Farewell Angus Fairhurst

The premature death of the artist plus the rest of the news from the arts world

“Ridiculously charming, a radical gardener…and an intensely intelligent artist.” This was how curator Sadie Coles described the British artist Angus Fairhurst, following his suicide last week. The 41-year old was found dead in woodland near Argyll on 29 March. Fairhurst, whose career was launched in 1988 by Damien Hirst's iconic ‘Freeze’ show, was a key member of the Young British Artists. Working in sculpture, photography, film and video installation his work featured in all the major contemporary art shows of the last twenty years. A collaborator and close friend of Hirst and Sarah Lucas, whom he met when studying at Goldsmiths, he exhibited with them most recently in the 2004 show In-a-Gadda-da-Vida. However Fairhurst never quite reached Hirst and Lucas’s level of stardom and was generally perceived as a gentler, more self-effacing

Sadie Coles HQ is currently hosting John Currin’s new exhibition, which opened on Wednesday. Currin, a leading figurative painter known for his exaggerated depictions of the female body, has attracted attention due to his current muse: pornography. His exhibition at Sadie Coles showcases a selection of new oil paintings, some of which are so patiently detailed that they make John Cameron Mitchells’ 2006 film Shortbus (a contribution to the Art-porn genre) look coy. Currin, a New Yorker, whose classical style is also influenced by the Old Masters has made a number of intriguing comments about the works, including a remark about the images being provoked by his hatred for ‘Islamic fascism’. He has also suggested that the images are in no way erotic “when you don't show things, you build up a kind of voltage. So what happens if you totally open it up? Is the painting going to have any kind of energy at all? In a way, these are very unsexual paintings." A commercial success Currin has courted his fair share of criticism, including from The New Republic’s writer Jed Perl, who in 2007 described the painters output as ‘art pollution’. An early review from Sian Pattenden however suggests that Currin's exhibition will be well received in the nation of prudes The show runs until May 10th.

Following her suggestions last month that The Proms are not multi-cultural enough, Margaret Hodge has once again launched herself into the media spotlight. During a meeting for the governments creative leadership programme she declared that within the ‘creative industries’ not enough women are employed in high ranking positions. This may be – The Independent provides a short list of top Arts Leaders which shows only 20% to be women. However Hodge’s impassioned plea to "break down the… barriers to wider representation" has been met by some with lip-curling distaste. Writing for The Observer Laura Cumming argued convincingly against Hodge’s ‘ministerial ignorance’. She points out that, in fact, a significant number of arts institutions are run by women. These include the South Bank, the RSC, the Royal Academy, the Serpentine Gallery and Modern Art Oxford. Cummings evidence is reassuring, but her rant against Hodge should not obscure the fact that the politician’s efforts, however clumsy, were hardly born out of negative motives. Given that it is only eighty years since women were granted the vote to hear a female MP calling- perhaps even unnecessarily- for more female leaders is no bad thing.

Other arts news this week: Banksy launched his latest book, ‘Home Sweet Home,’ featuring photos of his graffiti artwork from his home town, Bristol. Written by Steve Wright, the book is the enigmatic artist's first unofficial biography. The singer Morrissey also made headlines when he won an apology from The Word magazine following David Quantick’s report which dealt with the Mancunian’s (seemingly misinterpreted) views on immigration, as expressed in an interview with the NME. However his libel case against the latter is ongoing.

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Beware of tea: the cuppa has started wars and ruined lives

. . . and it once led F Scott Fitzgerald to humiliate himself.

A drink sustains me – one that steams companionably as I write. It is hot, amber and fragranced differently from any wine; nor does it have wine’s capacity to soften and blur. I’ve never understood how the great drunks of literature, Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald and their like, ever put anything on the page more worthwhile than a self-involved howl, though even Hemingway apparently finished the day’s writing before beginning the day’s drinking.

Tea is more kindly, or so I’d always thought. Those aromatic leaves, black or green, rolled and dried and oxidised, have some of wine’s artistry but none of its danger. Even their exoticism has waned, from a Chinese rarity (“froth of the liquid jade”), for which 17th-century English traders were made to pay in solid silver, to a product that can be found dirt cheap on supermarket shelves.

There are even home-grown teas now. The Tregothnan estate in Cornwall has supplemented its ornamental rhododendrons and camellias with their relative camellia sinensis, the tea plant, while Dalreoch in the Scottish Highlands grows a white (that is, lightly oxidised) tea, which is smoked using wood from the surrounding birch plantations. Tellingly, this local version is priced as steeply as the imported rarity once was.

I enjoy a simple, solitary mug, but I also appreciate communal tea-drinking – the delicate tea warmed with water at 85°C (a little higher for sturdier black blends), the teapot and china, the pourer volunteering to be “mother”, as if this were a liquid that could nurture. But in reality, tea is not so gentle.

Those long-ago English traders disliked haemorrhaging silver, so they started exporting opium to China from India and paying with that. This was a fabulous success, unless you happened to be Chinese. In 1839, a commissioner attempted to clamp down on the illegal and harmful trade, and the result was the Opium Wars, which the Chinese lost. “Gunboat diplomacy” – a phrase that surely constitutes froth of a different kind – won England a great deal of silver, a 150-year lease on Hong Kong and an open tea market. China received a potful of humiliation that may eventually have helped spark the Communist Revolution. As many of us have recently realised, there is nothing like economic mortification to galvanise a nation to kick its leaders.

Later, the tea bush was planted in India, Ceylon and elsewhere, and the fragrant but bitter brew for the upper classes became a ubiquitous fuel. But not an entirely sweet one: just as the opium trade ensured our tea’s arrival in the pot, the slave trade sweetened it in the cup. Even today, conditions for tea workers in places such as Assam in north-east India are often appalling.

Scott Fitzgerald also had tea trouble. When invited round by Edith Wharton, he frothed the liquid jade so assiduously with booze beforehand and risqué conversation during (a story about an American tourist couple staying unawares in a Paris bordello) that he was nearly as badly humiliated as those 19th-century Chinese. Wharton, unshocked, merely wondered aloud what the couple had done in the bordello and afterwards pronounced the entire occasion “awful”.

Some would blame his alcoholic preliminaries, but I’m not so sure. Tea has started wars and ruined lives; we should be wary of its consolations. On that sober note, I reach for the corkscrew and allow the subject to drive me softly, beguilingly, to drink.

Nina Caplan is the 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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