When did you first realise you wanted to become an artist?
I don't think I always wanted to be an artist, or at least what I thought an artist was as a child. I remember wanting to be a soldier, an astronaut and having a short mental dalliance with ballet, but I think that was something to do with the tights and tutus.
As a child my mum said I was always drawing and painting, sitting in front of the television, scribbling, high on new experimental markers from me dad's printing job. I thought an artist was someone who made beautiful pictures in gold frames for rich patrons and they worked in a studio full of their drawings and paintings and smelled of paint and solvents. Or markers? Not knowing how to use my particular skill set back then, I ended up doing a degree in Illustration. Much later, after a failed attempt with an illustration agent at an unsuitable London agency, I soon realised I was an artist with a capital 'A'.
I realised I didn't want to, or maybe I wasn't actually capable of, painting and drawing 'nice' pictures that made the whole world look beautiful. Not like them other artists, the 'art wankers' as I now affectionately call them, with their pseudo-scientific intellectualism, their international art language, the mere producers of 'chewing gum for the eyes', colourful interior fucking decorators for whom it's just a job, with tax breaks and jollies, like Dolly Parton's 9 to fucking 5. The art wankers that wear the right clothes, say the right things and smile in all the right places. They might get the jobs, but they'll still get caught wanking off in the toilets.
I think trying to look and sound the part doesn't make you an artist, but it will get you into the interview. I'm working class. I'm the son of a miner and a nurse. I mistakenly believed the life that was being prescribed to me and that my making skills had to be used for a 'job', for employment, for a career, for capital, to sell more shit and further the illusion that we are at the peak of human existence and we are all winning. I think I always wanted to be an 'Artist', but it wasn't until 2014 really, after completing a masters degree in fine art and critical theory, that I fully realised that I already was an Artist and had always been.
I work 24/7, 365 days a year as an Artist. I have no fucking days off. There ain't no money in it for me, but I don't make my shit for the money, I make my shit because I have to. It's a form of therapy for me. It keeps me able to continue. I often say that we all have mental health issues, but luckily, I ain't fucking suffering. Do you remember the 80's cartoon Dangermouse? That was made by 2 blokes called Brian Cosgrove and Mark Hall. At the end of the cartoon, the credits rolled and the words 'Cosgrove Hall' were shown. I always thought it was a physical place, a building somewhere that the animators worked in, a bit like Bletchley Park, but for cartoonists. I remember telling me mam and dad that I was going to work there when I was bigger. I never did work there and I am still only 5 foot 3.
What brought you to Sheffield Hallam University to do an MA in fine art?
Geography and economics. It was the nearest and the cheapest. Well, that's not strictly true and does Sheffield a disservice. Sheffield Hallam University and the city of Sheffield have a long history of art excellence and making and Sheffield has always had a vibrant night life in its darker corners at the blurred edges of the map. At the time of first enrolling at Sheffield Hallam, my dad had just been diagnosed with myelodisplasia (pre-leukaemia) so I deferred for a year and looked after him with me mam. I was helping me dad to the toilet in the early hours of the morning and as I held the piss bottle to his penis, he placed an arm around my shoulders for stability and pissed all over my forearm, "Make some art out of that fucker", he said. We laughed. He died during my final year.
What did your MA exhibition mean to you?
After me dad died, I was gutted obviously, but I threw myself into my work harder than before, determined to make my Art do something, say something. Anything. I'd spent the previous 2 years of study, leading up to the final exhibition, thinking that I didn't know what I was doing, thinking that I wasn't producing very much. I realised later, that I was producing shitloads of work and doing shitloads of reading and research when compared to some of the other art wankers who just talked a good talk. I just didn't know yet, where it was all heading.
I started off by making my Kate Moss screen prints and then I made a deformed (by depleted uranium) Fallujah baby and then I made 2 cast bronze Abu Ghraib prisoner statuettes, a full size fibre glass donkey, fitted with a masturbation cup, cardboard letters spelling 'capitalism' that I made anagrams from, a large ceramic Chinese baby in a McDonalds box. I was just purging and making and remaking and purging, unconcerned by the final outcome, lost in the madness and chaos of the world around me. Because for me, that's what an Artist is. What an artist should be. It's not a fucking job (getting paid sometimes would be a bonus though). It's about showing the world back to ourselves so that we can see it afresh. I think Art should try to reconnect us to life, not hide life from us, in some art wankery, intellectual, pseudo scientific, international art language, codified, elitist fucking bollocks. In blue, to match your fucking sofa!
