“I don’t hate anything, I’m not bitter about anything, I don’t want to be anything.
I like doing what I like and everything is jam for me…”
I found that quote, from an interview with all-round dude Billy Childish (in an issue of the Financial Times last month) refreshing. But then, I find practically everything he does invigorating in some way.
Here though, I want to focus on his woodcuts. Sometimes I think Childish gets perceived as cantankerous, a bit stuck in the mud maybe (he founded the stuckists in 1999, so maybe that’s a fair assumption) or bloody minded. But I don’t think he is at all.
He does loads – big paintings, small paintings, prints, mentoring, novels, albums (so many albums), live gigs, moustaches – the list is endless. The only art form I’ve never seen from him is sculpture I think, although a Childish bronze wouldn’t surprise me either. But yes, today I want to talk about his woodcuts.
Woodcuts are bloody hard work. I can tootle on all I want about there needing to be less and less ink on a page, about being minimalist, but with a woodcut, you have to earn that white space. It’s wood you fool!
Childish’s woodcuts first caught my eye with one of the logos of his record label/publisher, Hangman, which he designed. Crude and brutal – in keeping with the word/wood maybe – it seemed audacious. I wanted to know more. I liked The Mummies, The Prisoners, Thee Mighty Caesars too of course, but there was this third element to the records, and it seemed to all be coming from Childish.
While he certainly wears his influences on his WWII military sleeve (Munch, Picasso, shipyards, childhood, death), when filtered through the unflinching eye of woodcut, it takes on a poignancy, sometimes feeling like a cry for help, at others a pure yelp of just being alive.
It’s stark, maybe mildly retro, sort of funny and always exciting. A bit like his music, a bit like his books, and, you have to assume, a bit like the man himself.
Oh, and he’s not a luddite* – check out his site here
And here’s a gallery that was recently showing his stuff. Go see.
* Although obviously he’s not on social media. What are you, mad?