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Views of the City with Richard Wentworth

Artist Richard Wentworth pays tribute to London’s skyline and explains why he finds inspiration in city life

You know, for most artists their head is their studio. It’s where stuff incubates. And then there are various places in which things actually get assembled, and this is just one of those places that is the biggest piece of assembly that I’ve ever got to see.

British artist Richard Wentworth climbs a skyscraper to pay tribute to London’s skyline, and explains why he finds inspiration in city life. Wentworth’s art has taken the diverse forms of photography, sculpture, installation, walks and talks.

For Tate Modern’s 2007 exhibition Global Cities he made a series of films that show people painting road markings, a kind of urban street art that normally goes unnoticed.

Transcription

Probably the thing that matters most to people is knowing where they are, and there’s something very strange about not knowing where you are, which, if you’re confident, is delicious, but to come up 16 storeys and actually know where I am, and know that that is north-east, to know that that is what they call the north, and all of this is London… and that something’s on fire in Bermondsey, which is exactly as it is in the original big panorama of London.

You know, for most artists their head is their studio. It’s where stuff incubates. And then there are various places in which things actually get assembled, and this is just one of those places that is the biggest piece of assembly that I’ve ever got to see. But there’s no denying that it’s incredibly exhilarating, and it gives off this mercantile energy, which of course is then attached to why artists like being in the city, because it’s very energetic… but pathetic, because we’re in the nineteenth century. It’s a nineteenth century city trying really hard to be in the twenty-first century – you know, and a bit of twentieth century just went by. London has been my studio in a way that has then allowed the world to be my palette. I mean, that’s an appalling nineteenth century statement but that’s all that artists do. I mean, they are just foragers… what are those beasts that, you know… grazers. I suppose the thing that I’ve come to value in this particular city – but it’s true in others, it’s true in cities – is how contradictory it is. So the energies are all coalescing, they are all side by side simultaneously, and somehow it adds up to some kind of mass function.

You know, the man who just dropped that piece of steel doesn’t know that I heard it. And maybe there’s somebody on the floor below that wishes that I would stop talking, and can hear me. I think that’s the… it’s much more to do with its inseparableness. I mean, I really enjoy the wilfulness of the city, and of course that wilfulness can be a plant that says, ‘I want to be there’, it can be these puddles that say, ‘I’m going to leave a mark’, it can be the weather saying, ‘I chip your paint.’ The argument, with something which in fact, in a city, we’re trying to deny all the time… we’re trying to pretend there’s no weather in a city, which is why it’s really shocking if you end up with sort of muddy feet in the middle of London. You think, this is – what’s happened? And I suppose the moment you see a plant 16 storeys up, you then realise what a strange falsehood all of this, you know, very, very late Repton planting is in the streets. That’s the governor, you know: I am a weed, and I will be here.

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