When it comes to art, opinion is divided – some people don’t understand it at all and have no idea why anyone would pay so much for it, while others really see what the artist is trying to transmit. Art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. However, when it comes to the artists themselves, opinion isn’t very divided at all. It’s pretty much universally acknowledged that artists are eccentrics, and the more bizarre the individual, the better the art. So meet the people behind the art with our Top 10 Most Eccentric Artists.
10. Tracey Emin
A modern artist to start with, and one that shot to prominence in 1997 by presenting a tent with the names of her lovers on the side of it, entitled ” Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995″ (she was born in 1960, so the first few are, you’d hope, a platonic kind of sleeping). Two years later, her unmade bed, complete with soiled underwear, was exhibited in the Tate and Emin was nominated for the Turner Prize. Emin is unlikely to dispute claims that she’s a bit eccentric in life as well as art – her biography was called “Strangeland” and has the line “Here I am, a….crazy, anorexic-alcoholic-childless, beautiful woman”. Anyone who’s seen one of her drunken, swearing TV appearances would probably agree that she’s a little crazy. Still, she’s made a career out of being eccentric and is now Professor of Drawing at the Royal Academy in London.
9. Pablo Picasso
From used underpants to a pioneer in modern art. Picasso has an instantly recognizable style and was one of the founding fathers of cubism. He also had a tempestuous personal life, with multiple affairs during his two marriages, some of them with women 40 years his junior. He was also an outspoken communist, receiving the Stalin Peace Prize and painting a portrait of the Russian leader himself, to the discomfort of Leon Trotsky – a friend of Picasso’s and exiled by Stalin. Picasso was unafraid to push boundaries both artistically and socially and seemed unafraid of anyone, even answering back to the Gestapo in occupied Paris. Wonder how today’s artists would cope with being questioned by the Nazis?
Of all the personalities on the list, there is only one about which we know almost nothing. Banksy is the street-name of a graffiti artist whose works now fetch thousands of pounds for the lucky business owners whose walls have been painted on by the rogue artist. But he has no public identity and only the sketchiest details are known about the man behind the art. He’s said to come from Bristol and have been a trainee butcher in his youth but even that is speculation. In 2010 he was nominated for an Oscar for his film “Exit Through the Gift Shop” and, in a rare public statement, said “This is a big surprise… I don’t agree with the concept of award ceremonies, but I’m prepared to make an exception for the ones I’m nominated for. The last time there was a naked man covered in gold paint in my house, it was me”. An artist so obtuse he hasn’t even come forward to claim the glory….that’s truly eccentric.
7. Marcel Duchamp
Now for a more traditional kind of eccentricity – making art out of toilet bowls. French artist Marcel Duchamp specialized in a kind of “found art”, exhibiting a bicycle wheel, a snow shovel, a bottle-drying rack and most famously a urinal. He called these his “readymades” and described his theory: “My idea was to choose an object that wouldn’t attract me, either by its beauty or by its ugliness. To find a point of indifference in my looking at it, you see”. So, mediocre and unmade items – if you look around your house you might find that you too own several “readymades”! Duchamp was also dismissive of his fellow artists, describing their work as “retinal art” – art only intended to please the eye at a superficial level. Unlike a urinal, which pleases the eye at no level at all…
6. Damien Hirst
Talking about things that are aesthetically unpleasing, here’s Damien Hirst, creator of a cow sliced in two and pickled. “Mother and Child Divided” featured a cow and calf split down the middle and bathed in formaldehyde and it first went on display in 1993. Dead animals and preserving fluid are a running theme in Hirst’s work, covering works such as a whole tiger shark in a case and a rotting cow’s head surrounded by flies (which was banned for fear of making people vomit). He may seem like a morbid and depressed character, but in the 90s he still found time to be an ironic misogynist, directing Blur’s “Country House” video, which mainly consisted of big-breasted women running around in short skirts. And the less said about his own musical career in Fat Les, the better…