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Scott King: Two epicentres of dead pop cultures colliding

Photo: Finish The Work That You’ve Started, Installation view, courtesy of Herald St, London

As an art and creative director for pop and fashion magazines such as i-D and Sleazenation as well as cover artworks for Suicide, Pet Shop Boys, Earl Brutus, and Morrissey, British artist Scott King made a name for himself on the tension between pop culture and politics.

Since the mid-nineties he’s worked as a visual artist, always criticizing the debasement of political symbols. The other day he opened his latest public exhibition ‘Finish The Work That You’ve Started‘ at Herald Street Gallery in London.


EB: Your new exhibition is titled ‘Finish The Work That You’ve Started’. Are the new pieces exhibited at Herald St London a snapshot in time of your body of work? Or do they mark a finishing point?
Scott King: I think (I hope!) that they mark a starting point in many ways. I’m very happy with this show, it’s possibly the best one I’ve ever done. The title was my mantra while I was working on the show – I had a big piece of paper with FINISH THE WORK THAT YOU’VE STARTED written on it and pinned up in my studio. It’s a great weakness of mine: having lots of ideas, too many ideas, and then spending weeks half doing several possibilities … so I haven’t done that this time, I’ve had less ideas and worked hard at them, you know, committed myself to making them work rather than coming up with forty-three other possibilities of what I might do.

Scott King, Martin Hilf Mir!, 2011, Lithographic Print, 58 X 41 Cm / 22.8 X 16.1 In


With your new lithographic print ‘Martin Hilf Mir’ you’re asking Martin Kippenberger to “make you a better artist“. Do you think you succeeded in becoming a better artist over the last years? How can one quantify ‘better art‘ anyway?
Well, I think I’ve become better over the last months – partly from ‘finishing the work that I started’. But, really, making art is all about confidence – about committing yourself and believing in yourself. Someone once said to me “the trick is to make it look easy“, and I think that’s right. All the art I’ve ever loved, all the music I’ve ever loved, appears to have been beamed down or in Kippenberger’s case, thought up in a moment of drunken inspiration. So ‘better art’ is inspired and brave … and may even look easy.

You’ve built upon this piece with ‘Never Trust a Hippie’ (2005), which you’ve outsourced to Horwinski Press in San Francisco and let the printers decide about the fonts. Why did you choose to rely on the work of other artists? Is this your reference to the ‘Mashup’ culture that rose in the mid-nineties?
The idea for my ‘Never Trust a Hippie’ print was all about trust. ‘Never trust a hippie’ is an old Sex Pistols slogan, and in many ways a defining statement about British punk – which at least at ‘street level’ was about hippie hating and confrontation. I took the slogan – a very London slogan I think – and gave it to Horwinski Press near San Francisco, the press that had printed many of the original 1960’s hippie posters. I then asked them to choose their favourite font for the word ‘Never’, second favourite for the word ‘Trust’ and so on … so in handing over the design to Horwinski, I ‘trusted a hippie’. It was not about being a ‘mash-up’, it was about two epicentres of dead pop cultures colliding … and a good joke as well, of course.

Scott King, A History Of Music (Power Station Dad), 2012, Album Covers, Screenprint, Perspex Frame, 47 X 107.5 Cm / 18.5 X 42.3 In Framed


In your new piece ‘Power Station Dad’ from the ‘A History of Music’ series you’re showing your father’s old Rolling Stones LPs. Do you relate artistically to Nicholas Wright’s cover photography for the Rolling Stones? Did these artwork designs have a direct impact on your visual career?
The Stones albums that I’m showing – together as ‘A History of Music (Power Station Dad)’- are incredibly important to me. Not just, or maybe not even, the music but the actual objects, the actual records and their sleeves. These are my dad’s LPs – the ones he used to dance around the kitchen to when he was still a young man in the mid-70s. These three LPs are the first records I remember, and I know every line of every song from them being on constant rotation in our house when I was 4 or 5 years old. So it’s a big deal to me – not just showing these – but the thought that someone else might actually buy them, the thought that someone else might actually own them … and the fact that I am prepared to sell them … that aspect of this work is almost like a personal challenge. I don’t want to sell them, they mean so much to me, but at the end of the day they’re only 3 scratched and tatty pieces of archaic vinyl – it’s just that I have a lot of emotional investment in them – you know what I mean? Making this work is like a test to myself, this series ‘A History of Music’ is all about the emotional investment we all have in ‘music as object’, we can all relate particular songs to particular times in our lives, so I’m ‘expanding’ that into these LPs as objects: their meaning as personal artifacts over and above their purpose.

