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Pinhole photograph of Billy Childish from 2003
|Steven John Hamper|
|William Charlie Hamper, Bill Hamper, Bill Hamper-Childish, Guy Hamper, Jack Ketch, Gus Claudius, Danger Bill Henderson|
1 December 1959 |
Chatham, Kent, England
|Genres||Garage punk, indie rock, punk blues, punk rock, ska, calypso|
|Singer, guitarist, record producer, artist, painter, author, poet, photographer, filmmaker|
Sympathy For The Record Industry
Thee Mighty Caesars
The Medway Poets
Billy Childish (born Steven John Hamper, 1 December 1959) is an English painter, author, poet, photographer, film maker, singer and guitarist. Since the late 1970s, Childish has been prolific in creating music, writing and visual art. He has led and played in bands including the Pop Rivets, Thee Milkshakes, Thee Headcoats, and the Musicians of the British Empire, primarily working in the genres of garage rock, punk and surf.
He is a consistent advocate for amateurism and free emotional expression. Childish co-founded the Stuckism art movement with Charles Thomson in 1999, which he left in 2001. Since then a new evaluation of Childish's standing in the art world has been under way, culminating with the publication of a critical study of Childish's working practice by the artist and writer Neal Brown, with an introduction by Peter Doig, which describes Childish as "one of the most outstanding, and often misunderstood, figures on the British art scene". He is a visiting lecturer at Rochester Independent College. In July 2014 Childish was awarded an honorary Doctor of Arts Degree from the University of Kent.
He is known for his explicit and prolific work - he has detailed his love life and childhood sexual abuse, notably in his early poetry and the novels My Fault (1996), Notebooks of a Naked Youth (1997), Sex Crimes of the Futcher (2004) - The Idiocy of Idears (2007), and in several of his songs, notably in the instrumental "Paedophile" (1992) (featuring a photograph of the man who sexually abused him on the front cover) and "Every Bit of Me" (1993). From 1981 until 1985 Childish had a relationship with artist Tracey Emin.
Thirty years after Childish's first musical releases with Thee Milkshakes and Thee Mighty Caesars, a crop of lo-fi, surf rock and punk groups with psychedelic subtexts has surfaced referencing the aesthetic established by Childish in both their band names and in various aspects of their sonic aesthetic:Thee Oh Sees, Thee Open Sex, Thee Tsunamis, Thee Dang Dangs and many others.
Billy Childish was born, lives and works in Chatham, Kent, England. He has described his father, John Hamper, as a "complex, sociopathic narcissist": Hamper was jailed during Childish's teenage years for drug smuggling. Although he had an early and close association with many of the artists who became known as "YBA" artists he has resolutely asserted his independent status. He was sexually abused when he was aged nine by a male family friend: "We were on holiday. I had to share a bed with him. It happened for several nights, then I refused to go near him. I didn't tell anyone". He left secondary school at 16, an undiagnosed dyslexic. Refused an interview at the local art college, he entered Chatham Dockyard, Kent, as an apprentice stonemason. During the next six months (the artist's only prolonged period of conventional employment), he produced some 600 drawings in "the tea huts of hell". On the basis of this work he was accepted into Saint Martin's School of Art, where he was friends with the artist Peter Doig, to study painting. However, his acceptance was short-lived and he was expelled in 1982 before completing the course. He then lived on the dole for 15 years. In 2006 Childish turned down the offer to appear on Channel 4's Celebrity Big Brother. Childish has practised yoga and meditation since the early 1990s.
As a prospective student lacking the necessary entry qualifications, Childish was accepted into art school four times on the strength of his paintings and drawings. He did a foundation year at Medway College of Design (now the University for the Creative Arts) in 1977-78, and was then accepted onto the painting department of Saint Martin's School of Art in 1978, before quitting a month later. He was re-accepted at St Martins in 1980, but was expelled in 1982 for refusing to paint in the art school and other unruly behaviour. At Saint Martin's, Childish became friends with Peter Doig with whom he shared an appreciation of Munch, Van Gogh and blues music. Doig later co-curated Childish's first London show at the Cubit Street Gallery. In the early/mid 1980s Childish was a "major influence" on the artist Tracey Emin, whom he met after his expulsion from Saint Martin's when she was a fashion student at Medway College of Design. Childish has been cited as the influence for Emin's later confessional art. Childish has exhibited extensively since the 1980s and was featured in the British Art Show in 2000. In 2010 a major exhibition of Childish's paintings, writing and music was held at The ICA London, with a concurrent painting show running at White Columns Gallery in NY. Childish is represented by neugerriemschneider Berlin, Lehmann Maupin, NY, Carl Freedman, London and L-13 Light Industrial Workshop, London.
