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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Why Podemos will defeat the Spanish Socialists

A new alliance on the Spanish Left will be stronger than the sum of its parts.

On Saturday morning, on a palm-tree lined promenade in the small city of Badalona in eastern Catalonia, a 38-year-old woman named Mar García Puig fanned herself with her speaking notes after taking her turn on the stage.

Until six months ago, Puig was a literary editor with no professional experience in politics apart from attending demonstrations and rallies. Then, in December, her life was transformed twice over. In the national election, she won a parliamentary seat for En Comú Podem, the Catalan regional ally of the anti-austerity party Podemos. Four hours after she learned of her victory, Puig gave birth to twins.

Fortunately Puig’s husband, who is a teacher, was able to take paternity leave so that she could take up her seat. In parliament, Puig “felt like an alien”, she told me over coffee. As it turned out, she had to give up her seat prematurely anyway – along with all the other Spanish MPs – when repeated attempts to form a government failed. So now, in the lead-up to Spain’s first repeat election of the modern era, to be held on 26 June, Puig was on the campaign trail once more in a drive to win a parliamentary seat.

The December general election was as historic as it was inconclusive, ushering in a novel political era in Spain and leaving the country with the most fragmented parliament in its history. Fed up with corruption, austerity and a weak recovery from the global financial crisis, voters punished the mainstream parties, ending the 40-year dominance of the conservative Partido Popular (People’s Party) and the centre-left PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party), which have held power since the death of General Franco. Neither group was able to win an absolute majority as new parties from both ends of the political spectrum garnered support from disenchanted voters.

On the left, Podemos, which was only founded in March 2014 by the ponytailed political scientist Pablo Iglesias, won 20 per cent of the vote. Ciudadanos (Citizens), formed in Catalonia a decade ago and occupying the centre left or centre right, depending on which analyst you talk to, secured a 14 per cent share.

Despite having four months to form a coalition government, the two biggest political parties could not reach a deal. The People’s Party, which had implemented a harsh austerity package over the past five years, recorded its worst electoral performance since 1989, losing 16 percentage points. It still won the most votes, however, and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was the first leader to be asked by King Felipe VI to form a government.

By the end of January, Rajoy conceded defeat after the PSOE refused to join his “grand coalition”. The Socialists then failed in their own attempt to form a government, leading the king to dissolve parliament and call a fresh election.

Despite the inconvenience of having to campaign nationwide once again – and being away from her twins – Mar García Puig’s enthusiasm for her new career is undiminished. “In Spain there is a window of opportunity,” she said. “There is a receptiveness to politics that there wasn’t before.”

When the repeat elections were called, some questioned whether Podemos and its regional allies could mobilise its supporters to the same extent as in December. Yet Puig believes that the party’s appeal has grown further in the six months that the country has been without a government. “We are still new and Podemos has this freshness – it can still make people join,” she told me.

The following day, as the church bells rang at noon in the Basque city of Bilbao, crowds gathered for another rally. For protection against the sun, Podemos supporters had covered their heads with purple triangular paper hats displaying the party name as it will appear on the ballot paper: Unidos Podemos, or “United We Can”.

In May, Podemos entered into an alliance with Izquierda Unida (United Left), the radical left-wing party that includes the Communist Party of Spain, and which won 3 per cent of the vote in December. Izquierda Unida is headed by Alberto Garzón, a 30-year-old Marxist economist who, according to a poll by the state-run CIS research institute, is the most highly rated party leader in Spain. Unlike Podemos’s Iglesias, who can fire up a crowd and is seen by some as divisive, Garzón is a calm and articulate politician who appeals to disaffected voters.

Nagua Alba, who at 26 is Podemos’s youngest MP, said the new alliance would be stronger than the sum of its parts, because Spain’s voting system punishes smaller parties when it comes to allocating seats in parliament. “It [the alliance] will attract all those people that aren’t convinced yet. It shows we can all work together,” Alba said.

As part of the agreement with Podemos, Izquierda Unida has agreed to drop its demands for a programme of renationalisation and withdrawing Spain from Nato. The alliance is campaigning on a platform of reversing Rajoy’s labour reforms, removing the national debt ceiling, opposing the TTIP trade deal, and increasing the minimum wage to €900 a month. A Unidos Podemos government would attempt to move the EU’s economic policy away from austerity and towards a more expansionist stance, joining a broader effort that involves Greece, Italy and Portugal. It is also committed to offering the Catalans a referendum on independence, a move that the mainstream parties strongly oppose.

The latest polls suggest that Unidos Podemos will become Spain’s second-biggest party, with 26 per cent of the vote, behind Rajoy’s Popular Party. The Socialist Party looks poised to fall into third place, with 21 per cent, and Ciudadanos is expected to hold its 14 per cent share. If the polls are accurate, the PSOE will face a difficult choice that highlights how far its stock has fallen. It can choose to enter as a junior partner into a coalition with the insurgent left, which has politically outmanoeuvred it. Or it could decide to prop up a Partido Popular-led right-wing coalition, serving as a constraint on power. 

This article first appeared in the 23 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Divided Britain