Iain Aitch/ Alistair Gentry

Alistair Gentry: The Man Who Makes Art

Interviewed by Iain Aitch

(Excerpt from the Market Project book- find out how to buy it and read all the commissioned texts in full here.)

Never staying still for long, artist Alistair Gentry has produced performance, installation, video work, photography and books in locations across the globe, yet he has never considered himself a fully paid up member of the arts establishment. Gentry’s status as art world outsider is largely down to his being unafraid to discuss subjects that most of his peers avoid, including money, commercial failure and the often vacuous nature of the industry. Journalist Iain Aitch meets Gentry to quiz him about his work, his bank balance and his disdain for the art world hierarchy.

Iain Aitch: It says here that you are an artist… so what is it that you actually do? Painting, one assumes.

Alistair Gentry: That’s a thing that people always say: “You’re an artist, so what do you paint?” Normal people say “have you got a proper job?”, whereas people who are in the industry ask what kind of work you do or what your practice is. Art is my job. So, to me, that job involves being artistic, not doing one thing in particular. I know how to paint and how to draw, I just don’t do those things. I’ve written for a long time, devised plays and worked things out that way. I do performance, I make videos, I do animation. I do things that would fit into art world jargon like installation and photography. People usually ask me to get them a drink when I’m at a gallery, or they think I’m an invigilator. I’m not sure what that means. Perhaps that I should be working in the arts but in a different capacity.

Are people shocked when you approach it as a job?

Yes, because they so rarely have people say to them “you need to pay me now”. You almost sheepishly have to talk about money. It’s like pulling teeth. They squirm when you talk about money. They’re so used to dealing with artists who don’t have to worry about that.

Why not stick to one thing? Are you a jack of all trades, master of none?

I always tell students not to do what I did. It makes it so difficult for yourself. It’s not that I can’t stick to things, it’s just that I’m not interested in sticking to things. I’m not interested in doing the same thing forever. Art galleries want you to be known for doing one thing, so that they can then go to a list of people who can do that one thing. However good they are as artists, they are known as being that man or that woman, like Rachel Whiteread is known as that casting woman. To carry on in the business she has to stick with that. Even Damien Hirst is constrained. He gets a bollocking for acting outside his remit. “Stick with what you know. You’ve done a shark, what about a donkey, or a load of cats?”

Continues in the book, which you can buy here.

Iain Aitch is an author, journalist and artist who has written two books about British culture as well as contributing to most of the UK broadsheet newspapers and a huge variety of national and international magazines. He has written on the arts for The Guardian, The Times and The Daily Telegraph as well as writing biographies and essays for artists and for galleries. Aitch also creates artwork himself and his youth subcultures photographic collection Cachet was recently on show as part of the Turner Contemporary’s Nothing In The World But Youth exhibition.


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