Ahead of his show at the William Morris gallery, former Turner Prize winner Jeremy Deller talks to Amie Mulderrig about what gets him painting

East London and West Essex Guardian Series: Jeremy Deller is coming to the William Morris Gallery with his exhibition English Magic Jeremy Deller is coming to the William Morris Gallery with his exhibition English Magic

When I speak with Jeremy Deller, he is busy. Very busy.
Busy with a new show in Manchester and busy thinking about ideas for a new monument in Oslo.
Right now though, he's busy recreating his infamous image of William Morris hurling a certain Russian oligarch's yacht into the Venice Lagoon.
"In 2011, Roman Abramovich  parked up his yacht outside the Venice Biennale and it was really quite obnoxious in the way that it blocked the view.
"It's whole presence..." he pauses, the disgust palpable in his voice, "it was not welcome by a lot of people.
"Then there was this security fencing propped up by it and everyone had to walk around. In a way it was a very apt metaphor for what's going on in the art world, the way serious money is attracted to art and how they're buying it all up. Practically speaking, it was just rather annoying.
"I kept thinking, what would William Morris say if he was alive to see this, given his thoughts on politics and art. And wouldn't it be great if he came back from the dead as a giant and destroyed it.
"That's how We sit starving amidst our gold was conceived."
Fittingly, the piece is one of several set to be shown at the William Morris Gallery this week, as part of exhibition English Magic.
But it's not just multi billionaires who are grinding the former Turner Prize winner's gears.
Indeed, take one look at the exhibition, which gained nationwide press after it was initially shown in the British Pavilion as part of Venice Biennale last year, and you'll see plenty of other fodder in the firing line.
"Range Rovers. I hate them. Well of course I do, I'm a cyclist. The piece depicting a Range Rover being attacked by a giant bird won't be shown, sadly, in Walthamstow because of space, but there is a film, with two Range Rovers being destroyed.
"Why my dislike? Because they're so dangerous and they tend to be driven dangerously too. It's one thing to drive badly in a small car, but in a Range Rover..well, they're bullying vehicles. Potentially obnoxious drivers, not all of them, some."
Jeremy has come a long way since his early projects, which mainly consisted of public art: T-shirts with various inscriptions of his own name, bumper stickers or posters: many ways to show his work in a quick and efficient fashion.
But he wasn’t always going to be an artist. After studying art history at the Courtauld Institute, specialising in Baroque, he left the establishment with few job prospects.
In fact, he spent five years living at home in Dulwich, on the dole. But his  faith that he could become an artist was fuelled by an encounter with Andy Warhol in 1986, when he met him at an opening at Anthony D'Offay and later when he went to see him in New York:
"I didn’t know him well, but he was very nice, cool guy". It’s evident Jeremy doesn’t like to capitalise on his meeting with Warhol, as he isn’t easily drawn on the subject. In fact, this level of modesty is also evident when discussing his Turner prize win with him: "I find it all a bit embarrassing" and even the recent honour of showing at the Venice Biennale: "for a long time I was hoping they wouldn’t ask me to do it, what with the pressure involved."
His significance as an artist stems from the fact he has a sharp and meticulous sense of observation, opinions on practically everything, and a tendency to be provocative with his work.
But he doesn't really paint, draw or sculpt – rather, like an illusionist, his skill is in juxtaposition, he is a master of putting things and people next to each other, of altering contexts.
"Although, I would say I’m not massively political. I’m a little more political than most, but more in the middle though to be fair. I try not to ram my opinions down other people’s throats, whether I pull that off or not...I’m not sure.
"My work tends to be inspired by everything around me, even if it annoys.
"For me, art doesn’t have to carry a message, my work doesn't always. It can just be about the aesthetics, the beauty of it.
"Although I suppose English Magic does...it’s a rather contentious title in a way, what with the use of English over British. And Magic which can be both delightful and full of trickery..."
Even though the Turner prize win thrust Jeremy into the media spotlight, he believes his show at the Biennale will be what marks a change in fortunes for him.
"It’s an absolute honour to have shown there. I don’t really sell much of my work to be honest...particularly not to Russian billionaires."
Jeremy Deller is at the William Morris Gallery, Lloyd Park, Forest Road, from January 18 to March 30.
Details: wmgallery.org.uk, 020 8496 4390

Comments (8)

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10:47pm Fri 17 Jan 14

Upshirehorse says...