After the final show, I was reviewed by David Gilbert from Axis web and I was happy as fuck and felt I had done my best for me and me mam and dad.
How do you feel about the concept of fame, as expressed in your Kate Moss piece?
I've been eating Kate Moss for years. Eating her image. Consuming Kate Moss. I do lo- fi postcard collages, paintings on furniture, screen prints, whatever tools I have to hand. Whenever my wife buys a glossy magazine, there's always a Kate Moss image in there somewhere. She's an icon. A manufactured goddess for the every man/ woman. They're either using her image to sell more shit or attacking her image for not looking beautiful every minute of every day.
When Kate first spoke on television in a make-up advert, all she said in her native Croydon twang was, "Live the Landon Lack", but those four little words, dropped her back to earth like a hot fucking turd. Only human. The celebrity machine finds new stars, chews them up and spits them out, perpetuating the objectification and commodification of the 'unattainable' female form. As to fame, I don't think I would want to be famous. Or maybe that's just my brain compensating for my abject failure. Can you imagine me famous, as some poster boy for disaffected capitalism? What with my yellow teeth and greasy tee zone and clothes way past 'oh so last season'. I'm more like Kate Moss's badly dressed, disfigured, disabled, illegitimate brother, than any 'goygeous' salesman of our as yet, unsold futures.
Your work references the fundamental dichotomies of beauty vs ugliness, good vs evil.
These seem like simple binary choices. Beauty/Ugliness. Good/ Evil. Only ever one or the other? Incremental? Measurable? Clearly defined? Sometimes everything is everything is everything all at once, mixed into a world of fucking grey. The world will make hypocritical monsters of us all if we let it. I believe real beauty can shine out of the 'ugliest' of people and that beauty can be hidden, blackened and unseen in the 'goygeous' people too. We all forget to see humans sometimes and we can stupidly judge people on their external, physical, first appearance.
Chris round ours, talking to Brian, summer 2014.
People always ask me if I hate Kate Moss. They see my images and think I must really want to flay the flesh from her face, desecrate her body, be the misogynist of their first misreading of my work. Maybe that's part of the problem. Maybe I'm part of the problem. Can everything be understood instantly? Can contradictions ever create stability? Do you need to spend more than a 'micro slice' with humans to see them more clearly?
A few months ago, I was hanging my Kate Moss print in an art space in Doncaster, when a woman asked me if I hate all women, or just Kate Moss? I told her (told her? Maybe I am a misogynist) I love women. All of them. Told her she'd maybe got my work wrong. Told her I was making feminist work against the patriarchy that promotes misogyny.
I explained to her that Kate Moss was just, only fucking just, sixteen when she did her first topless modelling shoot. So, on her 16th birthday, just after the cocaine, champagne and chocolate cake, the photographer said something like "Now you're 16, you need to get your little titties out today love". Bosh! Done? No discussion? No coercion? No manipulation? No fucking grooming? No little girl needing to be talked into it? All in one day? Fuck off. Get a fucking grip you cunts. Or maybe Kate decided to do it on her 16 birthday because she just wanted to? It was her choice? "I know, as a recently empowered through capitalism, 16 year old girl, why don't I get me tits out for you today?". I reckon she had people talking her towards it from day one, before she even grew tits. After this quick explanation, she loved the work, said it was very powerful. I'm glad I was there to explain my true intention, as it was obviously lost in transmission. Like I say, I'm a failed artist. Maybe I'm just an arstit.
