|SAM JACKSON & DEREK RIDGERS | RUN TO ME|
|Exhibition Dates: Friday 13 October – Saturday 11 November 2017|
|RUN TO ME brings together the work of painter Sam Jackson and photographer Derek Ridgers. Curated by Faye Dowling, the exhibition celebrates the sacred ceremonies of excess, desire and experimentation which intoxicate our youth.|
British artists Ridgers and Jackson are united by an instinct to document the characters and compulsions that have driven the heart of our youth culture. Their photographs and paintings lead us into the nocturnal romances of passion and performance which ignite our passage of youth. The ceremonies of dressing up and dancing, the seduction of exposed flesh and of kissing in dark doorways. The melancholy and mischief, the ecstasy and heart break.
Over four decades Derek Ridgers has been photographing the beautiful and the damned in his ongoing portrayal of youth culture and identity. Photographed in iconic clubs such as Blitz, Billy’s and Skin II, his portraits capture the subterranean club-life of the 1980s and 90s, conveying a dark carnival of music and fashion, love and lust. Caught in the flashlights, we see ourselves reflected in the faces of his photographs; and witness the tensions between power and vulnerability, questioning who is in control - the observer or observed?
Sam Jackson’s compulsive oil paintings explore themes of transgression and power in intimate portraits of youth culture and desire. Jackson’s text appears propelled to new, heightened voices. Symbols and statements speak of inner dialogues and desires, driving us to question the tensions between our public and private identities; and to navigate truths about intimacy, fantasy, and will. With gravity and compassion, Jackson’s paintings walk the line between violence and vulnerability, regret and desire, kissing and fucking.
Both provocative and touching, their intimate portrayals embrace the questions and compulsions that unite us. Disarmed by our desire to explore who we are, and who we can be. Transcending generations, time and place, through their work we discover that these compulsions, these transgressions, lie at the heart of what makes us human. A sacred passage through which we can engage with the Gods and ghosts within ourselves. Illuminated in the spotlight, for a moment, forever.
RUN TO ME is curated by Faye Dowling, UK, in association with CHARLIE SMITH LONDON and GALERIE HEIKE STRELOW, Frankfurt. The exhibition opens a two-part show which will tour to Frankfurt in 2018.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a limited edition catalogue featuring a further exploration of Ridgers’ and Jackson’s work, and a conversation with the artists recorded in London, 2017.
Please contact gallery for PR images and advance copies of the RUN TO ME catalogue.
text | Paul Gorman | 2017
|Exhibition: RUN TO ME|
|Exhibition dates: 13th October - 17th November 2017|
|The term ‘subculture’ has been, more often than not in these atomized, post-globalised times, routinely co-opted by big business in the lexicon of brand-awareness as a handy catch-all for those elements of youth and visual culture which contain a certain degree of edginess and that most sought-after of commodities, authenticity.|
In many instances, the visual relics of the turf wars so ferociously fought between Teds and Modernists, Mods and Rockers, Hippies and Skinheads, Punks and Teds (again), fetishists and society at large now provide the context for the mere selling of things, particularly in the world of fashion.
But this casual adoption disavows the potency of lives lived in the margins, where visual expression achieves such significance that it becomes both the means and the end. In RUN TO ME, photographer Derek Ridgers and painter Sam Jackson reclaim the subject from commerce as the basis for a quizzical visual dialogue which turns on what the sociologist Dick Hebdige delineated, in his groundbreaking book, ‘Subculture: The Meaning Of Style’ .
Ridgers and Jackson arrive at RUN TO ME from different places temporally and in terms of practice, but share common ground in their interests in identity, observation and interpretation. It’s worth noting that Ridgers, having started his career by taking photographs of performers in the mid-70s, opted to turn his back on the stage and focus his lens on the audience, certain members of which in the wake of glam had begun to step out of the crowd to attempt to achieve a status on a par with their objects of worship.
While the traditional rock press was lambasting dressedup Roxy Music concert-goers for “turning the aisles and foyer into a veritable couture catwalk show…more like the waiting-room for an Andy Warhol audition than the warm-up for a rock show” , Ridgers understood WH Auden’s line about the wisdom to be found in private faces in public places.
As the documentarians Fred and Judy Vermorel recorded in their early-80s compilation of fan-mail ‘Starlust’ , these were ordinary human beings “capable of passion, imagination and creativity” to rival the Ferrys, Jaggers, Bowies and Bolans.
