in a (recycled) aluminium can emblazoned with the title of the work translated into 30 languages and produced in a studio appropriately located in East London’s Canning Town.
Business was brisk at the Artist’s Piss three-day launch in Soho last weekend with the Turk pre-empting any wisecrack comments by also offering a limited edition range of tee shirts emblazoned with the slogan Piss Artist. So now you can buy the artwork, wear the tee shirt or, in Webster’s case, the leather jacket and also two pairs of customised boots, and be constantly reminded that you’re never too old to challenge the system.