Personally, I think religion is the delusion inside the illusion. But each to their own, whatever gets you through the day and all that polite bollocks. I was conditioned into Irish Catholicism as a child. Well they tried to, but it didn't stick and I was apostate at 10 years old. Like Doubting Thomas, I would've needed to repeatedly finger Jesus to believe. As the nuns used to say whenever I questioned the miracles, just before I got the slipper/ ruler, "You've just got to believe Christopher" (my name means 'bearer of Christ'). Funnily enough, I don't think you do have to believe with religion. You don't have to really believe and be a 'good human' in the hope you'll get into heaven and be saved from a life of damnation. You just have to turn up to mass, wear the right clothes, say the right things, smile and genuflect in the right places, promise to say your prayers in penance for your supposed sins and then get straight back to the shit in your life, cheating on your partner, beating and raping kids, swindling expenses, doing what you like really, because there is no final judgement and retribution. Only several hail Mary's and a few Lord's prayers. And death. And even if, as I died and my soul/ spirit/ mind floats off into the ether, even if then, I see a black woman speaking in a middle eastern accent and 'God' and religion is finally 'proved' to me and she/ he condemns me to eternal damnation, I would still choose 'free will' and say "Fuck you! I'll take my chances in the void".
What is the funniest thing that's ever happened to you in your life as an artist? Or even just in your life?
When I started university, I didn't just feel it, I was actually, the odd one out. During the first week I attended a lecture on the theme of Catastrophe with 200 other students, to watch a film by Renzo Martens called 'Enjoy Poverty'. It's an excellent film about a filmmaker getting 'black coolies' to carry his equipment across Africa, through jungles and deserts, from village to village, talking to them about western politics and their own continued enslavement in poverty, getting locals to take him to fly ridden corpses and famine stricken families so that he can teach them reportage photography like the white journalists who flock to disasters, and then sets them up for a fail when they try to sell the images. Hard exploitation to show the exploitation.
At the end of the film, the tutor asked "What is catastrophe?". My hand shot up straight away and when asked I replied "It's a catastrophe that they can't eat their own dead black babies". The whole lecture theatre fell silent apart from a few audible groans. The tutor said, "What a great Swiftian response", and me being the uneducated underclass that I am, thought she meant a fast response to the question, until someone told me about Jonathan Swift and his Modest Proposal and the Irish potato famine.
Another time, (there was several every hour) the head researcher quietly asked before the lecture "Has anyone got a dictaphone?", to which I replied "Use your fucking fingers mate, you won't get spunk on the buttons". Again, no laughter, only nervous silence. I pissed meself.
Have you encountered people finding your work offensive?
From day one at university, some students, teachers and audiences found my work, ideas, presentations, offensive. I was even told on several occasions, not to become the 'irritating Other', for highlighting within the institution, those issues that my work critiqued. Some people felt that I was chastising them and their life choices, felt that I was telling them off, by using my artwork as a form of institutional critique. But that's their complicity guilting them, not me. We're all complicit. We're all hypocrites. The world makes us so in our silence.
Some people hated the Kate Moss prints when they first saw them and moaned about sexism, pornography and misogyny and that I could be seen to be promoting it. I explained that as an Artist, all I am trying to do is hold a mirror up to our lives and if you don't like sexism, pornography etc, then don't shoot the fucking messenger, use your own skills and perception to make artwork about it or the things that concern you and the wider world. Or don't, as was the case in the majority of the art wankers' output.
What about the limited exhibition space in Tel Aviv and the scroll?
I was asked to submit art work for an exhibition in Jaffa, Tel Aviv, called Entrapment and Engagement. I knew straight away that the work I wanted to send would fit the brief perfectly. Quite a few of my friends and colleagues questioned my choice to send my work to exhibition in Tel Aviv, what with the Israel boycotts, but I sent the fucker anyway. I wasn't sending them some nice 'happy clappy' interior decoration that would enable them to carry on killing Palestinians without ever questioning the atrocity.
I sent them my 'Corporate Holocaust', 7 metres of drawings that deproblematize WW2 propaganda, reconnecting the political, religious and corporate players of the time, Nazis and dead Jewish babies, hand drawn using 3 bic biro pens, using 6 million millimetres of black ink, displayed in a mock T' Orah scroll that showed 1 metre of drawing at a time, in the hope that the audience may review our/ their recent history and see the similarities between then and now. 100's of international corporations made money before, during and after the Trading with the enemy act. As they still do today. War is business and we're all fodder for the Industrial Military Complex one way or another.