The late cultural iconoclast Malcolm McLaren once mentioned to me that, in the wake of the Sex Pistols, consumers of popular culture became increasingly interested in the process, a crucial element of which, along with managers, a&r staff, mentors and fashion designers, are of course, the fans. Without them, the rest is silence. Not for nothing did he entitle his hip-hopera LP ‘Fans’. In fact, the installation of Sid Vicious on bass in the Pistols’ line-up removed him from the ranks of the hardcore fan-base of the Bromley Contingent and placed the late John Beverley, tragically as it turned out, centre stage as our first Superstar Fan.
The club culture which superceded punk maintained the momentum; George O’Dowd, the so-called ‘hat-check girl’ at Blitz (when he wasn’t going through the pockets of the garments left in his care), was to become Boy George, one of the greatest musical stars of the age, while groups from Sade and Haysi Fantayzee, to Blue Rondo a la Turk and Spandau Ballet were literally created on the dance-floors of Soho and Covent Garden, where Ridgers was meticulously casting his mordant gaze.
For those that don’t know, Derek Ridgers’ photographic catalogue is the gold standard in terms of documenting not just fans but the twists and turns of the key subcultures which have pertained in Britain over the last five decades, and in particular between the 1970s and 1990s. Having contributed portraits to the groundbreaking exhibition of punk photography at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in 1978, it was Ridgers who filed the photo-reportage from the front-lines of club culture as New Romantic emerged out of London’s squats and art schools in the early-1980s. His vérité depictions of denizens such as O’Dowd, Peter Robinson, who had already transformed himself into pop-star-in-waiting ‘Marilyn’, the club-runner and Visage frontman Steve Strange and young writer on the scene Robert Elms, essayed the perfect backdrop for the latter’s examination in an early issue of Nick Logan’s magazine The Face of what was then termed ‘The Cult With No Name’ .
And Ridgers was on hand a couple of years later capturing urban UK’s nightlife creatures as optimism curdled under the weight of the repressive attitude of Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government for Elms’ bookend piece in The Face, ‘Hard Times’. This investigated the impact on youth culture of not just the crippling unemployment figures and hard-biting recession in the wake of the Falklands War, but also the flooding of the UK’s urban centres with cheap heroin, and marked the turning away from the romanticism of taffeta, silks and pussy-bows to weathered leather, distressed denim and ripped and torn t-shirts.
In his companion essay , Elms wrote: “Bear with me for a while, this first bit may be hard but it is important. Read it twice if you have to, because there is something you are going to have to grasp before we can go any further. And that is the notion that Youth Culture now representsnot a rebellion but a tradition, or rather a series of traditions that continue to grow along a compound continuum of action and reaction.”
It is in this continuum that we locate Sam Jackson, growing up in 80s Essex where he encountered the skins and casuals who powered street-style before experiencing the glory days of pirate radio, the onset of acid-house and the growth of rave, which then gave way to the egalitarian spirit and inclusiveness of early Britpop in the 90s.
There are many parallels between painter and photographer. Both received formal art school training (Ridgers at Ealing in the late-60s, Jackson at Middlesex and the Royal Academy in the 00s) and both are not only interested in the oppositional elements of subcultures, but also in investigating tensions between male and female archetypes.
Jackson has developed a visual language which incorporates into his work text and symbols akin to the tattoo bravura displayed by some of Ridgers’ subjects; one thinks of the portraits of ‘Tuinol’ Barry, the doe-eyed youngster with the Sex Pistols lyric “We are the flowers in your dustbin” etched across his, by turns, cropped and bequiffed forehead.
Like Ridgers since he entered David Claridge’s groundbreaking Soho fetish nightclub Skin Two in 1983, Jackson has also explored gender, pornography and sexual transgression. But it is in their dual sifting through subcultures for the meaning of much more than style that the strength of RUN TO ME lies. The interplay between Ridger’s era-defining images and Jackson’s plangent responses enables the flowers to flourish in the dustbin once more.
Paul Gorman is the author of ‘The Story Of The Face: The Magazine That Changed Culture’, (Thames & Hudson, 2017) and ‘Malcolm McLaren: The Biography’, (Constable, 2018).
1. ‘Subculture: The Meaning Of Style’, Dick Hebdige, Routledge Classics, 1979.
2. ‘Chic To Chic, Roy Carr’, New Musical Express,October 14, 1974.
3. ‘Starlust: The Secret Life Of Fans’, Fred & Judy Vermorel, Comet, 1985.
