Turpentine (sometimes known colloquially as turps), is a volatile liquid distilled from resin obtained from live conifers (especially pine trees). It is used as a solvent, as paint thinner and also medicinally (for cuts, abrasions, and the treatment of lice). It’s a very useful substance. As with everything, there are downsides: it can irritate the skin and eyes, damage the lungs and central nervous system when inhaled, and cause renal failure when ingested. It’s also combustible. Along with the promise of sex and drugs, it is also the reason I went to art college – I love the smell. It reminds me of the wonder I experienced on realising it was possible to spend the whole day making art.
Map of part of my journey to art college
In The Heat of the Morning is the opening track on David Bowie’s album, Bowie At The Beeb (2000). This version wipes the floor with all others – less mannered, freer, more yearning. Unfortunately, I can’t find an online version of it. But I did find a rather fine cover version by Last Shadow Puppets. You can listen to it here.
It is a basic art-world orthodoxy, echoed just about everywhere, that contemporary art is ungraspably complex and diverse. The variety of contemporary forms, techniques, and subject-matter in art is indeed bewildering. The conventional media of painting, sculpture and print-making have been overlaid with installation and ‘new media’, which can encompass anything from online art to computer-controlled sound environments. Artists cultivate for themselves images that range from traditional guru or shaman roles to beady-eyed, tongue-in-cheek chancer and careerist, and personas that include starstruck adolescent girls and engorged, axe-wielding psychotics. Art’s concerns are also various, touching upon feminism, identity politics, mass culture, shopping and trauma. Perhaps art’s fundamental condition is to be unknowable (that concepts embodied in visual form can encompass contradiction), or perhaps those that hold to this view are helping to conceal a different uniformity.
(excerpt from Contemporary Art: A Very Short Introduction (2006) by Julian Stallabrass)