Other Men’s Flowers is a portfolio of text-based prints by fifteen London artists curated by Joshua Compston (1970-96). It was printed by Thomas Shaw and Simon Redington and published by Charles Booth-Clibborn under his imprint, The Paragon Press. Compston took the title, Other Men’s Flowers, from an anthology of wartime poetry compiled by Field-Marshal Viscount Wavell (1883-1950) of the same title (published 1944). Wavell had derived the phrase from a well-known quotation attributed to French moralist Montaigne (Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, 1533-92), ‘I have gathered a posie of other men’s flowers and nothing but the thread which binds them is my own’ (quoted in Cooper, p.115). Montaigne’s original sentence, published in his Essais (Essays) in 1580, provided an apparently modest disclaimer, anticipating criticism of the originality of his ideas. For Compston, it provided an apt poetic metaphor for the role of the curator. Other Men’s Flowers was launched at a party on 23 June 1994 in a derelict sawmill close to Hoxton Square, East London, a centre for young British artists at that time. Compston wrote in his press release:
The project has produced an exciting and innovative publication that intrinsically embodies the elegant but underused printing technique of letterpress ... that has allowed and encouraged many hitherto solely image-based artists an opportunity to operate within the realms of ‘copy writing’, providing them with a platform from which to sound off any phrase, slang discovery, polemical essay or related literary form ... the participants produced works that responded to the given brief of a letterpress printed text piece. (Quoted in Cooper, p.116.)
Letterpress is a form of relief printing in which paper is pressed, by either a large flat plate or rollers, onto previously inked type. In the event, nine of the fifteen participants adhered to Compston’s letterpress brief. Of the remaining six, four produced screenprint images, one a lithograph and one a monotype. The individual artists used different types of paper, all of the same size, some working in landscape and others in portrait format. The portfolio was produced in two slightly different editions. The ‘book’ edition, of one hundred copies plus twenty artist’s proofs, consists of fifteen prints, three title pages and a colophon page signed by all the artists, presented in a box. Tate’s copy is number twelve in this edition. The ‘portfolio’ edition of fifty, plus twenty artist’s proofs, differs only in that the prints are individually signed. The three title pages were designed by Compston and contain the following: the title words in large blue capitals, the words ‘An Introduction to Other Men’s Flowers’ above a drawing of a pointing hand in the style of an Edwardian cartoon, the words ‘Please Keep Out/ Foot & Mouth Precautions’ in large red capitals copied from a National Union of Farmers poster of the 1960s. The colophon page, on which the artists, curator, printers and publishers are named and the editions described, bears the circled logo ‘OMF’ in red. This logo is a typical Compston mechanism and imitates his personal ‘FN’ (Factual Nonsense) logo.
Compston set up Factual Nonsense, his gallery and project space, in Shoreditch, London in October 1992, shortly after graduating in art history from the Courtauld Institute in London. Aiming to establish a cultural revolution of some kind, he intended his space to be ‘a forum for all elements disenchanted with the laxity and ennui of current thinking’ (quoted in Cooper, pp.39-42). He befriended many members of the group of young British artists (or yBas) whose work was just coming to prominence in London at that time. Between 1993 and his tragically premature death in 1996 at the age of twenty-five, he organised exhibitions and performative day events in Hoxton Square, as well as commissioning the pages of Other Men’s Flowers from his artist friends.
Emin’s contribution is a page of handwritten blue text reproduced lithographically in portrait orientation on plain white paper. It is headed ‘For Joseph Samuels 1981’ and recounts Emin’s adolescent friendship with a young black boy of that name. The first paragraph describes an early potentially sexual encounter, which is desexualised by Emin’s having just started her period and rendered amicable by Joe’s mature attitude towards this. The text tells how Joe and Emin’s twin brother Paul hung out together in Margate, ‘a derralict [sic] seaside town – where there was nothing to do but blend with the general decay – bum around – fuck – be fucked – fight and wish your life away’. It then describes the last day the three teenagers spent together, aged eighteen, in 1981 and goes on to a shocking conclusion: ‘Three days latter [sic] Joe’s body was washed up on Margate beach – puffy bloated unrecognisable – His black skin had turned white – and apparently his Fingers nails [sic] had been smashed and every bone in his hands had been broken –’. A verdict of death by misadventure is given, but Emin and her brother believe Samuels was murdered by a gang of marines who had been hassling them that last day.
Compston was an early supporter of Emin’s writing, now a signature part of her art. In 1995 she produced Tracey Emin CV (Tate T07632), a nine-page handwritten account of her life, mixing the professional with the emotional, from birth onward.
Jeremy Cooper, no FuN without U: the art of Factual Nonsense, London 2000, pp.10, 12, 30, 75-6, 78-9, 89-90, 114-21, 179-80, 184 and 221, reproduced (colour) p.119
Neal Brown, Matthew Collings, Sarah Kent, Tracey Emin: I need art like I need God, exhibition catalogue, Jay Jopling and South London Gallery, London 1997