Here at popbollocks we have a manifesto. Our manifesto is outlined by a larger sequence of art projects, it’s called the silent academy. We concern ourselves with only the art, music, and books which represent the best in genre. We like work that represents the most beautiful or challenging aspects of modern culture. We don’t run ad-units, so we remove the desire of sponsors to influence our behavior. We operate (more or less) anonymously or under pseudonyms – and we celebrate process, and the intentions behind art, more than the size of an audience, or the financial returns on our work.
Of course, we are attracted to artists who share similar views of culture. We like artists who play with the rules of the game more than those who know how to simply follow the rules of the game.
One evening, when stumbling around the internet we found “The Picasso Manifesto”. This art project, the brainchild of an artist who works under the pseudonym W.Head, takes the shape of a broad metaphysical exploration of value, art, identity, and our relationship with process and artifact. There’s also a perspective that could see this piece as a method of closing the distance between artist and audience, and a kind of time machine that closes the space between event and observation.
The concept of “The Picasso Manifesto” is deceptively simple. Starting with a piece of art created by his son, W.Head is trading artwork for artwork, until he lands on his target, “Le Reve” by Pablo Picasso.
W.Head’s work excited us. We reached out. We compiled an interview. And together we discussed the process and principles of “The Picasso Manifesto”.
Ahead of interviews we like to offer artists an opportunity to introduce themselves. W. Head said this “…I am operating under a pseudonym, so I prefer to maintain my anonymity. I am however an artist that is attempting to answer the question of, what is art today?”
popbollocks: Please speak a little on how you see Pablo Picasso’s influence on art.
W. Head: I don’t feel that I am the best person to answer this. Picasso is obviously one of the most influential artists in history and changed the direction of art entirely. I am sure there are people who have spent their life studying Picassos influences on the art world, that are better equipped to talk about his effects and influences.
popollocks: Please speak a little on how you see Pablo Picasso’s influence on you.
W.Head: Picassos influence on me personally has had a profound affect, not only on the way I view art, but his work has dramatically affected every aspect of my life.
When I was younger I looked at Picassos work with contempt, I saw Picasso’s art as childlike, unable to comprehend why his work was valued and praised. I remember standing before one piece in particular “The Weeping Woman”, I was unable to grasp why it was so valuable, why people gave it such respect. To me it was not art it was grotesque. The colours offended me, the shape of her tongue and disfigured face was difficult to look at, quite simply, it was the ugliest painting I had ever seen. It was at this moment I wanted to understand why his art was so highly praised and so valuable. With a little study, I began to appreciate that this particular painting was produced in 1937 and was a postscript to one of Picassos most famous paintings Guernica (The mural Guernica depicts the suffering of the people of Guernica, a Basque Country village in northern Spain. The town was bombed heavily by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italian warplanes at the request of the Spanish Nationalists). The postscripts show the disturbing pain of a woman who screams uncontrollably as she clutches to her chest, the dead body of her child, who had been killed during the bombing of the Basque town Guernica.
In that moment and realisation, of what “The Weeping Woman” represents, the pain of a parent holding their dead baby, I was redefined. I was overcome by the staggering power contained within one image. The enormity of the work was like a punch in the face, immediately I understood that It had to be those colours, her tongue and face had to be disfigured. His brilliance was instantly laid bare to me, the value and inspiration contained within his art was instantly obvious. I then asked myself, if I had been so wrong about my perceptions of Picasso, what else had I been misjudging in my life? And not just with art, but every aspect of my decision making. The way I perceived the world was turned on its head. One artist and one fucking ugly painting redefined my entire life, for me that is how art can make you think and feel, you cannot put a price on it and commoditise the experience. Even now, many years later I find it incredible that one painting set my life on an extraordinarily different trajectory.
popbollocks: Whether through a material trade, or a financial exchange, do you feel like the value of art can only be evidenced during a transaction of some kind?
W.Head: This is an essential component of the question that “The Picasso Manifesto” is actually asking. And in answering this question, I find it actually raises more questions about what is art today? How do we see the value in art? Is it something that inspires and provides new techniques and mediums? Does art still possess the potential to provide inspiration beyond that which can be measured or quantified? Or has all art at varying levels succumbed and been reduced to commodification?
I have provided a specific example of how art has added value to my life, and how the artists that I have discussed in the manifesto beginning with Picasso have redefined my life. The value associated with that has nothing to do with financial or material trade or gain. The dollar value that “The Weeping Woman” has had on my life is priceless.
In the manifesto I endeavor to discuss the loss of value contained within art today. This has happened for a number of reasons. Due to the internet and modern media, you will see more images in one day presently, than anybody 200 years ago saw in their entire life. We have become so desensitized to the retinal image, that we no longer appreciate the art contained within it. When you look through Instagram at images, they blur. A beautiful sunset or portrait by a painter is given less than a second glance and if lucky, a double tap to like it. The magnificence of that moment and the effort contained within the art is lost except on the artist.