4. The Face, Vol 1, No 7, November, 1980.
5. The Face, Vol 1, No 29, September, 1982
Text | Sam Jackson & Derek Ridgers in Conversation with Faye Dowling | 2017
|Sam Jackson & Derek Ridgers X Faye Dowling | The Reliance | 2017|
|Exhibition: RUN TO ME|
|Derek: I went to a school in West London where some of the kids were Mods and had scooters. Even wearing school uniforms they looked a little sharper and a little more cool than everybody else. But the conversation wasn’t really about clothes or scooters, so much as about going around fighting. When I was sixteen I started to go out on my own to clubs and see bands. The very first time I went to see a group was at the Ricky Tick in 1966. You would always see a lot of the early skinheads, or peanuts, as they were known in those days, larking about, posing and showing off. By the time the punks came along I definitely felt like I wasn’t young enough to be one. I had two children by that point and I just don’t think I really had the balls to perform like that and not care about life. Eventually I learnt to not care about the consequences of what you did, but that was in my forties. It suddenly dawned on me, the beauty of not worrying about consequences!|
Faye: Can you remember when you first started taking your camera to gigs?
Derek: In 1973 I was at a gig at the Rainbow in Finsbury Park with my girlfriend, now wife. It was the famous gig with Eric Clapton and Pete Townsend. We were right at the back and I thought I could go down to the front and pretend to be a photographer. Which is what I did. I left my girlfriend, very unchivalrously, and went down to the front for the whole gig, just snapping away. To be a few feet away from someone you idolise gives you a real charge. When I was in my twenties I was an art director and although I was shy, it definitely gave me a hutzpah. I used to ring people up, I didn’t care who they were, including rock stars, you know, just give them a ring. Nowadays you’d never dream of doing that would you?! When punk came along in 1976, the audience were far more photogenic than the band. So I decided to turn around and photograph the audience. I took a set of pictures, maybe thirty or forty, that I thought weren’t bad. I showed them to Sarah Kent at the ICA, and to Jack Schofield, the editor of a magazine called Photo Technique. They were both very nice about them, so from that point on, I thought, yeah maybe I can be a photographer.
Sam: Were you already shooting for magazines at this time?
Derek: 1979 was probably the year I started taking my pictures to magazines. I took them into The Face almost as soon as it started in the spring of 1980. The Face was just one man at that point, Nick Logan, and his wife helping him out. Nick published some of my photos from Blitz in the November issue that year. I also had a monthly commission from Cosmopolitan around that time. I would go out looking for interesting bands to photograph and they would put them in the magazine. I was always keen to do that because I loved the music anyway.
Faye: What was the atmosphere like in those early days of Blitz?
Derek: That was where it all started, Blitz and Billy’s. People going out as posers and peacocks. Blitz was really a wine bar that was full of people who wanted to pose. It was a small little affair, very subterranean.
Faye: You often talk about yourself as an outsider during these times?
Derek: At that point I definitely felt like an outsider. Literally standing on the pavement sometimes. But I am quite persistent if I want something. I’ve been like that ever since I was young. Some might say stubborn, but I like to think of it as persistent. There’s a photo of me in the Roxy when it started. I’m wearing a woolly cardigan, and a short-sleeved open neck shirt, I’d come straight from work, probably. I did rather stand out. I didn’t mind that then, and I still don’t mind it now. I always was very focussed on taking photographs. I never used to chat. I didn’t particularly want to stand about talking to people, or drinking, I was always thinking about photography. The big motivating factor for me was ultimately seeing interesting looking people on the street – sexy girls and tough looking guys. And wishing I was either like them, or with them, you know, one or the other. I’m heterosexual, so I’d have liked to have been with the girls, but if I’d had been one notch to the left, I could have gone the other way. I just wanted to get engaged in something that was going on, and to hold up a window to that world.
Faye: Sam, you would have been growing up in London around this time. What were your early memories of the subcultures of this era?
Sam: I used to see skinheads on the council estate that we were living on, out in the field on the green. I was very much attracted to them, but also quite fearful of their personas. I was also fascinated by what they had on – their boots, hairstyles, rings, jackets. They seemed very unapproachable. Kind of out of society. They behaved differently to how I’d ever seen men behave. And I think that had quite a profound influence on me. I think it started me thinking about aspects of masculinity and femininity, and notions of vulnerability around these. We used to go out to clubs in the Romford area, and there would be quite an undercurrent of violence. I was regularly beaten up. It was a harsh environment. If you were caught out you would get bottled or something. It seemed very bereft of a culture.