In October 2012 alongside Art Below Childish presented his work at the exhibition 'Art Below Regents Park' in Regent's Park Tube station to coincide with Frieze Art Fair, one of the most important international contemporary art fairs that takes place each October in London.
In 2008 Childish formed the "non organisation" The British Art Resistance, and held an exhibition under the title Hero of The British Art Resistance at The Aquarium L-13 gallery in London: A collection of paintings, books, records, pamphlets, poems, prints, letters, film, photographs made in 2008.
Childish made records of punk, garage, rock and roll, blues, folk, classical/experimental, spoken word and nursery rhymes. In a letter to Childish, the musician Ivor Cutler said of Childish: "You are perhaps too subtle and sophisticated for the mass market." Childish's groups include TV21, later known as the Pop Rivets (1977-1980), sometimes spelled the Pop Rivits, with Bruce Brand, Romas Foord (replaced by Russell 'Big Russ' Wilkins) and Russell 'Little Russ' Lax.
He later formed a garage rock inspired band called Thee Milkshakes (1980-1984) with Mickey Hampshire, Thee Mighty Caesars (1985-1989), The Delmonas then Thee Headcoats (1989-1999). In 2000 he formed Wild Billy Childish & The Friends of the Buff Medways Fanciers Association (2000-2006), named after a type of poultry bred in his home town. The Buff Medways, or The Buffs, as they were sometimes affectionately known, split in 2006, and Wild Billy Childish & the Musicians of the British Empire were born, recording a song about one of Childish's heroes George Mallory titled "Bottomless Pit." In early 2007, Childish formed The Vermin Poets with former Fire Dept singer and guitarist Neil Palmer and A-Lines guitarist and singer Julie Hamper, his wife. Thee Headcoats began their monthly residency at the Wild Western Room in the St John's Tavern, north London, in the early 1990s, and continued after moving to the Dirty Water Club in 1996. The Musicians of the British Empire (MBEs) played at the venue more or less once a month until February 2011. Childish has not played live since then.
On 11 September 2009, Damaged Goods Records - Childish's current label - issued a message to subscribers stating that Childish's wife Julie (aka Nurse Julie, bassist in the MBEs) was pregnant. Childish has since been recording as bass player with The Spartan Dreggs, with Neil Palmer on vocals and guitar and Wolf Howard on drums. From 2013 the MBEs reunited under the name Wild Billy Childish [or 'Chyldish'] and CTMF and as of the end of 2014 have released three albums.
Childish has been namechecked by a number of famous musicians including Kurt Cobain, Graham Coxon, The White Stripes (Jack White had Childish's name written in large letters on his arm for an early Top of the Pops appearance) and Kylie Minogue who named the LP Impossible Princess after his book Poems to Break the Harts of Impossible Princesses [sic].
Childish is a confessional poet and has published over 40 collections of his work. In 1979, Childish was a founder member of The Medway Poets, a poetry performance group, who read at the Kent Literature Festival and the 1981 international Cambridge Poetry Festival. There were, however, personality clashes in the group, particularly between Childish and Charles Thomson, who said: "There was friction between us, especially when he started heckling my poetry reading and I threatened to ban him from a forthcoming TV documentary." However, a Television South documentary on the group in 1982 brought them to a wider regional audience, though Childish's poetry was "deemed unbroadcastable". According to Childish: "Me & Charles were at war from 1979 until 1999. He even threatened having bouncers on the doors of Medway Poets' readings to keep me out". Childish has twice won commendations in the National Poetry Prize.