With the photographs on the sleeves, it’s part of the same story as above. As I kid I remember my dad talking me through the pictures on the back of the sleeves, describing the Stones and their individual characters – I clearly remember him telling me about Brian Jones – saying he was mad, saying he was dead … and I couldn’t understand how someone so young was dead. So in that way, they probably did effect the work that I’ve done; because in the past I’ve done a lot of work about dead pop stars.

Why did you decide to pick the Stones’ 1969 Altamont Raceway show for your infographic series from 1998?
All those gigs depicted as ‘infographics’ are about death too – well they’re about the spectacle of these seminal gigs and about the division of ‘star’ and ‘audience’ as well – but they’re all underpinned by death: the final Ziggy Stardust show in Hammersmith where Bowie ‘killed off’ Ziggy, the last Manic Street Preachers gig before Richey Edwards disappeared and the Stones gig at Altamont that pop historians always hold up as ‘The Death of the 60’s’ – but more literally, Altamont was also where the Hells Angels – that the Stones had employed as ‘security’ – stabbed and killed Meredith Hunter.

‘Power Station Dad’ suceeds to capture a glimpse, a rediscovery and a showcase of your family’s past, especially your father’s youth. ‘Martin Hilf Mir’ also refers to him, since it’s a follow on to a poster design titled ‘DAVE HELP ME’, a plea to your dad from 2003. How do you as an artist relate to you your father?
With increasing worry. I see him getting old – and my greatest fear, or it was until I had a daughter of my own – has always been my dad dying. I think ‘Dave Help Me’ from 2003 and the new work ‘A History of Music (Power Station Dad)’ acknowledge the change in relationship that I have with my dad – you know – they acknowledge the almost 10 year gap between the two points – the first one is a plea for him to help me, the second one is an acknowledgement that soon it might be my turn to help him.

Scott King, A Balloon for Britain, 2012, Digital Prints, 45 X 30 Cm / 17.7 X 11.8 In, Installation view, Herald St, London


Your works often deal with tension between pop culture and politics, ‘Marxist Disco Cancelled’ is a great example of this: a “fictional stylised ghost of a letterpress poster” of “a fashionable leftist event gone wrong“, as Andrew Hunt put it. How come you imagined this as a fictional ’70s event? What fascinates you about ‘radical’/’political’/’terrorist chic’?
Well, when I first started making these kind of works, in the mid to late 90s, they were an open critique of ‘terrorist chic’. A great example is ‘Prada Meinhof’. I devised the term ‘Prada Meinhof’ (with Matt Worley for our CRASH! project) as a criticism of terrorist chic – the problem was of course, as we quickly learnt, that slogans like this are instantly adopted by the very people that you are criticising. I’m told that you could once even buy underpants in Berlin with ‘Prada Meinhof’ emblazoned across the front. And of course some people, very bad artists as I understand it, quickly took the name and started their own ‘Prada Meinhof Gang’. I have to say, I thought all of this was quite funny. But, I’m not sure that I have an interest in ‘terrorist chic’. I certainly have an interest in terrorism and the media – and I have to laugh/despair about how capitalism can quickly find a vehicle (from underpants to vodka advertisements) to combine the two in order to sell the ‘aesthetics of terrorism’ back to us as a ‘lifestyle choice’.


The exhibition ‘Finish The Work That You’ve Started‘ by Scott King is open to the public from 2nd June to 8th July 2012. Find more information at Herald St website. Find his 10 x 4 interview here.

All images courtesy of Scott King / Herald St, London

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Published June 06, 2012. Words by Walter W. Wacht.