Apart from some obnoxious Range Rover Drivers there are some equally obnoxious cyclists and this artists generalisations are a little unfair. I do see his point about the Abramovitch yacht though, money acquired in a dubious way whilst fellow countrymen live in terrible poverty, anchored off the Italian Coast like an enormous two fingered gesture to the financially struggling Venicians.
Apart from some obnoxious Range Rover Drivers there are some equally obnoxious cyclists and this artists generalisations are a little unfair. I do see his point about the Abramovitch yacht though, money acquired in a dubious way whilst fellow countrymen live in terrible poverty, anchored off the Italian Coast like an enormous two fingered gesture to the financially struggling Venicians. Upshirehorse

9:38am Sat 18 Jan 14

UKIP-local says...

It may be comfortable for champagne socialists to criticise the rich and to condemn poverty but the evidence of the past century shows that socialism and state control are failed models for the economy. There is a part of the arts community which is self-indulgent and demands and gets heavy subsidy from tax payers, many of whom are less well off after the taxes they pay than the beneficiaries of state benefits. As to the proposition that we live among starving people, I assume Mr Deller was taking a world view. Most of the nations where starvation exists are, or were recently, run on socialist state control lines, and look where that got them.
It may be comfortable for champagne socialists to criticise the rich and to condemn poverty but the evidence of the past century shows that socialism and state control are failed models for the economy. There is a part of the arts community which is self-indulgent and demands and gets heavy subsidy from tax payers, many of whom are less well off after the taxes they pay than the beneficiaries of state benefits. As to the proposition that we live among starving people, I assume Mr Deller was taking a world view. Most of the nations where starvation exists are, or were recently, run on socialist state control lines, and look where that got them. UKIP-local

8:10pm Sat 18 Jan 14

NDevoto says...

Upshirehorse wrote:
Apart from some obnoxious Range Rover Drivers there are some equally obnoxious cyclists and this artists generalisations are a little unfair. I do see his point about the Abramovitch yacht though, money acquired in a dubious way whilst fellow countrymen live in terrible poverty, anchored off the Italian Coast like an enormous two fingered gesture to the financially struggling Venicians.
New year, new sock puppet from Cornbeefur....
[quote][p][bold]Upshirehorse[/bold] wrote: Apart from some obnoxious Range Rover Drivers there are some equally obnoxious cyclists and this artists generalisations are a little unfair. I do see his point about the Abramovitch yacht though, money acquired in a dubious way whilst fellow countrymen live in terrible poverty, anchored off the Italian Coast like an enormous two fingered gesture to the financially struggling Venicians.[/p][/quote]New year, new sock puppet from Cornbeefur.... NDevoto

9:20am Sun 19 Jan 14

stickmanny says...

UKIP-local wrote:
It may be comfortable for champagne socialists to criticise the rich and to condemn poverty but the evidence of the past century shows that socialism and state control are failed models for the economy. There is a part of the arts community which is self-indulgent and demands and gets heavy subsidy from tax payers, many of whom are less well off after the taxes they pay than the beneficiaries of state benefits. As to the proposition that we live among starving people, I assume Mr Deller was taking a world view. Most of the nations where starvation exists are, or were recently, run on socialist state control lines, and look where that got them.
That maybe comfortable for you to say but the evidence of the last seven years shows that without socialsm (public ownership of bank debt) and state control (regulation of the financial sector) the rich will screw everyone for everything they can get, leaving more poverty and hunger (yes - in this country) than a piddling Arts budget could ever cause.

