Press Centre


  • Episode: 

    2 of 6

  • Title: 

    Gary Kemp – 'Kick Out The Jams'
  • Transmission (TX): 

    Sun 27 Apr 2014
  • TX Confirmed: 

  • Time: 

    10.00pm - 11.00pm
  • Week: 

    Week 18 2014 : Sat 26 Apr - Fri 02 May
  • Channel: 

The information contained herein is embargoed from press use, commercial and non-commercial reproduction and sharing - in the public domain - until Tuesday 22 April 2014.
Perspectives: Gary Kemp – 'Kick Out The Jams'
"A group of young British artists emerged at the end of the 1980’s. They became known as the YBAs and changed the face of art. Among them, Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, the Chapman Brothers, Sam Taylor Wood and Gavin Turk. Love them or loath them, they’re impossible to ignore. "
Spandau Ballet's Gary Kemp investigates the modern art world, 25 years since it was rocked on its heels by by the arrival of Hirst, Emin and the other Young British Artists. 
While better known as a musician and actor, Gary is also an art enthusiast, building up his own significant collection of British art, as well as furniture. He argues that it was the rock and roll style of the YBAs which made contemporary art relevant and altered the cultural life of Britain.
Kemp considers the extent to which the YBAs,  with their love of glitz and glamour and outrageous posturing,  act more like rock stars from his own world, in a film which includes interviews with several YBAs, including Sam Taylor-Wood, Gavin Turk and Jake Chapman. 
Kemp visits galleries and studios around London, takes us inside his house to view his own artwork, across the Atlantic to LA for a look back with Sam Taylor-Wood and onto the Venice Biennale to speak with Jeremy Deller, an artist critical of the YBA excesses.   
Says Kemp: "I think that the YBA group of artists were definitely the real rock stars of the 90s. They took their lead from music and used rock band tactics I am familiar with to make it big.
But I’ve discovered that  art and music ultimately do operate on different levels. I have come to enjoy the art itself a lot more as I have engaged with it on this journey. What I don’t know is how many of the icons and artworks the YBAs created for their moment will stand the test of time .
Their legacy is assured in another way though.. In the last 20 years Modern Art has become popular in a whole new way.  It’s in the cultural big league, with Music and sport. "
Directed by Richard Curson Smith for Snapper TV
Executive Producer: Pip Clothier for Snapper TV
Series overview
The Perspectives documentary strand brings together powerful stories and unique insights into the arts from a range of well-known figures. Now in its fourth year, the strand will encompass six films from a rich variety of distinctive individuals offering their take on subjects for which they have a personal enthusiasm and fascination.  
Interview with Gary Kemp
Music played a big part in your youth, but art less so?
"I come from a very ordinary working class background, my parents would never have dreamt of taking us to a gallery, and we never had books in the house either. The first art work which I ever engaged with would have been album sleeves and back in the days of vinyl, album sleeves were a fairly large thing to have in front of you, especially in the early 70s, the gatefold sleeves were extraordinary. There were the wonders of Ziggy Stardust, the Roger Dean paintings, the early Roxy Music covers, which is where I think the musician had really worked hard at trying to find the right image visually to express their band or their music through. 
I think the visual element was a much larger part of music in those days. So it wasn't until going to grammar school a lot later on that I really started to look at art myself. I certainly didn't grow up with any knowledge of art other than that really."
Where did your passion for art come from?
"For me it was tied up with culture that I might find myself starting to get interested in, so I became interested in the Paris of the early part of the 20th century, and therefore Picasso and Braque, or before then, Lautrec. But it was wasn't just about the art, it was about the social circles that those guys would have mixed in, I was really intrigued by that. I love urban decadence and so I'd look back at those guys as being sort of early rock and roll stars. That got me in to it. 
"Then maybe it was Michelangelo versus Leonardo da Vinci. I love the personalities that were involved in art rather than just pontificating about the art itself. In my late teens, early 20s, I became aware of the Scottish designer Mackintosh, from the early 20th century. A friend of mine was studying architecture at university so I started to engage a lot with him about architecture and I suddenly became intrigued by the arts and crafts movement, led by William Morris, because again it was about a gang, it was about coming out of the pre-Raphaelites, a London gang being slightly outrageous for their time, slightly decadent, lots of inter-group affairs. I got engaged in the soap opera of that. Then the art becomes something else that represents them, and it becomes like a touchstone, and I thought, 'Actually, you know what, I could acquire some of this'. So when I got my first pay cheque the first thing I bought was a William Morris chair, which I still have. 
