Issue 95

Gillian Wearing

The cover image for this issue of Artkrush is a detail of Self Portrait at 17 Years Old, a 2003 photograph by multimedia artist Gillian Wearing. Though the Frieze Art Fair artists are an assertively global gang, Wearing, bred in Brighton and based in London, is on home turf this week in Regent's Park, showing with Maureen Paley.

Born in 1963 in Birmingham, Wearing left for the capital and studied at the Chelsea School of Art and Goldsmiths College. She later fell in with the Young British Artists, a stable promoted by Charles Saatchi. With the likes of Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin, she participated in the 1995 group show Brilliant! at the Walker Art Center and in 1997's Sensation, which debuted in London and carried on to Berlin and a befuddled New York. In 1997, Wearing received Tate Britain's prestigious Turner Prize, and a decade later, she became a Royal Academician — one of an elite group of British contemporary artists overseeing the direction of London's Royal Academy of Arts. She is represented by Maureen Paley in London, Tanya Bonakdar in New York, and Los Angeles' Regen Projects. Wearing has upcoming solo shows at Whitechapel Gallery, London, and K21 Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf.

With both jocular and horrifying frankness, Wearing confronts the emotional perils of modern life by subverting a range of traditions — from the documentary film to psychoanalysis and the confessional. For her breakthrough 1992-93 series, Signs that Say What You Want Them to Say and Not Signs that Say What Someone Else Wants You to Say, she stopped random Londoners on the street, gave them paper to pen their most pressing thoughts, and took snapshots of the resulting signs. Her invitation elicited poetry from unlikely sources, such as a shaggy-haired man who declared, "Everything is connected in life, the point is to know it and understand it," as well as anxiety from the seemingly stable, such as policeman writing for help and an office worker in dire straits. In 1994, Wearing undertook a similar project using film, entitled Confess All on Video. Don't Worry You Will Be in Disguise. Intrigued? Call Gillian. A call for participants in Time Out resulted in 35 minutes of dramatic footage, wherein subjects gave genuine testimony or spun tales.

Self Portrait at 17 Years Old comes from a series of so-called self-portraits, in which Wearing poses as different members of her immediate family: her father Brian, mother Jean Gregory, rocker brother Richard, and her own teenage self. It's only Wearing's eyes, peeking through each mask, that unite this peculiar family album. - Lauren McKee

Gillian Wearing
Self Portrait at 17 Years Old, 2003
45 1/2 x 36 1/4 in./ 115.5 x 92 cm
Courtesy Maureen Paley, London
All Rights Reserved