Government spending on the Arts 2012-13 was £69 per person.

Cost of banking crisis approx £3500 per person (actual figure will only be known when RBS and Lloyds are sold)

Food prices have risen by 25% since 2007.
[quote][p][bold]UKIP-local[/bold] wrote: It may be comfortable for champagne socialists to criticise the rich and to condemn poverty but the evidence of the past century shows that socialism and state control are failed models for the economy. There is a part of the arts community which is self-indulgent and demands and gets heavy subsidy from tax payers, many of whom are less well off after the taxes they pay than the beneficiaries of state benefits. As to the proposition that we live among starving people, I assume Mr Deller was taking a world view. Most of the nations where starvation exists are, or were recently, run on socialist state control lines, and look where that got them.[/p][/quote]That maybe comfortable for you to say but the evidence of the last seven years shows that without socialsm (public ownership of bank debt) and state control (regulation of the financial sector) the rich will screw everyone for everything they can get, leaving more poverty and hunger (yes - in this country) than a piddling Arts budget could ever cause. Government spending on the Arts 2012-13 was £69 per person. Cost of banking crisis approx £3500 per person (actual figure will only be known when RBS and Lloyds are sold) Food prices have risen by 25% since 2007. stickmanny

9:29am Sun 19 Jan 14

stickmanny says...

And in other news "UKIP councillor blames storms and floods on gay marriage".

Not UKIP's party line you see, but they describe it as as an example of "independent thought" that makes the UK "a wonderful, proud, diverse and free country".
And in other news "UKIP councillor blames storms and floods on gay marriage". Not UKIP's party line you see, but they describe it as as an example of "independent thought" that makes the UK "a wonderful, proud, diverse and free country". stickmanny

9:56am Sun 19 Jan 14

Upshirehorse says...

I think William Morris would object to being depicted this way in some respects. I would have gone for a more subtle approach, maybe Noel Edmunds in a Morris print shirt on Deals and no Deals with the contestants being the greedy bankers and Richard Branson type billionaires who have more money than they will ever need. The Socialist arguments would be much stronger if the type of benefit dependant shown on Benefits Streets were not spending all their monies on drugs, alcohol and other unnecessary pleasures as those who are really dependable are the silent majority of the claimants and they are tarred with the same brush unfortunately.
I think William Morris would object to being depicted this way in some respects. I would have gone for a more subtle approach, maybe Noel Edmunds in a Morris print shirt on Deals and no Deals with the contestants being the greedy bankers and Richard Branson type billionaires who have more money than they will ever need. The Socialist arguments would be much stronger if the type of benefit dependant shown on Benefits Streets were not spending all their monies on drugs, alcohol and other unnecessary pleasures as those who are really dependable are the silent majority of the claimants and they are tarred with the same brush unfortunately. Upshirehorse

7:21am Mon 20 Jan 14

OngarRS says...

blah, blah, blah, I'm so anti-establishment, but I am happy to live on the dole for years, taking other people's money, producing sh!t no-one wants to buy. Tw@t.
blah, blah, blah, I'm so anti-establishment, but I am happy to live on the dole for years, taking other people's money, producing sh!t no-one wants to buy. Tw@t. OngarRS

9:40am Mon 20 Jan 14

T. Watts says...

OngarRS wrote:
blah, blah, blah, I'm so anti-establishment, but I am happy to live on the dole for years, taking other people's money, producing sh!t no-one wants to buy. Tw@t.
Blimey - I never thought I'd see a moron out-cornbeef cornbeefur - but for utter stupidity you've passed with flying colours!
[quote][p][bold]OngarRS[/bold] wrote: blah, blah, blah, I'm so anti-establishment, but I am happy to live on the dole for years, taking other people's money, producing sh!t no-one wants to buy. Tw@t.[/p][/quote]Blimey - I never thought I'd see a moron out-cornbeef cornbeefur - but for utter stupidity you've passed with flying colours! T. Watts

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