"Spandau Ballet had an album called Parade, in 1984, which was actually influenced by a book I'd read by (Roland) Penrose about Picasso, who was talking about when Ballets Russes did a ballet called Parade. Picasso did the backdrop for that, and Cocteau had a hand in it, and I love this co-operative side to creativity. So I was sort of trying to do a modern version of that. Art for me has always been about the personality of the artist and the gang that they hang out in."
Do you think that the YBAs (Young British Artists) were a totally new proposition?
"I think that the YBAs were the first working class kids, en masse, to come out of art school and not think, 'Well we can't really do art because we're a bit working class, and we should go in to music'. Up until that point rock and roll was where all working class art students went, and the list is huge. I think there was a sense that actually rock music was dead. After the bands from my era, that became the second British invasion and had sold globally, there was a real lull in a new wave coming after that in music, it went into DJ and rave culture, kids weren't picking up guitars, it wasn't the place to go.
I think that, combined with having an incredibly creative force with Damien Hirst, who was great at curating, and great at the art and knowing how to present himself as an artist, somehow galvanised the bunch to believe that they could stay in art, that the way forward for them would be to make an approach in their presentation that took a lot from the blueprint of rock and roll. By that I mean probably the outrageousness of their social life, which they were quite public about, which in a way all added to their image, which was a great selling point for them. 
"The blueprint of Malcolm McLaren, and us with Spandau, finding venues which were unusual to present your work in. The Sex Pistols were playing theatres and cinemas. We would be playing a battleship and various places that weren't usual to rock and roll, and I think they took on board all of these elements, mixed with the kind of Etonian confidence of Jay Jopling.
"There's a history of that, of working class nous needing upper class ability, especially with someone like Jay, he had the ability to open doors, he spoke in the right accent, he had the right father, he had the right credentials, so he gave it a credibility. That, combined with in the economic boom, where there was a lot of spare cash, enough to buy this work, and also combined with a collector, Charles Saatchi, you had this holy trinity between Saatchi, Jay and Damien, where Jay and Damian could come up with a fabulous ideas, and they would have Saatchi the collector to help make that idea real."
How did the YBAs gain more mainstream prominence?
"They weren't stupid. Jay went for the tabloids, no-one had done that before in art, people do that in pop music, Spandau did that when we tried to break ourselves, you want the tabloids, whether they are outraged or not, you want press coverage and Jay understood that and he immediately went for that. The very first thing he did was a kind of art version of Live Aid, music was something that inspired him. At first everyone was outraged by it, because here was a nation that was disgusted by the price of bricks at the Tate, that was modern art to them, they expected brick...a shark in a that art? There was a lot of discussions about that. But nevertheless, eventually people were more and more impressed, as these kids started to sell abroad, to become of interest to us as personalities. Tracey Emin has gone from being someone that the general public probably hated to the face of M&S, national treasure, Tracey Emin CBE.  
"What that really shows is that the British public, through those artists, take modern art far more seriously, they've embraced it. It's become part of their culture. You can see Damien's work in advertising, and Tracy's. They have interesting personalities, people were engaging with the work through the artists themselves. Collectors wanted to be as exciting as the artists, so by buying a piece of their work, these guys, who work in the cities in suits, were suddenly sexy.  The Tate modern, with its millions of visitors, I doubt would have ever been as successful if it hadn't been for the YBAs reinventing British art. They became the next big British wave of young, creative kids to sell internationally."