From The Desk Of The Pogues’ Spider Stacy: Paul Richard

The Pogues on record are never short of inspirational, and in person, they might be a life-changing experience. This hackle-raising blend of traditional Irish folk music, politically charged broadsides and electric rock ‘n’ roll, delivered by charismatic frontman Shane MacGowan flanked by a grizzled band of veterans that includes penny-whistle virtuoso/alternate vocalist Spider Stacy, was formed in the King’s Cross district of north London in 1982. Despite occasional time off for good behavior, they’ve been playing ever since and have a handful of festival dates planned for this summer. Here’s hoping it lasts for at least another 10 years. We are proud to say that Stacy, who is currently appearing as a street musician in season two of HBO’s Treme, will be guest editing all week. Read our new Q&A with him.

Stacy: According to Wikipedia, Paul Richard was mayor of New York from 1735 to 1739. I have a nagging suspicion that this is not the same Paul Richard who, among other things, in 2001 curated an exhibition called Whores At The Frick, which consisted of Lower East Side hookers parading on the gallery’s steps (something the Frick seemed to quite enjoy) and has won trophies for his excellence as a wrestler. He is a man of warmth and friendliness with a palpable love and dedication to his art. I first encountered Richard’s work in 2005 when we bought one of his bizarre, hallucinatory self-portraits, where he looks like the deranged youngest sibling of some twisted, Gormenghast-ian family still dwelling among the mouldering, decaying half-ruin of their once-elegant Providence townhouse. We also picked up a poster for the Whores At The Frick event, a striking image of the muscular, sharply be-suited artist, standing on the museum steps with an air of calm, self-assured self-possession.

Richard’s work encompasses a wide range. There are his superlative paintings, which range from beautifully observed portraiture, through increasingly grotesque examples of the same (in the latter case, usually demented, half-shadowed self portraits which often feature one wide-open, staring, hag-ridden eye, the other barely visible but not hidden, merely obscured in a chiaroscuro of malevolent emptiness burning away at the insides of his sometimes fixed, sometimes stitch-mouthed, lop-sided head) to more naturalistic representative works that display an immense mastery of technique. Some of his paintings are truly remarkable; Christina Aguilera has one of his masterpieces, an image of the artist as Superman confined to a wheelchair, hanging in her bedroom. Not that I’m familiar in any way with Christina Aguilera’s bedroom; it’s on his website. Look out for Positive Reinforcement (2002), a harsher rendition of La Aguilera’s piece, with the artist this time smoking a probably final cigarette whilst strapped and wired into an electric chair, and for Brush Your Tooth (2008), a full-on, full-face self-portrait of lysergic intensity.

And then there is the other side: Paul Richard does not believe that art should be confined inside a gallery or museum or, indeed, that such places have (or need to have) much relevance to the concept of art as a public medium. Ever since the late ’90s, he has developed and employed the concept of designated art: attaching art-gallery labels and price tags to various miscellaneous, everyday objects (tree stumps, iron railings, fire hydrants, dirt, grass, insects), just injecting another shot of life, inventiveness and magic into our roaring, lunatic cities—something he is entirely a part of—as with Banksy in London. I’m not resorting to easy comparisons here; it’s just that, especially where I live in London, on the Hackney and Islington borders, Banksy’s work was, for a time, ubiquitous and as much a part of the urban fabric as Paul’s. You stumble on upon these snatches of bright incongruity, and there’s an edge and a twist to our flattening world. His work is not only present at ground level; it swarms up and around the surrounding buildings. You should see the man climb a rope.

As with Banksy, there is an ever-present urge to subvert and submerge the wrongfulness of the wrongdoers. At the street-side sale of the giant portrait of Wall Street fraudster Bernie Madoff, concluded by silent auction on the telephone while bidding on the street was reaching $8,500, the most frequently asked question was, “Can I burn it if I buy it?” To which the answer was yes.

Video after the jump.