Mark Leckey

Turner Prize Winner on Kazimier and Ket Wigs

OK, let’s get this out the way. Turner Prize winning artist, Mark Leckey is actually from Cheshire. But Liverpool loomed large in his early life. The city’s dance culture, the style and perhaps, most importantly, the attitude and outlook of the people seem to have stuck in Mark’s head and transferred to his art.

Mark is a multi-discipline, multi-talented, multi-media artists, most widely known for his poignant, atmospheric and often voyeuristic films, which draw on his early life experiences. In 1995 Mark moved to New York. Fifteen years later he received the UK’s most publicised and often controversial award - The Turner Art Prize.

“In Liverpool you witness people’s creativity in the way they dress and hear it in the way they talk…”

This year Mark returned to Liverpool to take part in the city’s Biennial, premiering his new film ‘Dream English Kid’ and attending a special screening of his career defining work, Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, a hypnotic video collage and tribute the world of 70s, 80s and 90s dance halls; itself an autobiography of Mark’s hedonistic youth.

It’s Liverpool scored a ticket and was lucky enough to meet Mark, ahead of the screening, to discover more about our city’s influence on him and how it feels to return to a place that has changed so much since the good old days of 90s raves.

So Mark, how would you say Liverpool has affected your art?

“Both positively and negatively. The city’s music scene had a strong impact on me. When I was young, 15 or 16 I used to come over here to come to Eric’s nightclub and I was greatly influenced by that whole scene, in the late 70s, Teardrop Explodes and Echo and the Bunnymen and a bit later OMD and all that electronic stuff that was coming out at that time. I was also a scally so that kind of sportswear fashion at the time really influenced me too.

“But then negatively, because I’ll always be a ‘bad-wool’ and a woolyback and that sort of set me up in life as sort of feeling like I didn’t quite belong. Growing up outside Liverpool in sort of an overspill area, like Ellesmere port, Liverpool was such a magnet, such a draw on everyone, you couldn’t ignore it. I felt under its spell, but I was never really part of it. I was never a real Scouser”.

Mark Leckey accepts The Turner Prize, 2008

That’s funny, I’d never thought of that. I always think of you as a Liverpool artist. How would you describe yourself, as an artist?

“That’s a tough one. The last thing I ever want to really do is describe myself as an artist! It’s only now that I’m able to say I’m an artist, I used to have difficulty even saying that.

“I try to incorporate everything that ever influenced me into everything I do, including music, video, collage, theatre. I try and find some means of communication that transfers something beyond language, beyond description. Something that’s more ineffable, a feeling, a sensation even”.

The Guardian described you ‘The artist of the YouTube’ generation and ‘one of the most influential artists in Britain’. Has such praise changed your outlook on your own art?

“In a way, because that made me think that’s not what I want to be, I don’t want to be known as that. Because the trouble is it determines how people see you. How they know you and, in a lot of ways, what I want to do is not be fully known. You’ve got to avoid being pigeon holed”.

You’re most widely known for ‘Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore’ [shown below] Did that film win you the Turner Prize? Has that recognition changed your career?

“I didn’t win it just for Fiorucci. The thing with the Turner prize is you get nominated for a show you’ve done that year. It’s quite specific, so, in actuality, you’re nominated for a body of work.

“The impact has been positive, but it’s funny, the best thing about winning the Turner Prize was winning the Turner Prize. The week that I won was glorious. I will cherish that memory for a long time, just to be recognised it that way was remarkable. I remember winning it and walking down the street and having people that I knew, like in the newsagents or in the local shop offering their congratulations. It was thrilling on that level; I was on a high.

It’s one of the few art awards that really permeates the public’s consciousness and gets them talking. But Liverpool is really into art. Would you say that Liverpool an artistic city?

“Yes, of course it is. It’s just a naturally creative place. This is the problem I have with things like Biennial. Don’t get me wrong, I think Biennial is great, but my problem is with organised art really. Because art is an imposition on an existing culture within a city, a culture that is self-generated and doesn’t need to be culturally sanctioned or administered, or even need to be introduced. I don’t agree with the notion that the population somehow needs an introduction to fine art. Liverpool in itself has the capabilities to produce its own art and culture, and it does so organically”.

That’s really interesting. Is there something unique about how Liverpool does this?

“I think there is. The city’s natural creative expression is what I’ve always liked about Liverpool. I come back here to see how the city has changed. In Liverpool you witness people’s creativity in the way they dress and hear it in the way they talk. Like the latest one, Ket-wigs, where all the local scallys have grown their hair into big, mad, mop head styles. You don’t find things like that anywhere else. Well, you might do, but it seems very particular to Liverpool and that’s the kind of thing Liverpool does. It challenges norms through self-expression. It doesn’t follow”.

Birkenhead barber buzzes back a ket wig to a more standard short back and sides.

Your work also challenges norms. Is art itself something you enjoy challenging?

“Yes, in a way. There’s the problem of art, first of all what is it. What’s the definition of it? And there’s all the problems you get from it being official and prescribed, that it’s worth is determined by a cultural elite and this idea that art is difficult and you have to have some kind of schooling or education in it in order to understand it. Or that you need to be open minded to get it, all of these things I have a problem with.

“I think the idea of art in a broader sense, of creating something that attempts to articulate or visualise a kind of sense that you have in the world. It’s something that is absolutely necessary and I’d include ket-wigs within that!”

Apart from hairstyles, how has the city changed since you we’re a young man?

“Liverpool ONE was a huge, immediate change in the city and it seems, on the surface, that the city’s most prominent asset is now shopping, which is a bit disappointing. But the truth is there’s much more going on here than that. With Liverpool there’s always a creative undercurrent beneath the surface.

“I’ve just had a meeting with the people who used to run the Kazimier and I missed all that, but I love their new place, The Invisible Wind Factory. Same thing for the Museum of Liverpool. There’s always positive and negatives from any change, but a place and it’s culture can’t stand still. Liverpool itself is artistic expression of its people and that expression is always changing”.

It’s clear that Mark Leckey is an artist that tells it as he sees it, he’s passionate, creative, friendly, a little controversial and unafraid to challenge conventional thinking. He may not feel like a Scouser, but he sure sounds like one to us.

For more information on Mark Leckey click here or follow him on Twitter here.

For more information on Liverpool Biennial click here.


Published: 01/11/2016