You're a supporter of Exaro News' campaigning investigative journalism into child abuse, what do you think about the UK elite's attitude towards and ways of dealing with the survivors of child rape by those in power?
I'm always interested in alternate histories, other voices, that fight to appear, that break free from the dominant history of the victors. I was groomed and sexually assaulted as a child by someone who was lodging with us. I wasn't repeatedly raped or killed, I was lucky, but it destroyed my trust in the adults around me and I entered into drink, drugs, crime, violence and ended up in young offenders at 18. I then spent 10 years on self destruct in those environments before I got me shit together, spending another 10 years on self-reeducation and self -rehabilitation outside of institutions.
Now don't get me wrong, I most probably still would have entered into those things anyway, coming from a working class, ex mining community, underfunded in education and health care, with few real economic prospects beyond a shitty factory job at the local knocker factory. But the broken trust made me more vulnerable to being in those environments and it took me another 10 years of self-education and self-rehabilitation to correct those wrong behaviours, with the love and support of my family and a few great art teachers.
But, because I was a child when it happened and because I was unable to understand it and then subsequently couldn't report it until 10 years after the fact, the police called it 'historic' and told me there was nothing they could do. Hold on a minute. Nothing you can do? The cunt is still working with kids. But it was my word against his and in the eyes of the law, nothing could be proved that anything had happened and I was not allowed to name him. He was an army cadet instructor and part time territorial army instructor and full time fucking paedophile.
I did all the police work for them, trawled the internet and found the cunt working in Japan, where they sell used schoolgirls' knickers from vending machines. He was working as an English teacher to toddlers and holidays/ volunteers in a Thai Orphanage, frequented by other fucking nonces, well known to the authorities. What fucks me off the most, is when people defend celebrities, politicians etc who are accused of paedophilia. "No, they wouldn't do that. They're so nice. They do so much charitable work with all those sick children. I can't believe it". That's the fucking point you blind cunts! They ingratiate themselves into positions where it looks like they are whiter than white, beyond reproach, beyond questions of guilt. Have you forgotten Jimmy Saville, Gary Glitter etc etc et fucking cettera?
Since the dawn of time, humans have fucked children in the belief that it creates purer bloodlines. Then we got psychology and learned from the survivors that fucking children really fucks them up. We need more conversations on all forms of abuse that we accept daily. Prisons and psychiatric wards are full of incurable child rapists and sex offenders. There's no cure for heterosexuality/ homosexuality/ bestiality/ paedophilia. Your own sexual predilections are your own sexual predilections. I think the only way to try and change paedophilia, is to try and educate the abusers to the damage that they inflict. To make them realise that the victim does not see their actions as they do. I didn't see my abuser wanting to fuck me. I just saw someone paying attention to me, taking me to school, buying me sweets, taking me to a fucking gun club, the dirty bastard. If I would or could have seen his motives before he tried to buy my silence for the upcoming deed, I'd have said "Fuck you" from the start.
As to our elite rulers? They're just sad cunts who haven't learned from their own institutional raping, fagging, beastings at private schools. To them it's normal to oppress the weak and the vulnerable. It's normal to not consider the well being of those they govern. They don't give a fuck. They are all venal cunts.
Has any of your work to date dealt with this subject?
As you can imagine, it can be a bit of a conversation killer whenever you mention paedophilia, but I am open and honest about my life when I meet any fucker, I have no guilt or shame, because I did fuck all wrong. I was lucky. I think so far, my work has just tried to get people to see the unseen and accepted abuse that capitalism creates, maybe as a precursor to thinking about paedophilia? I don't know. Much like spotting paedophiles (you can't), as people generally don't see the abuse that corporations inflict, they just see the happy smiling face of the corporation/ monster that's abusing them and others, without seeing the horror of their actions in bringing their products to you. Usually, the only people to see/ catch paedophiles, are those caught underneath them, the victims, or those that open the door onto their actions.
