5. Vincent van Gogh
Some of the most influential and talented artists were also internally tormented. Van Gogh was a post-impressionist whose works are now regarded as classics, but he was largely unappreciated in his time and suffered frequently with bouts of mental illness. Shortly before his apparent suicide, he went into a fit of depression that only lifted when he painted, and then he went into an ecstasy-like state. The peaks and troughs of depression had pushed him to extreme action before – after a row with fellow artist Paul Gauguin 1888, he had cut off parts of his ear and was sent to hospital in a critical state. Gauguin visited van Gogh and said “His state is worse, he wants to sleep with the patients, chase the nurses, and washes himself in the coal bucket.” Two years later, he was dead, leaving a body of over 2000 works behind him.
4. Gilbert & George
Actually two artists, who together form one artist collective. Gilbert Proesch and George Passmore met at St Martin’s School of Art in 1967 and it was “love at first sight” (they later married, according to some reports). They are conservative in both dress sense and political views and have expressed their love of Margaret Thatcher before, all of which goes against the traditional artists’ politics of socialism and anti-establishment sentiment. It also clashes with their fairly base choice of subject matter, with bodily fluids making a regular appearance and racial words printed onto pictures of the Asian people who live in the East End of London, along with the pair. Somehow, this has garnered them a clutch of awards and honorary doctorates from leading universities. Racism and poo will do that, apparently.
3. Andy Warhol
Every so often, art will come together with the rest of pop culture to create something remarkable. That’s what happened in the 1960s, when Andy Warhol’s Factory collective combined art and music in a cultural explosion that produced not just Warhol’s famed pop-art paintings of soup cans but also bands like Velvet underground and around 75 films, most of which were too rude for general release. At the center of it all was Warhol, an artistic genius and controller of all those around him. He was a mass of contradictions – a Catholic virgin, who produced works of homosexual erotica too explicit to be shown in galleries. He was a complex person and although many were with him, few got close to him. He died in 1987 but the legend lives on.
Another artist who may have had frustrated gay leanings, Michaelangelo embodies the temperamental artist. He slept with his shoes on, rarely ate or drank until he had to and wasn’t overly interested in personal hygiene. For him, the art was everything. He lived incredibly frugally, saying “However rich I may have been, I have always lived like a poor man” and paid his apprentices meager wages too. Still, the devotion to is art paid off, with his Sistene Chapel ceiling considered among the greatest works of art of all time, along with his sculpture of David. He just doesn’t sound like the easiest person to get on with.
1. Salvador Dali
Lastly, the master of surrealism who, like Warhol, was also a mass of contradictions. A devout Catholic, he proclaimed himself agnostic. He was a communist but sided with fascist leader Franco in the Spanish Civil War, drawing portraits of his granddaughter and sending him letters of support. He traveled everywhere with his pet ocelot, even on board ship, and once gave Mia Farrow a gift of a dead mouse in a bottle. He is said to have paid restaurant tabs by drawing pictures on the receipts and kept fans’ pens whenever he signed autographs. His melting clocks and lobster telephones made have made his name as an artist, but it is his eccentricity outside his work that ensures he is remembered forever. And he would be quite pleased with that – after all, this is the man that said “every morning upon awakening, I experience a supreme pleasure: that of being Salvador Dalí” Modest? No. Inspirational? Yes. Genius? Maybe. Unforgettable? Certainly.