How We Met: Peter Blake & Gavin Turk

Author: Interviews by Kate Burt

The first time I met Gavin, in the early-1990s, was at a private view of an
exhibition he had in Denmark Street – a friend, [the writer] Gordon Burn,
who was doing a book on the YBAs [Young British Artists] invited me as I
wanted to meet them all. Tracey, Damien and the whole gang were there; they
were very open and friendly. I remember being impressed by the way they
kissed everyone hello and goodbye on the lips. After years of “mwah mwah”,
it was extraordinary.

I was also impressed by Gavin ? I knew that at his diploma show he’d simply
put up a [blue] plaque in a white room which read “Gavin Turk worked
here” and the dates. I think he failed because of it. I particularly
liked his waxwork of himself as Sid Vicious as Warhol’s Elvis painting. To
make yourself be someone else, playing a piece of art is just great
thinking, and I liked his brightness and intelligence and wit.

Our two scenes ? mine in the 1960s and his in the 1990s ? are remarkably
similar. There’s a sense of being kindred spirits ? and I slightly contrived
the meeting at Gavin’s show because of it: had I not gone, I might have been
an artist of an older generation grumbling about “these young artists”
and complaining about Damien Hirst being so rich.

The next time I met Gavin I was out in Soho. I’d ended up at the Groucho Club,
where Gavin stumbled up, put his arm around me and introduced me to someone
with the words: “This man is a fucking legend.” Ever since, I’ve
liked to refer to myself a “fucking legend”. That night, Gavin
invited me along to Gaz’s Rockin’ Blues club, after which I vaguely remember
stumbling into a cab and making it home.

Gavin’s quite eccentric. I love his sense of humour: we’ve done a few art
car-boot fairs, where you make a piece of art and have a stall and sell it
at a reasonable price. One year Gavin went to a breaker’s yard and bought
about 30 actual car boots, signed them “Gavin Turk” and sold them
out the back of his battered old van. Another time, on a working trip to
Norway, we’d all got pretty drunk and the next morning, in the hotel, had to
be ready to do interviews. Gavin came down looking very white, then
immediately rushed off and opened the nearest door ? someone’s hotel room ?
to be violently sick inside it. The person was still in their room. We’ve
shared a few rock’n’roll moments.

Gavin Turk, 41, is a British artist who came to prominence as one of the
YBAs and was included in Charles Saatchi’s influential 1997 exhibition
Sensation, along with Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Sarah Lucas and the Chapman
brothers. He lives with his family in east London

Peter tells me I met him at an exhibition I had in 1993; I can’t remember more
than him being rushed past me and shaking his hand, although quite
flatteringly he seems quite keen on remembering the occasion.

After that, I ran into him in Dean Street, told him he was a fucking legend
and dragged him to Gaz’s. He was probably supposed to say “No thanks”
but it all seemed perfectly natural. Peter is a pretty rock’n’roll kind of
guy and just loves pop music. Obviously he’s an elderly guy with a big white
beard so he doesn’t necessarily fit in, but then I don’t think I do either.

The next time we met, he’d invited me to put some work in a room at the Royal
Academy Summer Exhibition and, after that, I’d visit him in his studio. I
get a strong sense that he wants to share his experience and I’m really
happy to be in a place where I’m able to take advantage of that.

He’s kind of a party animal, in a nice way; he has a hell of a lot of social
energy. I DJ’d at his 70th birthday party, at the Dover Street Arts Club,
where he got the remaining Blockheads to play.

We amuse each other; we have an understanding of what each other is doing; we
laugh at the more pedantic elements of art. He likes to make me sign bits of
tree bark, which is funny because whenever I’m with him, people run up
clutching the Sgt Pepper’s cover and ask him to sign it.

About three years ago he said a really nice thing to me ? that he’d retired.
It seemed strange as he was at a point where he’d been doing more shows and
work than ever. But what he meant was slightly different. Having always been
slightly political with his decisions and holding grudges ? an attitude that
didn’t necessarily do him any favours ? he decided that it didn’t matter any
more. That if he wanted to do something or make something he was just going
to do it. In a way it was a renaissance moment, and a great liberation ? and
a great thing to say to me as a younger artist: I just thought, “Wow,
how incredibly inspiring.”

What do I think Peter likes about hanging out with younger artists? Ha ha ha,
I don’t know. Drinking, some sort of blind optimism perhaps.

Peter Blake: The Venice Suite is at Paul Stolper, London WC1, from 23
January until 28 February (www.paulstolper.com). For more on Gavin Turk:
www.gavinturk.com

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