Stuart's column for Art of England Magazine (April)
Central Station in Milan is beautiful, I find myself writing my column with a pen that stinks of coca cola in a marble lined testament to the strength of Mussolini period architecture. Itís angular Gotham city style eagles watching my every movement.
I was at the Miart fair the night before last but thatís so vague itís as if it never happened now. Iíve had this notebook strapped to me for a moth with some idealistic hope to scribble my adventures for you but sadly environment and circumstance never permitted it until now. This month has been different. I learned that you canít separate art from life; the fabric of each is too close.
Five hours ago the skin and hair from the thread bare knees of my jeans pressed against the concrete as I tore pages out of beautiful monographs on Goya, Piero Della Francesca, Raphael and others in a last ditch attempt to cram seminal images within Alitaliaís less than adequate baggage allowance.
I remembered standing in the Tate with David Hancock, in awe at the sheer determination and beauty in Peter Doigís iridescent poetic and moving painting exhibition. To put beauty at the top of your agenda these days takes courage and the Tate had perfectly curated that vision for us. I left wishing I too could disappear into an echo. David was here for the show he was curating at gallery primo Alonso called ĎFaithí. I always marvel at how David finds the time to make all his elaborate paintings and bring artists together so accurately in his curated group shows. Thereís an ongoing joke in my studio that he must be ambidextrous and able to use his feet too.
Iíd twisted the arm of famous indie rock photographer Nick Gough to follow us around first Thursdays in Vyner street this month. We stopped off at ĎFaithí first and it was no less than Iíd expect from Primo Alonso, at that stage I didnít realize that itíd be the best show I would see that night.
Iím sure the art antics in Vyner Street were nowhere near as crazed as Nick Gough was used to with some of the bands he tours the world with, but it was about as exciting as a crowd on the London artscene can be. For me the gem was discovering the work of Nathan James. Yes, his works had a pop sensibility in their immaculately painted visages, his oils giving way to the disintegration of neon fashion stars and a last grab at fading adolescence. Iíve become obsessed.
I left the party that night with the words of an eccentric suited gentleman ringing in my head ďWe are the art, Stuart, we are the artĒ. And itís true, so many go there to look at each other. In a way whatís on the wall is secondary. Perhaps we truly are a nation of people watchers.
As Iím sat here I watch the Italian police in their polished uniforms staking claim to the waiting room. As I watch a Hare Krishna monk blabbering into his brick of a mobile phone, I realized that the art thingís so different than it once was. Itís now truly an international community. So it should be, itís language really can transcend boundaries, cultures and governmental control.
Iím here, because my latest show opened about a week ago, to coincide with the Miart Fair. Itís not one of the top heavy-hitters in the world of fairs but even so I found it fascinating, for itís presentation of what Milan had to offer. It may indeed play a second fiddle to ArteFiera in Bolgna or the excessive experimentation of Turin but thereís integrity in their approach to the market. I found a network of younger dealers, curators and critics taking risks. Supporting each other they consistently demonstrate their unwavering belief in the creatives on their own doorstep. That belief was above financial gain and it made me very, very happy.
After the show I found myself in Pia Capelliís apartment near the top floor of a huge building. Overlooking Milan, a crowd of artists and friends gathered to feast on her famous ĎCaramelleí. I however was seduced by her vast collection of art books. Piaís certainly one of the best writes in Milan but the warm welcome she gave me was overwhelming, and the tour of the Brera was incredible. Caravaggio burned into my mind and I wondered at the dreams the 5-year-old school kids in the museum would witness that night.
Between the usual charade of being interviewed and signing catalogues I will take with me a fragment of huge worth and that came in the form of a conversation, over a pink ice cream and a coke, at a tourist spot with the greatest young critic in Italy. Stefano Castelli and I chatted into the night about Mass Culture, humour and a new generation of artists. There are no early nights in Milan.
The next night Stefano took me to the opening of con(temporary) where twenty or so galleries showcase projects in what were factories for the fashion industry. Now, Stefano gets mobbed when heís out, it was like trying to buy a simple coffee in London with Pharrell. You just canít move! However that night, a relatively inconspicuous street came to life. Parma ham with ĎPradaí emblazoned on it dominated an old butchers fridge. Gigantic projections took over the side of industrial buildings and young artists explored history and gold.
Today, I learned the hard way that Alitalia is not safe for nut allergy sufferers. They refuse not to hand out peanuts on their flights, and at the last available moment advised me not to take the risk. So I wait patiently for the 11.30pm overnight sleeper train to Paris through the Alps. Itís tiny cabin and below zero temperature would be my home until the morning. I watch the Jetsons whilst I hear my roomy, Carlos mumble something in Italian into his terminator style Bluetooth headset about ďthe crazy ingleseí. I was just praying after the 50ís style American bell boy come guard, had locked the door on us that Carlos wouldnít take a fancy to my collection of Stefanoís books. I didnít sleep.
Boo Saville can draw, I discovered that when I first witnessed her work in the crypt of St. Pancras church about a year ago. After that I made it my mission to meet her. At her first solo show at Martin Summers, she proved beyond doubt that not only can she draw but also she can paint. She may have been told by Topshopís blow-dry bar that the hairstyle she wanted for her opening wasnít possible because it was out of fashion, but when she finally had it done, she exuded style. It was a lovely evening at the gallery, a chance for me to catch up with some old friends and see an artist I admire greatly, moving in the direction she was destined. Sheís humble but built for very big things.
The morning sees the only train home from Paris departing tat night from Disneyland. So I find myself eating a nut free waffle in the Magic kingdom and typing up my adventure. Disney is more surreal when sleep and food deprived, but Iím surrounded by a world of interactive pop art that Iíve dreamed of experiencing since I was a small child. Perhaps the world has a crazy way of forcing us to go where we were always meant to? Either way Iím craving my old routine of drawing, early nights and my newly acquired collection of vintage ĎErie Indianaí episodes from my sister. Home never seemed sweeter.
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