On the way to see Ian Dury’s show at the Royal College of Art, I dropped into the Serpentine Gallery where Elaine Sturtevant was having an exhibition of her work. She is an American artist now in her eighties, who, starting in 1965, began to copy the work of other artists. She copied the work of Andy Warhol, Marcel Duchamp, Robert Rauschenberg and Claes Oldenburg, Joseph Beuys and many more. In conceptual art terms this type of activity became known as ‘appropriation’.
When you enter the show there is her copy of a light bulb installation by Felix Gonzalez-Torres called ‘Untitled (America.)’ with a copy of the Joseph Beuys video of John Dillinger in the central room. There is a remake of Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Fresh Window’ the copyright for which (it is written on the actual piece) belongs to Rose Sélavey (his transvestite alter ego) but perhaps here she was copying Duchamp’s habit of copying his own work or maybe he got the idea from her. Certainly she is ungracious in saying that ‘Duchamp is not viable anymore. All his references are so far away with what’s going on’. This will be news indeed to his many followers. I was however, intrigued by her copy of Andy Warhol’s picture of Marilyn Monroe. On closer inspection it does indeed look like a poor copy of this work, itself originally made by his assistants. Whenever Warhol was asked about his work he would reply ‘ I dunno – ask Elaine’. Repetition is certainly a feature of her work as it was in Warhol’s and in todays digital age where images are cloned around the world she imagines a time when we will all be clones of each other.The novelty of this show is that nothing in it has come out of Sturtevant’s own imagination. She does not ask permission from the artists concerned and most of them with the exception of Claes Oldenburg don’t seem to mind. She does not copy the work of unknown artists presumably because no one would be interested in looking at the work. She is indeed the Copycat Queen of Conceptual Art: with Sherrie Levine and Richard Prince her copycat progeny. The Serpentine’s promotional blurb says ‘Sturtevant influence has grown significantly over the past two decades.’ We can only wait to see what happens next.
Across the road from the Serpentine Gallery is to be found the Royal College of Art where this summer there is an exhibition of the work of Ian Dury (1942-2000). Better known as a pop musician and lyricist he played first of all with the group ‘Kilburn and the High Roads before gaining popular success as Ian Dury and the Blockheads. His album ‘ New Boots and Panties’ came out in 1978 and his third single ‘Hit me with your Rhythm Stick’ in the following year went to number one in the charts. Drury was 35 years old and up to that point worked as an art school lecturer and illustrator. Like many pop musicians of the period he had come out of the Art School system. His contemporaries were Pete Townsend of the Who, Ronnie Wood of the Stones, John Lennon at Liverpool School of Art and I remember being taught at Chelsea by Roger Ruskin Spear of the ‘Bonzo Dog Doo-Da Band’.
Dury went to Walthamstow School of Art in 1959 and then from 1963-66 was at the Royal College. ‘Getting into the Royal College of Art was the only thing I aspired to in my life. I’m really pleased I went there, I’m proud of it.’ To set the scene, David Hockney and Peter Phillips had just left the previous year and Patrick Caulfield was in third year. Peter Blake was teaching there and he encouraged Dury to explore popular culture. Pop Art was then at its height and this is reflected in the work Drury produced at the time. Back in the late 1950s there was still an expectation at Art School that students should be skilled at drawing and painting and this facility, which he undoubtedly had, enabled him to work later as a successful illustrator and part-time lecturer. His early work shows the influence of his mentor Peter Blake in the precision of his brushwork while the later work shows the more mainstream Pop imagery of Warhol or Peter Phillips in its depiction of sex symbols and Movie Stars. His work for the Sunday Times Magazine includes a double page spread of Film stars here displayed with the original painting and invoice.
Crippled by Polio at the age of seven, he did not let this hold him back as he developed a charismatic but abrasive cockney punk stage persona: ‘ my weakness is so obvious, there is no point in worrying about it” he said. Although he had given up his illustration career he still felt that he was continuing to be an artist, only ‘no longer with paint’ At another time he would say that where art was concerned ‘ I was good enough to realise I wasn’t going to be very good”. But was he right? Circumstances often propel careers in different directions and Dury’s song writing and performing lead him to international success in the music business. Here in the first one-man exhibition of his artwork his fans have a chance to decide.
I could be a lawyer with stratagems and muses
I could be a doctor with poultices and bruises
I could be a writer with a growing reputation
I could be the ticket-man at Fulham Broadway station
What a waste! What a waste!
What a waste! What a waste!’
Perhaps Irene Surtivant might copy one of his paintings.
There ain’t half been some clever bas -tards.
Top image: Ian Dury
2nd image: Ian Dury
3rd image: Ian Dury
final image: Elaine Sturtevant