15 Jun, 2009

‘Let others talk about art’

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

Euan Ferguson talks to four high-flying London artists about their down-to-earth relationships with each other

What strikes one most quickly about these four artists, who have been moving in circles of each other’s friends for years now and don’t quite know how they all graduated to more constant friendship with each other, is the utterly pleasant, down-to-earth nature of the relationships. Despite their reasonably high-flying positions – all regularly exhibit, to critical acclaim, and Goshka Macuga was shortlisted for last year’s Turner, and Francis Upritchard is New Zealand’s representative this year at the Venice Biennale – the talk is not about art.

“Much of it is simply about the mundane, the very mundane,” says Upritchard, 33. “I’ll call Goshka not to say anything high-minded about art or anything – hell, so far from it – but to ask who she last used as a cutter, or whatever: absolutely practical. If we help each other, it really is just companionship, gossip, practicalities. Let others talk about art.”

“It’s necessary, though, to have people likem … to have these friends,” adds Phillip Allen, 41, quietly. “To know that there is someone there on the end of the phone sometimes. It’s a strangely insecure business.” Macuga, 41, nods. “The idea of doing well in the art world is, for most of us, an illusion. It’s a good thing that the bubble’s bursting. We’re a bit back to reality – and the reality is you never know how successful you’re going to be. When I first came here [from Poland], I loved the art scene and found it incredibly friendly … but with time you realise it’s not quite that lovely. Sometimes far from it. That’s why it becomes so important to have these constants.”

Were there ever jealousies? “I honestly don’t think so, not around here anyway,” says Luke Gottelier, 40. “We all know we’ve all had the same chances. A lot of it’s not about our art but about fashion, luck, timing and we all know that. There is genuine delight when someone does brilliantly.”

What, I wonder, of friends who have fallen by the wayside: fellow artists who have failed to realise their potential: do they feel peer pressure to, as it were, drop them? Phillip looks genuinely mesmerised. “Well, surely, no! Not if they’re friends … “

They go on holidays, they know they’re going to bump into each other at shows around the world, and so plan getaways and quieter evenings. Macuga is the only one, it seems, who is more than happy to talk about the intellectual side of art: Upritchard is looking at her, smiling, shaking her head, but Macuga insists: “I do, I do, not with all of you, but with some friends there is a lot of art talk. But it’s difficult to say how much input friends have to my own art … probably not much in the end. It’s very much a single vision, that’s the thing about art: that’s why there are relatively few famous collaborations. So with some other friends, yes, we’ll have terribly sophisticated discussions about it all. And then these ones here – drinks, food, holidays, exercise, support. All the really important things … “

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