I also suggest that once art or a particular artist is identified as having artistic merit, the art becomes commoditized it becomes commercialized. The idea and inspiration contained within the art is immediately dwarfed by the monetary value of the art chocking the original artistic merit, like a parasitic vine that kills the host tree.
The artist Jeff Koons as an example, from an outside perspective people might ask why anyone would pay $28 million for a two-thousand pound Popeye. Is it solely the inspiration behind the art that delivers these prices? Maybe, or is it possible that the artist has been commoditized and not the art contained within. Koons orange “Balloon Dog” became the most expensive work sold by a living artist when it was auctioned for $58 million at Christie’s. So, does this automatically suggest that anything he delivers including a two-thousand pound Popeye must be worth something without deeper critical investigation? I am not suggesting that there is no artistic merit in Koon’s work. I appreciate that “Popeye” is a kitsch modern day “David”. However, with critical analysis applied, has commodification of the artist occurred. The KLF were hounded and ridiculed for burning £1 million Pounds Sterling as an art piece, imagine if they had used $28 million, consider the outrage then.
In my mind the perfect example of commodification, can a child’s playful paintings be called “abstract” art? In January 2009, Mark Jamieson, director of a gallery in Australia, was displaying photos by a Russian born photographer, Nikka Kalashnikova.
Kalashnikova asked Mark if he would also include work from a promising abstract artist named Aelita Andre. Mark liked what he saw, so he agreed to include a group show alongside Kalashnikova’s work. It wasn’t until later he found out that Aelita Andre was in fact Kalashnikova’s daughter, aged twenty-two months.
The value of an idea for me, as Edgar Degas said, “Art is not what you see, but what others make you see”. Well, in this case I was certainly shown the value of an idea. It is clearly the lack of an idea here that made to be seen. This example shows a snapshot of today’s art world. A world that pimps out art without any ideological value, and passes it off to the masses as art without deeper thought. Andre’s art is labelled abstract, but what was it abstracted from? What is the idea supporting the abstraction? Without those, can it really be art? Yes, to her parents it has value, but to the art world, what makes this work valuable?
Commodification occurs even when the artist opposes the commercialisation processes, as seen with the artist Banksy. Once a piece is identified as being a Banksy, the piece immediately becomes commercially valued, with people actually physically cutting parts of buildings out and removing the art for sale. This occurs without the artists, and in some cases the building owners consent. Banksy famously set up a pop-up stall in New York’s Central Park., The stall owner acting on behalf of Banksy sold only a handful of canvases in the one day from the stall. The very next day Banksy confirmed the pieces as originals, the pieces sky rocketed and are estimated to be worth around $250,000 per canvas. The art on the canvas had not changed overnight, but because the artist identifies them as originals they are instantaneously commoditised. Shouldn’t the ideas and inspiration of the art provide the real value, not the provenance?
In short, it is not for me to say yes or no to this question. However, my work is looking at “art” through a different lens, through the medium of the internet, to get people to re-engage with this question, by asking, “What is the value of art today?” Is it the inspiration contained within the art, or is the only value contained in the art, the arts commercial value?
popbollocks: So far, The Picasso Manifesto has traded nine pieces of art. Please describe your relationship with any of the artists whose works you have traded.
The first trade in the manifesto was given to me by my son. When he gave it to me he was in his first year of primary school. I used this piece from my son because it had no monetary value to anyone else, but to me it was inherently priceless.
All of the other canvases are obtained purely as objects of consumption and commodification. The selection criteria at each of these trades consist of searching for art that falls within a specific monetary bracket. Each of these ascending brackets provides a pool of two or three possible pieces. From these two or three, the piece that provides me the greatest inspiration or a connection is selected. A good example is “Trade 08”.
Last year my son was stung by a box jellyfish and went into cardiac arrest in my arms. This was obviously the worst moment of my life. Fortunately, I was able to revive him. In the surreal nightmare when he lay lifeless in my arms, there was a brief moment, a millisecond where I took in where I was and what was happening. I was struck by the beauty of the sky, feeling incomprehensibly lost. I felt, as if my son and I were floating, linked by the tentacles that draped across us. It is a memory that I could never explain or translate into words appropriately, as I could not describe the complexity of that instant. So, when the manifesto came to trade eight. Without thinking of the moment my son lay in my arms, I put in the relevant search criteria. The first art piece that came up, was the repurposed canvas chosen for Trade Eight by Renata Waterfall. Instantaneously I was transported back to that moment, lost on the beach, my son and I floating amongst the clouds, linked by the tentacles that draped across us. Art for me delivers such an emotive response contained in a single vision. I was further in awe and dumb struck when on investigating the details of the art, to find out that it was named “Heavens Brink”. So, for me, Trade One and Trade Eight are connected not only through the manifesto, but on a much higher level that still amazes me. I don’t know the artist Renata Waterfall, but one day I hope to meet her and explain to her the inspiration and power that her work means to me.
