It’s been an odd week for the art world. By which I mean it’s been an odd week for Damien Hirst. Until very recently they were the same thing. Now even the most casual of observers can see he’s had his chips. He made his reputation pickling sharks. Alas, his career was the one thing he couldn’t preserve. Unless you’ve been living in a cave you don’t need me to tell you his latest exhibition of work at the Wallace was universally panned. The Guardian went so far as to say his ‘deadly dull’ skulls are a ‘memento mori’ for his career. Ouch.
Worse, the release of this year’s ArtReview power list has seen him plummet from being Top Dog to being a tick-ridden no. 48 which is, I’m sure, the metaphorical equivalent to Mr Hirst of a royal crack to the knackers with a Doctor Marten boot — delivered while he’s already reeling on the ground. To the rest of us, it’s just a reminder that all glory is fleeting. A star is extinguished, not with a bang, but a very anguished whimper.
My point is that as some stars fall, other rise. That’s why I was tempted into going to the opening night of Lucas Price’s exhibition at the Black Rat Press, Rivington St, Shoreditch. I rolled my eyes when I saw the press release — another graffiti artist — but Price is proof that not every “urban” artist should be tarred with the same can of primer.
I’m going to use the B word. Sorry. But whenever graffiti is mentioned, his spectre looms larger than Banquo at Macbeth’s banquet. Banksy is the street art world’s Vettriano. Sure he does alright and he’s popular, but his work isn’t exactly challenging. Let’s face it, the only provocative statement that’s had Banksy’s name underneath it in at least a decade comes from the anonymous collective that wrecked his Stokes Croft mural by throwing red paint all over it.
I’m an old fashioned kind of guy. I like my art to say something. So it’s truly wonderful when you find art that not only says something, but says it from the heart. Lucas Price manages to do both.
He’s nervous. It’s his first big show and he’s worried about how people are going to react. But unlike a certain D Hirst, he’s not worried about his reputation in as much as it fattens his wallet. No, he’s got the same nervous need for acceptance that all recovering addicts do — a need that drives his entire body of work.
He needn’t be worried. Jesus Help Me find my Proper Place is a deeply personal collection that not only draws deep from Price’s years as a homeless drug addict, but also one that says volumes about his recovery. You feel as if he’s put his heart and his soul into his work and when an artist does that, something magical happens — art becomes more than mere technique and becomes imbued with meaning.
There’s a real sense of Price’s former disconnection and his struggle to reconnect with the world — in short, to find his place. A collage of photos of the Earth taken from the moon, shrouded in telling white space and bearing the legend ‘when you’re high it’s so warm… it’s like a blow job’ seemed to sum it up for me. As did his statement ‘I’ve decided to study real hard this year and become rich and famous.’ You get a real sense of an artist struggling to express himself in his work.
He’s definitely obsessed with death. Skulls abound, and there’s an open coffin placed in the centre of the room — the body in it is undoubtedly the corpse of his former self, the unlucky Lucas Price who never sobered up and discovered meaning. But it isn’t a morbid obsession. It’s a celebration of a deserved escape from the jaws of death.
Lucas Price’s work is warm and genuine. You might not think these are high accolades for pieces that can command up to 14k a throw. But they are. In fact, I can’t think of praise any higher.
For what it’s worth, I’d happily have one of Damien Hirst’s new paintings hanging on my wall. But that’s the point. Hirst’s new work is art-school stuff that ought to be hanging up in someone’s bedroom. You really get the feeling that the work of Lucas Price belongs in a gallery.
In short, I think he’s found his place.
Lucas Price: Jesus help me find my proper place
Black Rat Press, Rivington St, Shoreditch
October 15th – November 13th 2009