John Marchant, gallerist, on Jamie Reid’s Beauty is a Birthright

GB Tell me why you chose this.

JM Jamie and I have been friends for 20 years and we’ve done lots of exhibitions together and something I love about Jamie’s work is his integrity. This particular piece is classic Jamie. It’s a kind of trope from his pre-Pistols time at Suburban Press when they were trying to condense quite complex ideas into single sentences. Beauty and play and pleasure are the kind of things with which the Situationists are associated so it relates in that way to Jamie’s artistic career. It’s much more who Jamie really is then the anarchy flag.

GB Do you find the execution of it beautiful as well as the meaning?

JM Yes, I love the way it’s hand done and a slightly wonky and doesn’t quite fit the page. That’s perfect Jamie. I look after Jamie’s archive and I often see how he’s developed work through a number of different stages. Often things are drawn out by hand like this. There are later versions of this particular piece with colour but this is my favourite. It’s at a nice early stage where the idea’s just coalescing.

GB I think beauty is still a dirty word in the art world. Do you think that’s ever going to change?

JM I really hope so. There’s nothing wrong with beauty. Nothing at all. Thankfully, I also do some work with Gary Hume and it’s something that Gary chases relentlessly. That makes me happy because I think there’s too much darkness and cynicism in the art world. I understand that people want to reflect darkness in these dark times but I think you’ve got to bounce back the light.

GB Yes, I think beauty helps us in dark times.

JM I totally agree with you. We have to try and do the best we can to elevate things.

GB Do you think there are old forms of beauty that have lost their power?

JM I think they’ve lost their currency but not their power. There is a difference.

GB Do you think Jamie’s punk work has lost its power?

JM Well it’s used in so many different contexts now, it’s become part of our cultural vernacular, so it’s lost punch but it now has a different function, as a signifier of a certain rebelliousness. It’s not radical at all any more but it’s still used to convey some kind of energy and excitement. Punk was forty years ago for goodness sake. We can move on.

GB It will be 100 years since Duchamp’s urinal next year. Do you think the art world has moved on from that?

JM Well Cubism came a long time before that, so representational art was already on the wane. But let’s remember that Duchamp did actually nick the urinal idea from a female poet, Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven.

GB How is this not talked about?

JM Because she was a woman.

GB Does Jamie strive for beauty in his work?

JM Yes, it was important to him from the get-go, even when he was a punk. His thing is and always has been radicalism in visual form. I think being radical is beautiful in itself.

GB I always think that the Futurists created incredibly beautiful works while they were railing against beauty in their manifestos.

JM Yes, they’re fabulous, the light and the colour.

GB I suppose that beauty now is less associated with a class system.

JM Only in as much that we have two classes now, the haves and have-nots.

GB Yes but I think the 1% are mostly buying terrible art!

JM They mostly don’t care about beauty. But where is beauty these days? It’s not on the TV and that’s what most people put their attention towards. I think people are putting their attention to things like TV and football that are distraction ploys to keep our minds off politics.

GB What makes something worthy of the word Beauty to you?

JM It should be something that elevates your thinking in some way. It should lift the soul.

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