Faye: So as you got older, which London scenes did you feel most connected to?
Sam: I was a generation before the real rave scene and the rise of ecstasy. We would sit in our bedrooms listening to pirate radio stations. As we got older we started going out on the Camden scene to places like The Monarch or The Wag Club. Then suddenly it was the explosion of Brit Pop, and you felt that there was really a movement happening. Visually by then I was totally obsessed with music, and what the men wore. I would pore over books. I was really into the 60s, Jim Morrison, Keith Richards, Brian Jones. And also punk like Richard Hell, Iggy Pop. With punk there was a kind of understanding that potentially you could do anything. I found that really appealing. That there are no limitations, and you should be free to express yourself.
Faye: Was this already starting to influence the art you were making?
Sam: When I started engaging with education I wanted to translate these ideas into a painting idiom. I was interested in combining this punk DIY ethic with traditional oil painting, and exploring the use of text and symbols. That was around the time that I’d first come across Derek’s skinhead photographs. It’s difficult to put it into words, but its just like when you pick up a book or listen to a piece of music. I just connected to them; his work operated on a lot of different levels, not just the surface but also complex ideas about culture and identity as well.
Faye: Your work consistently has a dual aspect of youth portraits alongside more dynamic, active pornographic paintings. Can you tell us a little about these?
Sam: I was interested to highlight aspects of living that are perhaps more underground. I knew of the canon of art history in terms of pornography, artists such as Mapplethorpe and John Currin, and I was quite interested in looking at what I could do with it. Towards the end of my time at the Royal Academy I’d had a tutorial with Tom Lubbock and he’d said, ‘If you want to do this, Sam, just do it’. So I did, and they had a real sense of anxiousness to them. A lot of the inspiration for these paintings came from reading Marquis De Sade’s ‘The 120 Days of Sodom’ (1785). I was interested in his language and how I could generate a similar kind of dialogue to do with ideas of freedom and transgression in painting.
Faye: These notions of transgression were at the heart of 80s clubs such as Skin Two and later the Torture Garden. Derek, what do you remember about those early days of the London fetish scene?
Derek: I went to Skin Two on the night it opened. There definitely was a completely different atmosphere to the fetish clubs in those days. It really was an illicit underground scene. I think that’s what made it fun for a lot of people; it was a little transgressive. Whereas now it’s just a fashion thing; fetish clubs are full of tourists and are basically dance clubs with a lot of vinyl.
Faye: Were clubs like Skin Two just about sex?
Derek: I think they were really about the clothes, first of all, they were quite a lot about sex, and a little bit about music.
Faye: We have talked about the idea of being an observer, or a voyeur in these quite intimate communities. What was your experience of photographing there?
Derek: I got threatened a few times in the early days of Skin Two. They let me in because they knew me, but the punters didn’t like me being there with a camera. It was the old school fetish crowd, very few young people. They didn’t want to be revealed as fetishists. Some people don’t care if their neighbours know that they are into rubber, but then obviously some do.
Sam: I think fetishists need an audience or dialogue for it to operate. And that audience has a lot to do with boundaries. J.G. Ballard wrote a fantastic piece on pornography being one of the last bastions in which this kind of space can still exist. I think there is a lot wrapped up in our fascination with that world. Maybe there’s an honesty, through which we can gain knowledge of ourselves.
Faye: It seems perspective is very important when looking at subjects like this. Do you see the characters you paint as dominant or powerful? These girls are saying ‘Fuck with me’, but they seem to me like they’re very strong.
Sam: Generally my portraits which deal with aspects of violence have always placed women within a dominant spectrum. A lot of women have bought these works, which is an interesting dichotomy. Gender is in some ways beyond my interests, its the entire gambit of humanness that interests me. I still see my work as some kind of documentation, even though it is oil painting in a fine art context. It’s strange how the subjects are diffused through the language of paint. It changes them drastically. I don’t know if it becomes more difficult or less difficult.
Faye: So the works are about documenting something that is transgressive, but making it beautiful?
Sam: Yes, definitely. These people really enjoy taking part in pornography, so in some ways it is a celebration of that. People have said to me, ‘Do you condone this?’, ‘Are you interested in it?’. But I never leave my perspective clear cut for the viewer. Am I being voyeuristic in making them, or am I also part of that world? I’d always want to keep that open.
Faye: We’ve talked about the idea of voyeurism being an interesting aspect in both your work. Derek, your relationship with the viewer is interesting too?
