Renowned as one of the infamous ‘Young British Artists’ at the turn of the century, Gavin Turk works out of an old mechanic’s garage in the shadow of London’s Olympic Stadium. He has pioneered many forms of contemporary British sculpture now taken for granted, including the painted bronze, the waxwork, the recycled art-historical icon and the use of rubbish in art.
What was the first record you bought and what’s your favourite ever record cover?
I think the first was The Jam’s ‘Sound Affects’. My favourite cover is the Fela and the Africa 70 Shakara album. It’s basically an outline of Africa and a 70, and the lines are all made of topless girls on their knees and Fela’s sitting in the middle of the 0 with his hands behind his back. It’s a joyous image.
You’ve taken part in the Secret 7″ project where you and other artists anonymously design record sleeves to be auctioned off for charity. Do you approach that kind of thing in the same way as one your own art projects?
You take each opportunity to make work as it comes. Sometimes it can be a brilliant opportunity to get involved in a process of making something that you ordinarily wouldn’t think of. So for something like a record, I spent a huge amount of my growing up staring at this square – be it a CD, 12″ or 7″. Where I’m asked to do something that I wouldn’t ordinarily do, like with Secret 7″, it’s really difficult to make an impact on the album cover story because that square format has been incredibly well traversed and has been interpreted in so many ways that originality is now very hard to access. At the same time for me am I not only trying to access originality but I’m also trying to put something of my own vision and authorship into it. I deal in signature quite a lot; I sign a lot of things on the front. In many ways I use the signature because I’m trying to question the authority of the signature, why certain signatures carry some kind of mystical power. Why can certain artists make something which is really quite poor but because they named it a signed it it becomes super interesting.
Do you ever feel constricted by your signature? Do you ever want to change it?
The signature I use on my artwork is not the same as the one I use for my banking and private life. My personal signature is not very nice; it’s pretty ugly and almost like a squiggle. It’s unreadable. My ‘art’ signature is a little bit camp i.e. it’s quite considered and it’s supposed to be readable and have an italic feel to it, with elements of madness and also elements of articulation. It’s a bit constructed. But then again everyone’s is, we all remember being 13-year-olds when we tried to articulate our own little squiggle! Paul Smith is a wonderful example of someone writing their name so it’s incredibly readable and has all that graphic content but has the element of authenticity and originality because you can see a hand wrote it.
You’ve said that you drifted into art. Could you see yourself drift out into something else?
The longer it goes on, the more difficult it gets to drift out of it. I do really like music in that I like playing around with sounds. I find it’s quite difficult to get the time to do it, I would like to be able to find a bit more time to experiment with that. It’s not music as I don’t think I’m very musical, it’s about finding and recognising sounds. Film work really fascinates and interests me but I don’t think I know how to get started with that. It seems like such a hugely expensive programme to change to.
Photos: Tom Medwell