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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Charles Thomson

Charles Thomson's recent work.
One of the things that never ceases to amaze me is how little practicing artist know about art history. Perhaps I should modify that a bit by saying how little they understand about the subject. Moreover, their lack of understanding is primarily an inability to see the BIG PICTURE having to do with that from which their art has grown. For instance, an artist who paints impressionist works may know a good deal about, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Degas, etc. but know next to nothing about Sisley, Morisot, Bazille, Hassam, Sickert, or Liebermann. On top of that, they have little or no concept as to where Impressionism fits in with those styles and movements which surround it in the vast, past parade of human creative endeavors (other than to be fairly sure that Impressionism was followed by Post-Impressionism).

Co-founder of Stuckism.
Sir Nicholas Serota Makes an Acquisitions
Decision, 2000, Charles Thomson,
the Stuckist iconic masterpiece.
All of this may seem to be of little consequence to most painters today until they come face to face with "outrageous" art--that is to say, that which outrages and challenges their often limited definition of art. Manet challenged the 19th century art definition with "art for art's sake" and his Luncheon on the Grass. During the early 20th century, Duchamp did the same with his Fountain (a urinal laid on its back). Tracey Emin's My Bed and the entire conceptual art movement challenged the 21st century definition of art. In each case there were whole groups of artists who reacted to these definitional challenges by simply retorting, "that's not art." That's the easy way out. The hard way in each century was to broaden and/or modify their definition of art. The problem with this reaction is that if the definition of art becomes infinitely broad art, then anything can become art. Defining art becomes meaningless if virtually any object or tableau, isolated to the antiseptic environment of a whitewashed art gallery, constitutes fine art. Minimalism proved to be the dying breath of Modern Art. It could easily be claimed that Conceptual Art represents the same death knell for Postmodern Art. Around 1999, two painters in England were among the first to foresee this dead end. Rather than make plans to attend the funeral, they began a crusade to, in effect, cure what ailed Postmodern art. Their names were Billy Childish  and Charles Thomson. Someone called this crusade "Stuckism." The name stuck.

An Artist and His Model, (a tribute to
Picasso), Charles Thomson
Having dealt with the Stuckists in some detail before, I don't propose to do so again here except to say that Charles Thomson is a very nice man and he has been one of the few I've ever written about who has taken the time to comment personally on my comments. He's also one of the few working artists I know who truly understands the history of art in the broadest sense as he discusses in the video above. He understands that for an artist to carve out a position at the highest levels in the art world, he or she must also carve out their place in art history. Stuckism allowed Thomson to do that, by fostering a group of other artists sympathetic to his ideals, then to take on some of the biggest names and strongest powers in the London art world, including gallery magnate Charles Saatchi, the Tate Museum, and its Turner Prize competition. The crusade he and Machine began allowed Thomson to combat the poisonous rise of Conceptual Art to mainstream status while proposing an alternative, a rediscovery of figural art, not as a style, but as a broad, rich, area of content aimed at preventing the premature death of Postmodern Art. In the process, almost as a byproduct, he has made a name for himself and his art, not for a place in any museum, but on the blank walls of those, like himself, wishing to save art from itself. An Artist and His Model (above, right) is typical of Thomson's black-outline period marking his style up through about 2013 when he began to paint in a more abstract, more colorful, more painterly manner (top).

Thomson curated the Stuckists Punk Victorian Show, Walker Gallery, Liverpool, 2004.
Thomson, born in 1953, is no longer a young man on the make. He often finds himself torn between promoting Stuckism and pursuing his own work--painting and promoting Charles Thomson. He does not paint in a Stuckist style. The fact that he paints mostly figures (people and animals), combined with his leadership of those artists, not just in England, but around the world, who paint similar content for similar reasons, is what makes Charles Thomson a Stuckist. In today's art world, how and what he paints, is largely secondary. Art history embraces leaders. The same is true of art galleries, art collectors, and eventually, art museums (perhaps, one day, even the Tate).

Thomson at work in his studio, ca. 2003.

An ironic, iconic motto to live by.


  1. Hi Jim
    Just spotted this. You've hit the bull's eye. A classic piece of writing, if I may say so. One point, the new work at the top only shows details of paintings. You can get the full image by clicking on the thumbs at

  2. PS I co-founded the Stuckists with Billy Childish, not Joe Machine, although Billy left after two years in 2001. Joe, a member of the original group, has gone on to be a stalwart of the movement.

  3. Charles--

    Thanks for your comment and the correction, I shall fix it in the article.

  4. My son is reciting your poem There’s a Dragon In The Classroom by memory and needs to tell his classmates a bit of history on the poet. He’s in second grade. I’m trying to help him with research and it has been hard as most of your life was centered on being an artist . I can’t even find out when the poem was written. And it’s hard getting a description of Stuckism movement that is relatable to their age. You are very talented though 😄