In 1981-82 Childish formed Hangman Books, publishing poetry and some fiction. (Associated projects are Hangman Films and Hangman Records.) Hangman Books has published poetry books and pamphlets by Childish, Tracey Emin, Bill Lewis, Vic Templer, Joe Corkwell, Sexton Ming, Philip Absolon, Chris Broderick, Mark Lowe, Neil Sparks, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, Dan Melchior, Dan Belton, Alfie Howard, Simon Robson, Steve Prince, Joe Machine, Wolf Howard and Amanda Collier, among others. Between 1982 and 1987 the daily running of the press was carried out by Traci Emin (later Tracey Emin). From 1988 to 1999 it was managed by Kyra De Coninck (one of Thee Headcoatees band). Since 2000 Julie Hamper, Childish's wife, has been overseeing it. From 1986 Hangman Records, also run by Childish, released more than 50 LP records, including spoken word, experimental works and punk rock. Many local Medway groups and artists had their first releases on Hangman. Hangman Books and Hangman Records are both independent, non-profit-making and do not receive outside funding.
During the 1980s, Childish was an influence on the artist Tracey Emin, whom he met in 1982, after his expulsion from the painting department at Saint Martin's School of Art. Emin was a fashion student at Medway College of Design. Emin and Childish were a couple until 1987, Emin selling his poetry books for his small press Hangman Books. In 1995 she was interviewed in the Minky Manky show catalogue by Carl Freedman, who asked her, "Which person do you think has had the greatest influence on your life?" She replied:
Emin's work Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995 (1995) was first exhibited in the show, and Childish's name was displayed prominently in it.
In 1999 Childish and Thomson co-founded the Stuckist art movement. Thomson coined the group name from Childish's "Poem for a Pissed Off Wife" (Big Hart and Balls 1994), where he had recorded Emin's remark to him:
The group was strongly pro-figurative painting and anti-conceptual art. Childish wrote a number of manifestos with Thomson, the first of which contained the statement:
The Stuckists soon achieved considerable press coverage, fuelled by Emin's nomination for the Turner Prize. They then announced the inauguration of a cultural period of Remodernism to bring back spiritual values into art, culture and society. The formation of The Stuckists directly led to Emin severing her 14-year friendship with Childish in 1999.
Childish has said: "The Stuckist art group was formed in 1999 at the instigation of Charles Thomson, the title of the group being taken from a poem of mine written and published in 1994. I disagreed with the way Charles presented the group, particularly in the media. For these reasons I left the Stuckists in 2001. I never attended any Stuckist demonstrations and my work was not shown in the large Stuckist exhibition held in the Walker Art Gallery in 2004."[dead link]
British artist Stella Vine, who was a member of the Stuckists for a short time in 2001, first joined the group having developed a "crush" on Childish while attending his music events. In June 2000, Vine went to a talk given by Childish and fellow Stuckist co-founder Charles Thomson on Stuckism and Remodernism, promoted by the Institute of Ideas at the Salon des Arts, Kensington. Vine formed The Unstuckists one month after joining, and has since said she did not agree with Stuckism's principles, and described them as bullies.
As a young man, Childish was highly influenced by Dada, and the work of Kurt Schwitters in particular. Childish has a Kurt Schwitters poem tattooed on his left buttock and made a short film on Schwitters's life, titled The Man with Wheels, (1980, directed by Eugean Doyan). In his poetry, Childish mentions that he once had a bank account under the name of Kurt Schwitters. As to what is now termed conceptual art, Childish has said "I respect the right of detractors and champions alike as we live in a democracy."[dead link]
In 2002, along with Wolf Howard, Simon Williams and Julie Hamper, Childish formed The Chatham Super 8 Cinema. The group makes super 8 films on a second-hand camera Wolf Howard bought at a local flea market. In 2004 Childish released a 30-minute documentary titled Brass Monkey, about a march undertaken in Great War uniform commemorating the 90th anniversary of the British retreat from Mons in 1914.
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My relationship with Tracey Emin finished in 1987 - 21 years ago, to be exact. Whilst I like and respect Tracey, and wish her well, the relationship is not significant in respect of my current life, and therefore I choose not to discuss it