I started going to art school when I was 15.
I always used to draw in the margins of books, on any surface I could find, on tables, walls, on everything. My art teacher, Mrs Franklin, picked up on it and said: “You have to go to art school.” Art was a door that hadn’t been opened to me before. I grew up in a very working class community and had no idea about art school. Mrs Franklin wrote a letter to my mum asking if it would be possible for me to do life-drawing classes. I needed a letter to allow me into the class because the models were naked. So this is how I started.
I don’t make drawings anymore
People are often melancholic about that, but I was only making them for about three years during the 1980s. I remember distinctly that while I was making the pastel drawing, She ain’t holding them up, she’s holding on (Some English Rose) in 1986, I just knew it was the last of these kinds of works I was going to make. There was no rhyme or reason why I felt like this, but I just knew. In those early works I was always the central figure and I was addressing the audience, so the performative element has always been there in my work.
You could say I’m an artist with a suitcase.
There is this 19th-century idea of an artist in their studio that we’re unable to let go of. It’s true that for most artists I know, the studio is a space of production, but because I work with people I usually go to where those people are. I’m on the road all the time.
I worked with ukulele-playing skateboarders
for a recent piece at Eastside Projects in Birmingham. It was much more terrifying than it sounds: it was more aggressive, unreal and gladiatorial than I had anticipated. They were literally throwing themselves against the walls. The noise was quite incredible with the melancholic sound of these ukuleles being played at the same time.
I despair about how the government today
sees the education system as a business, a very pedestrian form of business. For me that is a recipe for becoming very provincial in one’s thinking. Having said that, people come along and they do extraordinary things despite the structure they are landed in.
Being political is about being prepared to imagine something different.
That is what we need. If we are unhappy with a scenario, what kind of other scenario might be bearable, if not really euphoric? Collectively we can think these things though – it’s not rocket science.