There comes a point in your life when you can’t go on being scared. For me that point comes regularly, most often after my third glass of free wine. I say ‘free’ because I do most of my drinking at posh gallery openings. I stand in the middle of them, look around me at all the glamorous individuals muttering appreciatively and I pretend I’m in my natural environment. I pretend I’m an art collector and select pieces for my many rooms in my many mansions, and then I get the bus home.
If Londoners complain that booze is too expensive it’s because they’re not making the effort to track down the free stuff. There must be a show opening every evening of the week in this city and as long as you can stomach a bit of pretentious chatter then you can succeed in having an entertaining and cheap night out.
My partner in crime tonight is my best friend Farrell. He works part-time in a book shop and is as broke as I am. Pretending to acknowledge the striking composition of a randomly placed chair or the depth of meaning of some paint-splattered socks suspended from the ceiling is a small sacrifice to pay for a few complimentary beverages. We’d volunteer our comments if it meant getting free nibbles, but unfortunately the art industry seems to survive on a liquid diet only. And also no one particularly wants our comments.
Tonight the artist’s chosen materials are thick paint and reclaimed plywood. Plywood which has been reclaimed from skips, though judging by the state of them I’d be more inclined to say reclaimed from war zones. It’s the most traditional exhibition we’ve seen in ages. There’s still a concept thrown in though. There’s always got to be a concept typed up and displayed on a wall to be mulled over for months to come. Farrell and I prefer to make them up as we walk around.
A lot of strange things make it into galleries. Frankly I don’t know what went wrong with creating something you might actually want to put in your living room. I like landscapes but a landscape in the world of conceptual art could be anything from a peanut on a stick to a video of a talking meringue.
The show is called Life & Death of a Ghost and is made up of five paintings on rough sheets of plywood and a stuffed chicken. The artist, who goes by the name of ‘Ghost’ has only used two colours, grey and green. Contrary to what you would expect, the greener the subject the 'deader' it is supposed to be. The chicken is a grey lump. This means the chicken is alive. And yet it is stuffed.
I stand in front of the artist’s self-portrait and I frown so deeply that my forehead starts to ache. I know it must be a self-portrait because I’ve seen a picture of the artist and can identify the thick handlebar moustache, although I suppose the giveaway is the little label beneath it which says, ‘self-portrait’. As we’re staring at it the artist himself appears and circles us with a hungry smile. Ghost is tall, broad and completely bald. His moustache is perfectly cultivated unlike the painted version in front of us which looks like an accidental spillage.
He suddenly reaches out for my hand and crushes it.
‘Good evening, I expect you'd like to share your thoughts on my work,' he says. 'Everyone else does.'
There’s nothing worse than being put on the spot at an art gallery. People expect so much more than ‘I like the pretty colours’. Not that I do like the colours, which remind me of the sludgy vegetable remains at the bottom of my fridge.
‘I’m trying to get my head around the concept,’ I say, mustering an enthusiastic smile. ‘I mean, I know it’s there and once I’ve got it, it’s going to blow me away.’
‘It is going to blow you away,’ Farrell says.
‘Oh please explain it to me then darling,’ and I appeal to Ghost for support. ‘Don’t you think he should tell me?’
Farrell takes a gulp of wine to hide the fact he can’t keep a straight face.
Ghost just stands there smiling, one hand propped up under his chin.
‘Of course there is the possibility that you lack a certain artistic sensibility,’ he says, studying me as if I’m an experiment. ‘Our first five years of life can determine so much of how we perceive art... how we perceive life...’
‘You did fall off your tricycle a lot,’ says Farrell softly in my ear.
I bite the inside of my lip to stop the laughter.