Billy and I met at St Martin’s School of Art in 1980 – where we ‘studied’ together. I have had respect and admiration for him from the beginning. He had already had a stint there in the late seventies and was back for seconds by the time I arrived . . . Billy was not really around very much. Early on I remember him in the life drawing room. We drew ‘Dog Jaw Woman’ – Billy’s nickname for what was easily the most attractive and animated model we had there. Billy subsequently made a Xeroxed book of poems and drawings as an ode to her. For a second-year exhibition Billy turned up with a heavily rendered green, black and white portrait of his friend Sexton Ming, painted so thick and wet that (when hung above a radiator) it curled up like a stiff sail.
There was never any doubt in my mind that Billy is an artist. A lot of people are embarrassed by work like Billy’s – but that’s what’s great about it as well. He is very honest. I don’t ever remember Billy painting in the studios of Charing Cross Road, but do remember him busking in the underpass at Centre Point and in Coffee Bar Dave’s, where he challenged a hairy Hell’s Angel (a real one) to prove that he could balance a full pint of beer on his erection. Billy was in Hamburg a lot of the time, or so it seemed. While we were down Le Beat Route, he was playing the Star Club . . . and on one great occasion his group The Milkshakes played at a house party next to the British Museum where all us students had paintings hanging in the back garden. Occasionally Billy appeared in photos, in his self-published books of poems and drawings, dressed like Rodchenko or Kurt Schwitters, along with drawings that looked like rough Paul Klees.
These are a few of the remembrances I have of my early days with Billy Childish, and in retrospect things have not changed much – I mean this in the most positive of ways. Consistency. Billy’s is a life project that is unwavering, and I suggest not getting in the way.
I don’t believe in ideal, I eat the apple with the peel
(From a poem by Kurt Schwitters, that Billy had tattooed on his left buttock.)
Port of Spain, February 2008