First Chapter: The Studio Game by Peter Burnett

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Liska and I lay in a heap. We lay like that all morning. In the darkness it had been like being dead but now we were alive the light hurt. We’d been testing the water, seeing if we could do it — seeing if we would do it — up until the moment when we did do it. I had typed a suicide note on the computer before we’d gone to sleep but I’d been drunk. The printed note said:

 

Liska and I are leaving before daily life consumes us. Artists need to make a statement about art by making a statement about themselves as artists, and that is what we are doing. That’s our private opinion. Goofbye.

 

In the blurred outlines of my memory I remembered the few attempts we’d made at these notes in the past and although this one was at least concise, it would have been a horrible way to go out — on a typo.

 

cf. Alberto Greco : Notes (1965) The artist overdosed on barbiturates and left notes describing how he felt — for as long as was physically possible for him to do so.

 

I slept in my clothes with the Sunday newspapers spread over the blankets and the curtains drawn tight. When the lights came on it was Liska who woke me and I rose to find her staring into the caked and blistered oil paint I’d spread across my last canvas. An image of the sea that I’d worked on the day before. It was supposed to have been my final painting but it looked like I had a few more works left in me.

“I still love you,” said Liska.

Everything was delineated and etched in our poor bedroom — even the broken wardrobe had an eternal cast about it. The windows rattled to the sound of a passing siren, the usual dull routine of a provincial town at the edge of the world. It was Aberdeen and we’d been fools to try and leave it.

“Let’s have a drink,” I said, but the sweetness that had occupied my mind when we had made our death pact was long gone.

“Where’s the bottle?” asked Liska, and she dug her hands under the covers for the wine. I made a clumsy attempt to claim it, but Liska had been too fast.

I pretended to read the newspaper. (ART MORE PASSIONATE THAN PASTORAL — read the headline in the review section — followed by the weekly cataract of flowery horseshit that I was as usual, unable to stomach.)

“I saw things when I was dead and now I want to paint,” said Liska.

I was jealous of her energy and her will to keep going. Everything she did was about making art.

Liska finished the bottle and I got out of bed to show her the latest from the newspaper, the profiles of some upcoming artists. There are so many artists out there but when you’re young you believe yourself to be better than all of them. As an experiment I listed the names of every artist in the paper — some were famous, some were not, some were dead and some were still going strong. I groaned and turned the pages, wondering when it would be my turn to be in the review section. Liska and I played the same game each weekend. I read out the name of every artist who was featured in the paper, and we outdid each other with drunken comments.

Such as — Andy Warhol — wanker / Jeff Koons — bollocks / Basquiat — has to be the worstest of them all / give me that bottle / Gordon Take — talentless poop-4-brains / Damien Hurst — did you know that his name is an anagram of RUDE SHIT MAN? / you’ll need to go out and get more wine / Tracey Emin — for fuck’s sake / Joseph Gram — the nerve of that prick / Martin Michie — sell-out! / Jake and Dinos Chapman — asswipe trash / Gavin Turk — the artist’s worst enemy — everything he’s done has been done before, most of it by Duchamp! / I know that, in fact I pointed it out to you SHITFISH! / Rachael Whiteread — poisoner of wells / Douglas Hastie —salamander ass, caterpillar ass pervert — and also a poisoner of wells / Martin Creed — DID THE ALIENS FORGET TO REMOVE THE ANAL PROBE — or what, huh? / anyway that’s not how you spell Hirst — it’s H I — not H U / so ‘Ride Shit Man’ then! / what does ‘Ride Shit’ mean? / I don’t know — it’s your anagram — just go to the shop and get more wine okay?

“Why don’t you go?”

“Maybe I will.”

“Go then.”

With the wine decision made, Liska and I moved closer for the big makeup. I took Liska in my dirty baboon hands and we kissed, our lips brushing against each other as a signal of something tender.

It was a typical weekend, during which we painted, drank, set the world to rights, and attempted suicide. For me it was one of those days when I felt that in a world, which is almost entirely gagged, shackled and manacled, being an artist was the greatest of all luxuries. Our aim was fame, because we believed that celebrity would somehow justify our work, and when you’re young, that kind of thing is important.

“I love you,” I said.

“I love you more,” said Liska

The newspaper finished with, I departed like a thirsty homing-rat for the corner shop where I shovelled money onto the counter for more wine. We returned to work and there was further drinking, more kissing, and a good deal of musing over how famous we might be one day. If only someone would value our pictures.

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