Entries tagged with “Hirst”.


Well it’s that time of year again Acowlytes, and as the world (quite inevitably) starts to become jaded by International Talk Like a Pirate Day, those of us who were pirates long before the fad came along, and will be pirates long after it fades, raise a cup o’ grog and drink to the the spirit unfettered minds and uncluttered horizons.

This year on The Cow I aim to repurpose ITLAPD into something a little more meaningful – a celebration of free thinking and provocation in the face of parochialism and institutionalization. Herewith on each ITLAPD The Cow will acknowledge someone who, in some manner or other, fearlessly challenges the status quo and questions authority after the fashion of a true pirate.

To kick off, since we’ve just been talking about the Cartrain/Damien Hirst wrangle, we tip our hat to the L-13 Light Industrial Workshop and its mouthpiece Red Rag To A Bull who describes itself as:

…a radical institution dedicated to the pursuit of “FREEDOM, TRUTH and JUSTICE in the art world and BEYOND”, and overblown statements. It was founded by a cartel of rich and powerful light industrialists in the depths of the bleak winter of 2009 when the world was on the brink of total financial collapse.

Red Rag To A Bull and L-13 have been champions to Cartrain over the last year, running their Street Urchins Art Appeal in order to raise enough money to reimburse him for the cash that Hirst’s original legal action cost. They did this by creating and selling meta-parodies of Cartrain’s parodies of Hirst’s work. You gotta love that endless spiral of iteration and self-referentialism.



L-13 also produce some rather remarkable work in their own right. This will come as no surprise to anyone who recognizes Jimmy Cauty as the name behind them. Cauty is perhaps better known for being one half of the KLF, and later, with Alex Paterson, as The Orb – the architects of the Ambient House genre.

With L-13 and RRTAB, Cauty continues to sock it to the narrow-minded, the clueless and the haughty in the manner they truly deserve. A recent Red Rag To A Bull manifesto says in part:

Unlike Cartrain and his gallery we are not intimidated by lawyers, and if an injunction is issued we will simply ignore it on the grounds of freedom of expression. We also operate a ‘copyright out of control’ policy which in our world makes us immune from prosecution…

If they aren’t the words of a true pirate, I’m handing in my wooden leg. So, here’s to you, James Cauty and crew. May your seas always be calm and your powder dry.

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(I’m posting this early Acowlytes, because on the 19th the full Curse of the Black Cow takes hold and there’s no telling how much sense anything will make for the day. If ever you wanted to Ride the Mad Cow, that’s truly the time to do it).

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The art world has never really been known for being sensible, but there is a feud going on at the moment in England that must surely rank as one of the most petty and unfathomable squabbles since my school days when Charlie Peerbohm poured green paint on Debbie McMahon’s fingerpainting in first grade. Synopsizing: last year, a 17 year old street artist named Cartrain made a number of satirical collage portraits of the much more famous artist Damien Hirst using copies of some of Hirst’s own images. Hirst took exception to this for reasons unknown and, using his considerable fortune, pulled legal muscle on Cartrain to force him to hand over the portraits (so that they might be disposed of) along with £195 in compensation (the amount of money that Cartrain allegedly made from selling them).

Considering that Damien Hirst is one of the most commercially successful plunderers of popular culture of all time, this seems churlish at best, and downright petulant otherwise.

I’ve never been a great fan of Hirst’s creations. In my view he’s just fine art’s version of a shock jock; he creates things that are supposed to put people’s noses out of joint under the pretense of making insightful or droll commentary. I could never quite put my finger on why his efforts annoyed me so much until one day, after getting brain freeze from a slushy whilst watching the sharks at Sydney Aquarium, it came to me: Damien Hirst’s art has no sense of humour. It is po-faced pretension of the most vacuous kind. And I think Hirst quite possibly believes that he really is saying something profound. This latest episode has pretty much confirmed my suspicions.

Cartrain, on the other hand, is my kinda guy. He does have a sense of humour and he makes interesting and provocative social commentary. He’s not an artistic genius, perhaps, and owes more than a little to Banksy, but heck, he’s a teenager after all – he’s got plenty of years ahead of him to develop. The portrait of Mr Hirst that you see reproduced above, is one by Cartrain that has escaped the iron clutch of Hirst’s moneyed henchmen and, via the blog of art commentator Jonathan Jones, found its way to teh internets.1 Its sarcastic caricature of Hirst is surely well within the purview of artistic witticism. I believe the confiscated portraits are in the same vein.

But the thing that has really enamored me of Cartrain is the revenge that he he has wrought upon Hirst. In July this year, Cartrain visited the Tate Britain and stole a box of pencils from Hirst’s intellectually vapid installation Pharmacy which is on display there. He then created a mock ransom note demanding return of his portraits in exchange for the pencils. The note stated that failure to comply would result in the pencils being ‘sharpened’. Most anyone would consider that fairly amusing – this is not the mindset of a vicious person – but not Hirst, apparently. As one of the wealthiest artists of all time he looks sulky and pathetic as he stands on his assertion that his intellectual property rights have been violated.

And now, in what must be one of the most egregious over-reactions of the decade, the situation has escalated to the point where the police have arrested Cartrain over the stunt, and he has been charged with £10,000,000.00 for ‘damages’ and a further £500,000.00 for theft.2 Translating into American money, that’s over $17 million dollars worth of charges for a box of pencils.3

This whole debacle reminds me of nothing so much as the Metallica/Napster affair in 2000, and Lars Ulrich’s indignant posturing over the ‘damage’ that file sharing was doing to the band’s sales. The outcome of that particular episode was that Ulrich came out looking like an ass and nothing changed except for Napster getting shafted. Metallica certainly isn’t hanging out at the soup kitchen as a result. Similarly, it’s difficult to comprehend Hirst’s disproportionately vehement reaction to Cartrain’s satirical jibe. What the hell does he care? It’s not like he’s going broke anytime soon.

Maybe it’s simply that Cartrain’s portraits are just a little bit too incisive, and the emperor doesn’t like everyone seeing right through his clothes to his cubic zirconia-encrusted skeleton…

  1. As anyone with an ounce of insight would have realised was quite inevitable given the circumstances. Hirst’s attempt to quash dissemination of the portraits looks all the more silly for his failure to understand their ultimate cultural context. []
  2. Cartrain’s father was also arrested, on suspicion of ‘harbouring’ the pencils. []
  3. And I bet the security guard who was on duty that day would have been a lot more attentive if he’d realised he was guarding pencils with that kind of pedigree… []