I had a 4cm, suspected benign, slow growing, suspected DNETS, grade 2 tumour removed from my right frontal lobe at the end of January. Suspected. When they actually cracked the top of me head off, it was a 4cm diffuse astrocytoma, grade 2 to 3. I became ill during the summer and rapidly began to suffer ever worsening symptoms as the tumour grew and increased the pressure inside my head. My neurosurgeon said he'd never met anyone like me, or seen anything like what happened when the anaesthetist began to anaesthetise me ready for the operation.
He said that I was wheeled into the operating theatre and as they prepared to anaesthetise me, I was in the middle of a conversation with him, they injected the anaesthetic, I then went unconscious and he performed a six and a half hour 'stealth craniotomy' operation, with full resection of the tumour. He said that when the anaesthetist injected the reversal to wake me up, I woke up and carried on with the exact same conversation in the exact same place I left off, before the anaesthetic was administered. He repeated that he had never seen anything like it, to which I laughed and said "You must have seen thousands of patients, just like me".
I'm just lucky. On first waking in the operating room, I found myself, imagined my mind, my soul, my me, curled up inside the void left behind by the tumour and I went through the most sublime human experience as my brain and consciousness were 'rebooted' and all my feelings, thoughts, memories, ideas, fears, came back 'online' all at fucking once.
As an artist, I have a massive visual memory and vocabulary, and with that, I was treated to the most awe inspiring, internal, visual light show that displayed in my mind's eye, every single idea, thought, bit of knowledge, book, film, food, fight, fuck, memory, everything, ever, that I had had. All at once, in the deafening sound of a singular, pink, synaptic pop. Imagine everything your brain contains being 'shown' to you and 'felt', all at fucking once. I was remembering facts and figures that I didn't even know I knew. As I lay in the recovery room minutes later, sucking in oxygen, hot piss drips stinging my glans from the catheter removal, I told the nurse that the date needed changing on the cannula in the back of me hand, as "I've just had my operation today and this is yesterday's date on here". She said she thought that I was going to be alright. "Alright? I'm going to be fucking fine babe" I replied. You try making sense of that shit without scaring the life out of your wife and family.
I had a week of super steroids and opiates and I was high as a cunt. I couldn't see my daughter for the first few days as I was too high. When I did see her, I cried my eyes out. I couldn't see her eyes. I was staring right through them. Through her eyeballs, through the orbits of her skull. I could see the base of her brain and it was on fire, electric, just like mine. She was sucking in the planet.
Facebook Post by Chris Graham, post brain surgery, 3rd February 2016
To produce this turd, today's menu consisted of...
5 hours unmedicated sleep.
06.05 Half mug of tea, 1 small spoon of sugar, splash of milk.
06.08 2 paracetamol.
06.10 Small one skinner spliff, toxic AK47, pussy amount.
06.20 2 weetabix, 2 slices white toast, margarine, raspberry jam.
06.30 Half mug tea, 1 small spoon sugar, splash of milk.
06.45 Small one skinner spliff, toxic AK47, pussy amount.
Gently (for me) running 5 hours of internal physical/ mental system diagnostic checks on the new hardware upgrade from the NHS neuro ninjas. All appears functioning well.
30 minutes in the garden on anaesthetically disconnected legs, waiting for the sun to shine.
5 skinny cigarettes.
2 litres of tap water.
11.45 2 slices of toast, margarine, 1 runny, crispy, fried egg, salt, brown sauce. Large mug of tea, 1 sugar.
4.5 hours unmedicated sleep. 2 paracetamol.
2 large plates of beef stew, over fried chips and 3 slices of white bread and the rest of me mum's dinner too.
1 blackberry and raspberry yoghurt.
1 bag of sweet and salt popcorn.
A warm bath. Wife had to wash me arse.
A couple more one skinners, toxic AK47, pussy amount.
2 hours listening to Zoviet France to soothe my void.
38 minutes listening to television static.
Several repeated conversations with worried wife, family, friends, assuring them that I know what the fuck I'm doing. For the first time in 42 years, I am in control. Autonomy is not just a word. It's a state of fucking mind.
Now for more sleep.
Tomorrow I see my daughter again.