Ironically it was a painting that I initially didn’t understand. A painting that set me on this journey. A painting which I came to understand in a way that I never wanted. The connection and reference to Picassos “The Weeping Woman” became even more relevant, as I had a glimpse into the pain of holding the lifeless body of my child in my arms.
popbollocks: How would you explain this project to an artist whose work you are getting rid of to ‘trade-up’?
Early on I had to explain the manifesto to one of the artist whose canvas has been repurposed. This particular artist had been informed by a third party after I had traded my signature. The artist when made aware of my work was incensed and angry. The artist did not fully understand what the manifesto was about, had seen the act of me signing their canvas as me trying to take credit for their work. This is not the case. The artist in question is extremely passionate about their work as am I. The respect I have for the artists chosen is immense. Please understand that I am not flipping another person’s art, that my art is represented with my signature. This signature represents the Picasso Manifesto and links and joins together the art from the collective into a single piece. So, I made contact with the artist to explain what my work is about. To clarify, I take no authorship of the repurposed canvases. Each piece to date has been selected because it has been inspirational for one reason or another. I also explained that me signing a canvas can never take away the art from the artist, the art is theirs and will always be theirs, and nothing I, or anyone else could take away the artists authorship. I also explained that their work, for good or bad, had now evolved into something else. I explained that their work is now linked to Picassos. As evidence of this claim I suggested the artist search online under “Picasso & Manifesto” where their work is interspersed amongst Pablo Picassos for the world to see. I suggested that their work was now connected to Brett Whiteley and Picasso and that Andy Warhol may be the next trade. The artist replied “That’s really cool!”
In your question you have used the terms “get rid and trade up”, both of these terms are not accurate descriptors in the way I see the manifesto. Each of my signatures are a link in the chain of the manifesto, each of the signatures hold equal value when representing the words of the Picasso Manifesto, and each link validates the preceding link.
Therefore, I do not “get rid” of the art, the art becomes imbedded, and a permanent remnant of the process of the Picasso Manifesto. I will never be rid of “Trade 08”, it is with me always. This link also joins each of the artists equally within the process of the manifesto, providing opportunities to each of the artists contained within the manifesto, as they become synonymous with the greatest artists in history and part of a dynamic changing collective of artists through time.
popbollocks: By taking art off the canvas you have, in a sense, made ‘process’ key. How hard is it to engage audiences in a long and abstract journey?
This has been the most difficult component. When I started out on this journey I realised I had a difficult question, what is art today? But I believed I had a relatively loose but simple methodology. However, as I researched and began to write the manifesto it has expanded and developed in ways that I couldn’t imagine. The manifesto had developed into something that has consumed me. It has been made more difficult a proposition due to the immediacy of modern culture. We expect to have everything within an instant, TV on demand, information and news on a 24-hour cycle and all night fast food. So, as a lengthy abstract art piece, it is extremely difficult to get individuals to engage with the ethereal nature and complexity, or more importantly to understand the processes that I am engaging within the work.
If I can try and distillate the manifesto. It is essentially a time capsule through which I am trying to preserve a snap shot of how I see the world functioning and interacting at this moment in time. For better or worse I try and discuss the world. How the manifesto does this, and is it art, is up for discussion.
popbollocks: Your goal is distinctly material, but until the target is arrived at your project relies on a kind of metaphysical understanding. Is your own understanding of the piece shifting as it unfolds?
This is a fascinating question, my understandings and experience changes daily into how I see the manifesto developing. As it took me a number of years to produce the manifesto, I thought I knew exactly what the manifesto represented. However, I am constantly surprised as to the shifting experiences that unveil themselves.
For example, the connection of art through the manifesto has become a point I didn’t recognise until about trade 05. It is interesting to note that currently there are now nine artists that have nothing to do with each other, except to have their art connected via the manifesto and invariably linked to Picasso. Suddenly they are connected in a way they would not have imagined. The canvas from Brett Whiteley was produced in 1965 and the artist has been dead for quarter of a century, yet his work has become an essential component to the manifesto. Whilst all the other artists now have their art intermingled on the internet with Pablo Picasso.
Another example that really became apparent, it is essential to understand that the art of the manifesto is what is currently happening. It is the participation of the voyeur. Wondering if I will sign a Picasso, watching as more people follow and like, and discussing if it is indeed art. The manifesto captures this unique time and space that we are in. I originally envisaged the twenty-two signatures as the “The Picasso Manifesto” but I have come to realise that once I sign the Picasso the moment will be lost with twenty-two paintings the remnant evidence of the real art. The real art is participation, on global scale not just of the masses, but also of the now.
