The Artist of Destruction

The blond young man with slicked backed hair told me he was an artist. “Another bullshit artist,” I thought; but then I had been drinking at yet another exhibition opening and when that was over moved on to the nearest bar.

I told him that I was an art critic, well, I write this blog. He claimed a vague familiarity with my work. Was he trying to get on my good side?

The artist, let’s call him that, I don’t think that he ever introduced himself, told me about the 20 years of his art practice and his thesis. Maybe I had underestimated him; he could expound on post-modern philosophy with a familiar distain. Next, I thought, he’ll want me to write about his project.

Instead the artist claimed that he was being persecuted in the popular press but I had been at the beach and hadn’t seen anything in weeks. He told me that his art practice involved destroying drawings by major Australian artists rather than creating more and there were people threatening to kill him. I looked around the bar – nobody appeared to be an art lover about to engage in psychopathic blood frenzy. I ordered another beer.

The artist pointed out the old A5 sheet of paper that he was using as a beer mat. “It is a genuine John Brack’s drawing, valued at $9,000. I’m testing its survivability in contemporary living conditions” I didn’t examine the smudges of graphite on the paper and failed to ask the artist if this was Australian or US dollars. The artist finished his beer and stuffed the now beer stained sheet of paper into his pocket.

The January weather has been capricious, rain was threatening. It was like winter. Next the artist took me into the laneway. We sheltered in a doorway and he pulled out a thin rolled paper artefact that he claimed was “a marijuana joint”. He also claimed that the cardboard “filter” was torn from Ricky Swallow drawing. I don’t know about either but I didn’t get high from smoking it.

The artist appeared to have got very high and was raving about Robert Rauschenberg erasing de Kooning. Quoting from Penny Rimbaud of CRASS on how to destroy art and the Futurists he had somehow got on to the symbolic castration of the father figure. Then he wanted to show me photographs on his cell phone of a Brett Whitely that he had showed up his ass and set on fire for his Masters. I declined, pointing out that I didn’t have my reading glasses with me and the screen was too small to make anything out.

January in Melbourne is full of strange art stories you can’t believe them all. Exhibitions of toddler’s paintings, the Prime Minister’s collection of photocopies of her breasts stolen by members of the opposition party and Dennis Hopper eating Sidney Nolan drawings for breakfast.


About Mark Holsworth

Writer and artist Mark Holsworth is the author of two books, The Picasso Ransom and Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

6 responses to “The Artist of Destruction

  • CDH

    The idea of destroying art for the sake of art is an interesting one. It reminds me of the Ai Wei Wei vase dropping. It’s an interesting idea, and I don’t think it’s inherently wrong but there’s something quite egocentric about it. I feel like the artist must assume that the new artwork will be superior to the old artwork. In the case of stuffing a Bret Whitley up your ass, that might be a stretch… (no pun intended).

    Your post also makes me think about the destruction of art by authority because it’s regarded as degenerate. The German modernist exhibition at the NGV talks about this at length. I think a parallel can be drawn with street art that is often just dismissed as vandalism by contemporary civic groups.

    • Mark Holsworth

      The bulk of art destruction in the 20th century was due to war. Destruction of art by the authorities is less common; the Nazi’s were selling the degenerate expressionists etc. to Americans at knock down prices. Compared to either street art and graffiti has done almost no damage. Destruction by artists is also a side note to all this destruction.
      Now that I think about it – how do I know that Ai Wei Wei really dropped a valuable vase? How do I know that Yves Klein threw himself off a wall? Claims by artists and photographs are suspect. Where is the supporting evidence?

  • Morgan

    Great story.
    I miss Melbourne and its characters.

  • Mendo Artworks

    Free entertainment for the night :)

    I met one with Black hair slicked back…

  • Richard Watts

    Was his name Andy Wear by any chance?

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