The art of blaggin'
Private view - The contemporary artist Russell Thoburn regularly pretends to be someone else to gain
''Follow that taxi." I feel like an actor in a film. I don't really have the cash to spare, but something in me says do it, be in the right place at the right time. The right place is St John restaurant in Clerkenwell, London, and the right time is moments after the private view of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" at Tate Britain, a collaboration between the fellow students turned art stars Damien Hirst, Angus Fairhurst and Sarah Lucas.
The taxi we are following contains Maureen Paley, an American gallerist who's been in London for ages, and Wolfgang Tillmans, a photographer who has been doing something at the Tate. Our taxi is quite slow, so my DJ mate Liam and I squeeze our eyes and peer out the window. Are we still following the right cab? And then we get to the roundabout at the Houses of Parliament and lose sight. What to do? The meter is ticking away and my overdraft is getting bigger. We could have bought a pizza or a curry with the fare money. I tell the driver to head to the river, knowing that the party will be in the East End, and as we cut through the amber light, I catch sight of Maureen's jet-black hair in the back of a taxi.
Three minutes later, our taxi pulls up alongside hers. I ask the driver to go into the next street to avoid suspicion. I don't know where the event is, but my insider knowledge tells me it could be at St John restaurant: they do plenty of meat there - pigs' snouts, pigeon, probably even hamster - and Sarah is a regular. From the outside, St John is nothing special, and there is no suggestion of a party taking place.
I tell my mate to walk confidently, as if he belongs there, and let me do the talking. Two women are standing at the door with lists. Liam simply walks past while I politely say I'm a friend of Damien's. Mmmm . . . My name's not on the list, "but if you are a friend of Damien's you can come in". It is Damien's night and no one would want to upset him, and any-way, how else would I know about this unless I was a close friend? The previous day, I'd phoned Damien's PR company, Science. They had put me on the guest list for the private view but informed me that nothing else was happening.
Inside, it is a bit too intimate for my liking. There doesn't seem to be anywhere to seek cover if need be. I head to a table and sit opposite an elderly couple. I later find out that they are the parents of the owner of the restaurant and have recently bought a Warhol drawing from Sadie Coles, who also represents Sarah and Angus. My exhibition opens at the Great Eastern Hotel this week, so I begin discussions about meeting up.
Hours later, Sadie comes over to greet them and looks at me. Sadie is perceptive. She has organised this meal for close friends of the artists, and I'm sure she's thinking: how did he get in? Or maybe she's thinking that I'm treading on her patch by talking to the couple who've recently bought the Warhol. Even if she does suspect that I've blagged my way in, I don't think she would ask me to leave. I could be a drunk, I could cause a scene and it would look unprofessional, so I tuck in to the good food and drink the wine and carry on talking to the guy who makes bronzes for everyone. He asks if I do 3D work and I mention my theory about Jay Jopling having bought a foundry or having shares in one because every artist he represents seems to be doing bronze sculptures.
I exhibited at the Great Eastern Hotel after Jay Jopling had recommended me - albeit in the form of a dream. Followed through in reality, this show was a success. Nastro Azzurro sponsored the launch party, the PR company for Friends Reunited promoted it (after I used the site to contact people with famous art names) and an investment banker purchased my latest work. Would this have happened if I hadn't name-dropped?
I know my artworks are worthy of the White Cube walls and Tate, but I don't have an art critic or dealer champion- ing me yet. This leads me to blaggin', or "exaggerating", which has a long history in the art world. Artists as diverse as Picasso and Warhol have been familiar with blaggin' and myth-making. It also helps to sell works of art. Jake Chapman once said that being famous in the art world was like being well known at a youth club, and it's because of this that someone like me can pretend to be Tim Noble without being found out, as most people know the art but not the face.
Blaggin' and making art both involve following impulses and being spontaneous, living on the edge and not knowing. I have a desire to feel fully alive and embodied in each moment - whether that's a phone call to get on a guest list with my heart beating wildly, walking past a doorman or standing in front of my art. Ultimately, my goal is simple: to have time and resources to follow what I love, and to be where I belong. My predicament is that I don't have middle-class amounts of money, nor do I have the Royal College or Goldsmiths network behind me. I studied at Guildhall University in the East End, most of whose students probably end up working at Tesco or on the Underground.
The evening passes in a bourgeois kind of way and I scan the tables to see who's with whom. Jay is on the media table with Janet Street-Porter and Waldemar Janusczak. I know it's risky to head that way, so I avoid it. There are probably around a hundred people here and it has a wedding-party feel. Nicholas Serota makes a speech, as does Sadie. She seems very normal and reveals a softness that surprises and pleases me, contradicting all the stories I've heard about her being a hard-hitting businesswoman. We applaud the work and commitment of the artists, and then it's time to let go: the show is up and on its way into the media bubble. At about 10.45pm, Liam and I decide to leave. The desserts are nothing exciting and contain lots of wheat, which I try to avoid, so I head over to Damien and congratulate him on the show. In his Vivienne Westwood coat with fox fur, he looks at me and smiles. I walk away and leave the building.
At least being proactive like this feels more empowering than waiting to be discovered or to become fashionable. I could be dead tomorrow.
Russell Thoburn will be exhibiting "Paper Scapes" at the Hay Gallery, Colchester, from 24 September to 14 October. Further information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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