A big shift in my thinking of the manifesto was when I started it was as an art piece to highlight the commercialisation and commodification of art. But as it has evolved it has solidified in my mind as an interconnectedness that allows us to understand each other’s worlds in ways previously not possible. This is due entirely to the medium of the internet. I realise that I appear naïve, the world is shrinking and we are more connected. Yet we still seem to cling to ridiculous lines on maps. With lines of communication open, lines on maps mean less and less. Our strength is in our connection with each other. The enormity of these connections has really only just become apparent to me. The scope of change is immense.
popbollocks: The commodification of art is a subject that you touch upon. Can you describe your relationship with the commercial space?
My observations of the commercial space are, once any venture or idea becomes commercialised, it becomes a commodity, and subsequently the original venture becomes secondary to the commercial aspect no matter how noble that venture is. I touched on this point in an earlier question, that commercialisation is like a parasitic vine that kills the host tree.
In the manifesto I discuss examples of how commercialisation does this. Whether it be Art, Medicine or Politics, once an idea has been commercialised, critical application of thought ceases to be about the ideas, and its success or failure is determined by the monetarisation of the idea.
A great example of this is September 2015, Martin Shkreli, founder and former CEO of Turning Pharmaceuticals, bought the license for Daraprim, a drug used to treat toxoplasmosis, and more famously, HIV/AIDS and raised its price by a factor of 56 (from USD$13.5 to USD$750 per pill). In other words, he commoditised life giving drugs. In response to criticism on this issue, Shkreli said this: “If you see someone selling an Aston Martin for the price of a bicycle, and you buy that company and put the prices up to a Toyota, I don’t see a problem with that”. To me this is as striking a commentary of our world, as much as Jackson Pollack’s “the atomic bomb, the airplane or the radio”. This is a snapshot of a society where we commoditise lifesaving medication and equate the expense associated with the necessity of drugs to aid in serious illness with the luxury expense of an Aston Martin.
Or the ludicrous commodification of the Messiah Stradivarius. The Hill family donated the legendary ‘Messiah’ violin to the British Nation, in order to see it permanently preserved in pristine condition. It is housed at the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, in the Hill Room. Access to the instrument is strictly limited. It is remarkably unused and was given to the museum on the understanding it would not be played again. It is hard to understand that something designed specifically to be played, to produce art in the form of music, is denied and will never be heard again. It sits in a dichotomous limbo of being held up as the greatest of all violins with the finest sound and price tag to match. But the reason that it is held with such honour is the exact reason it will never be heard again. It is a self-defeating commodification of art. The true value of the art is lost, in order to preserve its value as a commodity – its price of admission. This is a true tragedy.
So the relationship that I have developed with the commercial space and commodification is to embrace and hold the commercial space as the idola. In a way I hope to let the vine grow and see if it chokes itself.
popbollocks: Is there an artist whose work you would purposefully target, to include as a constituent part of the larger piece?
I would say that no artist is off the table in regards to their canvases being reused. However, the opportunity to repurpose and incorporate the artists that defined their period in time and asked the same questions of what was art in their day? To include, Warhol, Duchamp and of course Pollack would be incredible. However, the only Artist that I have purposefully targeted is Pablo Picasso and LeReve.
popbollocks: Why do you make stuff (How did you come up with the idea for the Picasso Manifesto)?
Nearly all of the people I showed the manifesto to have asked me this question. I tell each of them the same thing…
I was standing in front of “The Weeping Woman”. You can stand so close that you could literally reach out and touch it. It occurred to me as I stood there, that relative to this painting I was standing in the exact spot that Picasso would have stood while working on it. I realised that the only thing separating Picasso and I was time. I felt closeness to the artist, I thought of all the questions I would want to ask him about this work. I then thought about how this painting had been frozen in time. How the artist had over the years been commoditised to the point that his art and the inspiration for his art had been lost to the point where now when a Picasso is sold almost nothing about the painting matters. It no longer matters what is the subject of the art, what was its inspiration? The only question asked now about Picassos work is how much did it sell for?
I want Picassos work to time travel, to be relevant in a completely different way, and as the inspiration of investigating what art can be today? Not as a stagnate reminder to the dollar value of his work. Also, very importantly to me personally, I want to sign a Picasso. The notion to work on the same canvas and explore ideas and inspirations of the world with Picasso, is mind bending.
What difference can one person make to the world? The world is in an un-apparelled time in many regards, from the speed of information, to the power of technology effect how we are as a global community. These factors impact greatly on the challenges that we face as a collective moving forward. Recording this and making a statement about the world through my art is essential. It is essential in my mind to be a critical participant of society and culture of the present. To preserve a view of the social anatomy through the prism of “The Picasso Manifesto” for those who come after us. Not just in the immediate future but in 100 years time and beyond. This is why I make stuff!