Monday, May 28, 2007

'I smoke for my mental health' , The Guardian

Following our G2 special on the smoking ban, artist David Hockney offers a personal view on why he will always be devoted to cigarettes

On July 1 2007, the most grotesque piece of social engineering will begin in England: the ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces, imposed easily by a political and media elite. They think it will lead to healthier people and a cleaner atmosphere. They believe they can change people easily. The science of marketing has been absorbed by them and they think they can control everybody. I don't think they can. People will stay at home and do drugs instead - legal and illegal.

I have lived in California for a number of years. They started smoking bans, but they didn't affect smokers that much. In California you move around in your own private space. If one goes to a public space, say the opera or Disney Hall, then because the climate is ideal the smoker can just step outside, at all times of the year. Many restaurants have gardens and the bans have never really bothered me. But something else has happened in California since the bans came in, unreported by the media, and it took me a while to notice because I have spent the past seven years working in England.

The amount of drugs advertised on television tells me what has replaced tobacco (although 20% still smoke): painkillers, Prozac and antidepressants, mostly prescription drugs - you just tell the doctor what you need. When prescription drugs are advertised in the press there is always a lot of small print listing side effects, and on television you get a speedy talking voice listing the side effects. You perhaps hear one word in four - paralysis, diarrhoea, death, headaches. I expect it all to come here. Drugs (legal and illegal) are the world's largest business, and one can understand why, since they make us feel better.

I know about fanatical anti-smokers - my father was one of the first (although his eldest son has outlived him and smoked until he was 70, and I'm still smoking at almost 70 - indeed, my birthday is nine days after the ban). I smoke for my mental health. I think it's good for it, and I certainly prefer its calming effects to the pharmaceutical ones (side effects unknown).

Well, you say, smoking has dreadful side effects. Certainly on some people, but not on all. So we should ask the British Medical Association to explain Denis Thatcher smoking Senior Service (unfiltered) and dying at 88, or Kurt Vonnegut living till 84 after smoking Pall Mall cigarettes for 70 years. What is the explanation? Nobody seems to ask and no one gives any explanation.

In the late 90s the ex-mighty New York Times was very anti-tobacco. I kept writing letters to them. None was published. When Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese leader, died at the age of 92, there was an obituary in the New York Times. Three days later there was the most foolish letter which said that Mr Deng was a very bad example to the young because he always had a Panda cigarette in his hand or mouth.

I was appalled that they had printed this, and wrote to them suggesting Mr Deng had lived a very long life - how long do you expect people to live? - and the logic of his argument would be that Adolf Hitler was a very good example for the young as he didn't smoke. It wasn't published, and I began to realise the New York Times was no longer a serious newspaper. After that I was sceptical about everything I read in newspapers.

Meanwhile in England, the press, without tobacco advertising, sided with the anti-smokers. The BBC made itself "smoke-free" and I realised how sinister this was. The BBC's problem, which won't go away, is that there is no neutral viewpoint. Heisenberg's uncertainty principle is part of the basis of the mathematics that led to the computer, but it also stated that the observer affects the observed - no one is neutral. The BBC used to claim that it was neutral, but now it is part of a massive social engineering project paid for by its listeners and viewers. It is against a group of 12 million people who choose to smoke - not very fair.

The British press might be quite lively, but it is also pathetically childish. I take little in it seriously, and when I am in Bridlington I only glance at newspapers. They are not sceptical enough, which is why I see them now as part of the social engineering. No one asks what the consequences will be - all will be good, they childishly think.

The Guardian says that the ban has been a "success" in Scotland. What do they mean by "success"? Pub takings have gone down, some pubs have closed. But surely the ban would only have been a "success" if the non-smokers had been flocking to the pubs. They have not.

What do I think? You're living in a madhouse, David ... Actually, I've always thought that, but I have a love for the surface of the Earth that is an escape from the mean-spirited and dreary people who seem to have taken over England.

The ban won't affect me much. I live very privately. I'm not very social - I'm too deaf, and in the world I have created I will smoke. I've no wish to meet politicians - most of them have the most odious ideas about people. England is full of big pushers of the coming pill society, and we've lost a sense of messiness - no longer any Delight in Disorder here (a careless shoestring in whose tie/ I see a wild civility/Do more bewitch me than when art/is too precise in every part, Robert Herrick).

Two months ago I started the largest painting I've ever done: 15ft x 40ft. The moment I began I found myself running up the stairs (with a fag) and realised some people are more in tune with a life force than others.

I can't be the only voice like this. In England people should speak up more, defend themselves, but it's hard against all the forces at work. Two million anti-smoking signs are going up on July 1, including inside Westminster Abbey. The uglification of England is under way by people with no vision. I detest it.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Food can be artistic - but it can never be art, The Guardian

Ferran Adria, chef-proprietor of the celebrated restaurant El Bulli, has been invited to participate in the Documenta art show. But is he an artist? If canned shit can be art, why can't gourmet food be similarly elevated? Actually, there is a reason why, but it's not as obvious as Spanish art critics appear to think. The critic of El Pais choked on his morning churros at the news that Ferran Adria, chef-proprietor of the celebrated Catalan restaurant El Bulli, has been invited to participate in the Documenta art show in Kassel, Germany, this summer. He must have spent decades with his head in a bowl of Guernica stew (an entirely black mixture of beans and meat - never order a dish because it sounds like a painting) to find this in any way surprising.