Derek: Mostly what I’m saying with my photographs is, in inverted commas, ‘Wow, look at this person’. I like people that are prepared to project a little bit to make an interesting photograph. That’s not always the beautiful people. It’s people that have a certain attitude. The people that want to be seen. A couple of times I’ve called people and said - ‘Look, I photographed you the other day, you took your trousers off and let me photograph your bum. Were you drunk?’ But usually they’ve said that it’s fine, that they want to be seen. After a few months at these clubs people knew what I was after. I never used to have to direct anybody. I didn’t think it was particularly legitimate to tell people what to do, if they didn’t do anything that was fine, that’s what I photographed.
Faye: So they were in control of their photograph to some extent?
Derek: I like them to be in control. I think that is maybe part of what Sam is talking about. I suppose it’s the reticent Englishman coming out.
Sam: Yes in a way they become the more dominant in the creation of the image.
Derek: But voyeurism is definitely part of the whole thing. Even when I’m photographing people in the street, of either gender, there’s an element of voyeurism in there. As a photographer I am looking through a window at different lives. Lives more exciting than mine. Ever since I started I’ve been a father and in a permanent relationship. So there’s always been a few doors that have been closed to me, and I’m kind of just taking a peek through those doors.
Sam: It’s interesting what Derek is picking up on in terms of an interest in what it is to be human. What it is to be alive. I think that’s where my interest in portraiture stems from, as a means through which we can explore human emotions and identity.
Faye: It brings to mind your portrait of Tuniol Barry, Derek, who has the face tattoo of the Sex Pistols lyric, ‘We are the flowers in your dustbin’.
Derek: I first photographed Tuniol before he was tattooed, when he was just a skinhead. This would have been in 79 or 80. There was a scratcher around and he was doing it to a lot of kids. These kids didn’t have all that much to look forward to, you know. They weren’t going to get a job in a bank. Although I suppose it’s conceivable young people with tattooed faces could get a job in a bank nowadays. So they were feeling rejected by society, and in turn they were rejecting back. It was a one way street. They couldn’t come back from that.
Faye: It’s a very interesting aspect of subculture, the idea of feeling like you are not accepted by society, so deciding to separate yourself from that society.
Derek: It’s almost like saying, ‘Fuck you, I don’t want you anyway’. It’s embracing something that’s not all that far away from what you are looking at, Sam. A lot of people involved in porn, in my opinion, are ashamed of what they do, but it’s that very shame that gives them excitement. They want to embrace it. I think there must be a lot of fetishists that are like that too. They get a tingle of excitement by doing something that they know isn’t really right. Or not right in their terms. I mean, their mum and dad might not approve.
Faye: Do you think social media has changed the way club scenes, and subcultures in general, can develop?
Derek: It definitely has. Because people don’t have to leave their home to interact these days. This can be good in many respects, but it is bad in some respects; that no matter how transgressive you want to get you’ll always find someone, somewhere in the world that will give you justification for your views. But it can also be really positive for people. Nowadays, there are young Mods that might not live within a hundred miles of another Mod, but they can still interact with each other and say, ‘You look fantastic. Well done’. Whereas the people that live next to them are thinking, ‘You idiot. What are you doing?’ I know a young girl like that in a rural part of Northern Ireland. She gets spat on at school because she’s the only girl in the school with short hair. It’s terrible.
Faye: So there is still something to fight against?
Derek: Certainly. But she believes in herself. She’s getting plenty of likes on Instagram. I think that helps her feel good about herself, and why shouldn’t she. She’s extremely sharp. She could easily be a model or a stylist.
Faye: So what’s shifted today is that perhaps its more autobiographical. People telling their own stories. Do you think it is more narcissistic now than in the 80s or 90s?
Derek: It most probably is more narcissistic now, because people know that they will always have an audience, whereas they didn’t once. When I started, I used to photograph people who had probably never been photographed before. They might never even see their photograph either. Nowadays everyone can take photographs of themselves. And I’m not negative about that, I think it’s a great part of our youth culture.
Faye: Do you still find people in clubs inspiring today?
Derek: There are still some very very interesting looking, very engaged creative people out there. It’s just not quite so focussed as it was in the late60s, 70s and early-80s. There are still some fantastic-looking people on the scene, but because they’re not all necessarily going to the same few half a dozen clubs, people don’t think the creativity still exists. If I go to a really good club, even now at my age, I want to go again the next night and the next night, and do the same thing. I think that it is just as good as it ever was.