Episode 69: Gavin Turk

December 24, 2006 · Print This Article

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Duncan and Richard interview art superstar Gavin Turk!!!As set forth in Wikipedia:Gavin Turk (born 1967) is a British artist and one of the Young British Artists (YBAs). He often uses his own image in life-size sculptures of famous people.

He was born in Guildford, near London, and went to the Royal College of Art. However, in 1991, the tutors refused to give him the final degree because of his show, called Cave, which consisted of a whitewashed studio space, containing only a blue heritage plaque (of the kind normally found on historic buildings) commemorating his own presence as a sculptor. This bestowed some instant notoriety on Turk, whose work was collected by Charles Saatchi.

His work often involves his own image disguised as that of a famous person. He has cast himself in a series of detailed life sized sculptures as different romantic heroes, including Sid Vicious, Jean-Paul Marat and Che Guevara. Pop, a waxwork model of Turk as Sid Vicious, in white jacket and black trousers, pointing a handgun (appropriating the stance of Andy Warhol’s painting of Elvis Presley as a cowboy), was part of the 1997 Sensation exhibition which toured London, Berlin and New York. A set of what appeared to be classic posters of Che Guevara in a beret, revealed themselves on further scrutiny to be photos of Turk in the same pose.

Ambiguity features throughout his work. What appeared to be a discarded plastic rubbish bag was in fact a bronze sculpture of one. A large industrial skip (normally yellow, battered and with rust) was painted an immaculate gloss black. He turned up at the private view of the Sensation exhibition at the solemn Royal Academy, London, dressed as a down-and-out.

15 thoughts on “Episode 69: Gavin Turk”

  1. Richard says:

    I expect some chit-chat here, Gavin Turk is an honest-to-God Rock Star.

  2. BahlSahc says:

    I never really had the hots for this work. Sid was funny, but is it really worth the hype. I did however like the interview and googled him after listening and perhaps his work is more interesting than I thought.

  3. katiesehr says:

    say bisquits again……….


  4. BahlSahc says:



  5. Bowls ache’s bits quit ……….

  6. I think this interview got particularly interesting when the discussion came to GT’s sale of his work that meant a questioning of the critique the work itself was making. I think this was during the talk of the tea stains.

    It’s also interesting to hear the talk of the artist-as-businessperson aspect of the early career of the young artist. It’s definitely something I missed out on as a student, and wish I hadn’t.

    Turk obviously got on the Artist-as-Rock-Star path. I’m always jealous and in awe of the folks who do this. Invariably luck plays a part, but guys like this don’t get lucky w/o doing the work (I think Larry Byrd said that). We’ve seen others on BAS, like Joseph Friebert in the far away land of Milwaukee quietly working and working and working; it seems in retrospect that his work ethic really made him. And Chris freaking Walla. In Moorehead. There’s an example of another guy just devoting himself to his work and following leads in a 2006 internet kind of way.

    I guess my point is hey the rock star thing is cool, but we on the quieter path have to keep quietly at it in w/ the Buddhist idea of actions w/o expectations of rewards. Or as Kerry James Marshall said in a Reader interview ca. 199-?, (and this is not necessarily verbatim): “I just figured I’d keep doing what I liked to do whether I got recognized for it or not.”

    I like the way he was able to talk in that accent the whole interview. I could never do that.

  7. BahlSahc says:

    It’s funny how KJM went from “doing it because I like to” in the 90s to “I’m filling a hole in the market and exploiting the economic potential of providing product.” in his recent interview bit.

  8. Colleen says:

    One of my all time favorites. I went to be still thinking about your discussions. It was wonderful to hear Gavin talk at length and the questions openend a larger dialogue. One question I have is about the influence of John Cage and Duchamp on the YBA group. Gavin Turks is so heavily conceptual as you talked about, to the point where the work is only created in dialogue, such as the Tea ring stain drawings. I cant get over that work that is all in the head has little to no visual and so cant be art but an idea. What can that mean? Does anyone think about this? Are we all too accepting to the point that we forget that its a visual medium?

  9. BahlSahc,

    Good point about the contradiction. I had noticed that too and have thought about it some. My thought is his earlier comment was more in reference to immediate gratification. Even when you find the hole, it’s years of thankless work before you’re noticed as its filler, right? I donno.

  10. Yeah, that is a good observation Ballzaq. It would have made a good question.

  11. Colleen says:

    as Balzaq pointed out -possibly concept drivien work is more marketable – the buyers has to prove its worth by creating a reasoning for its existence and the reason for existence is validated by its marketablity by the buyers purchase of said art work and by default its value makes the art to be seen as worthy by the industry at large… funny?

  12. Duncan says:

    Wait… so, I pay money and that makes it worth money? Wait, is everything like this?

  13. Richard says:


  14. Turk got very lucky…. five years earlier or later would never have had a shot….


    Saachi made his money doing propaganda for Thatcher’s right wing agenda…..

    Remember that when you think YBA’s represent anything more than opportunist’s grabbing the ‘blood-money’ and I do mean that literally remember Falklands and Miner’s Strike were not ‘post modern’ irony they were wars in every sense……hence all the irritating ‘business opportunity’ and ‘commerciality’ aspect of their interviews….I believe the U.S. would label it ‘hucksterism’.


    In early 1980’s grants to working-class students at Royal College (Turk’s college) were denied grants in order for Thatcher to sponsor ‘chosen’ working class students to go to ‘public’ ( our private education) schools….

    socialism indeed….

    God Bless the YBA’s

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