Gilbert and George once sat down to a meal served by Lord Snowdon's butler as an artwork, the artist Rirkrit Tiravanija cooks and serves food ... I could go on. What is more relevant is that in 1930, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, leader of the futurist movement, proposed a revolution in cuisine that anticipated today's avant-garde chefs. Marinetti's Futurist Cookbook applies modern art aesthetics to cooking, with such recipes as salami in a bath of perfumed black coffee. By all accounts, El Bulli makes food very much in this tradition, such as mini-parmesan ice-cream sandwiches. Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck is similarly experimental. These chefs are artists - almost.

They are not true artists because even the most modern food cannot disgust people beyond a certain point, or El Bulli would have no customers. The only really radical restaurant was Peter Cook's imaginary establishment the Frog and Peach, which served various combinations of peach and frog. In reality, even a genius among chefs is obliged to please the customer (and cook to order), which means no chef can claim the freedom of mind that artists won in the Renaissance.

Caravaggio could paint fruit that looked good enough to eat but he also painted tortures to turn your stomach; that's art. Until people go to a restaurant to think about death, cooking won't be art. On the other hand, I'm still wondering if Guernica stew is food.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Gilbert and George put free artwork on internet, Guardian

An original work by artists and national treasures Gilbert and George would normally set you back many thousands of pounds. But from 11.30pm tonight a piece is being made available to anyone who wants it - for free.

The work, called Planed, can be downloaded from the Guardian and BBC websites from 11.30pm, for 48 hours only. It will be the first time that artists of this stature have made work available in this way.

In line with the practice of Gilbert and George over many years, it consists of a number of panels. Members of the public must download each of the nine panels to create the full artwork, which can then be printed off, at any dimension, and assembled. There is no limit to the number of times the work can be reproduced.

The title refers to the plane tree, with distorted images of its leaves and fruit forming the background. It is a tree particularly associated with London and it is the texture of London streets, from road signs to graffiti and newspaper billboards, that has informed most of Gilbert and George's work for 40 years.

As with all their work, the piece also includes images of the artists themselves - in this case neatly suited and booted, but distorted like images seen through a kaleidoscope.

The creation of the downloadable work was the idea of Alan Yentob, who tonight presents an edition of the BBC arts programme Imagine about the artists. "This sort of thing has never been done before," said Yentob, "But when I saw how Gilbert and George made their pictures it was clear that this would be a perfect match."

The artists, who used to manipulate photographic images by hand, have, over the past few years, begun to work with sophisticated computer technology. "When I put the idea to them they were immediately enthusiastic," said Yentob. The notion of a freely available artwork, he added, fitted perfectly with the artists' long-held ideal of "art for all", a principle that has formed the bedrock of their practice since they started working together in the late 1960s.

Gilbert and George rarely produce work in editions, and have never done so for free before; Planed thus represents the most wholehearted manifestation of "art for all" of their career.

Gilbert was born in the Dolomites in Italy, in 1943; George in Devon in 1942. They met as students at St Martin's School of Art in London, where they formed the most enduring and famous partnership in British art.

They adopted an identity as "living sculptures", which they retain, becoming both the subject and object of their art. Their reputation was established in 1969 when they created Singing Sculpture, in which they stood on a table and sang the Flanagan and Allen number Underneath the Arches.

That year they published the Laws of Sculptors, which stated that they would be "always smartly dressed, well-groomed, relaxed, friendly, polite and in complete control" - another principle strictly adhered to over the years.

Gradually, the artists developed a method of working with photographs, eventually devising their grid system.

Their work has always had a reputation for containing shocking and explicit material, though they have always denied that they are deliberate provocateurs, but rather, artists who depict the human condition as it really is. Works such as The Penis (1978), Rose Hole (1980), Sperm Eaters (1982) and Shitted (1983) caused a frisson in the art world and beyond. Their Dirty Words Pictures (1977) "packed a violent punch whose aftershocks continue to be felt today", according to critic Michael Bracewell.

For more than 30 years the artists have lived in Spitalfields, east London, and their neighbourhood has inspired much of their work. A recent set of works, exhibited under the name Sonofagod Pictures: Was Jesus Heterosexual (2005), tackled religious fundamentalism, one work emblazoned with the words: "Jesus says forgive yourself. God loves fucking. Enjoy!"

Their most recent work, shown for the first time at Tate Modern in the major retrospective just ended, dealt with terrorism and fear in the capital, using Evening Standard billboards to create works called Terror, Bombing, Bomber, Bombs and Bombers.

ยท Imagine is broadcast tonight at 10.35pm. After the programme, Planed will be available to download at and