Painting is a hobby for me. My wife is a proper artist and tells me Im not supposed to say that, but Im not afraid of being looked down on. Id love to do it for a living, but I know deep down Im not good enough. I tend to paint on the kitchen table in front of the TV or listening to the radio late at night. Thats why my paintings are all quite small; its also governed by the size of the piece of wood and the table, as I usually use bits of wood that I have found. Plywoods my favourite. I was given a set of oil paints years ago and it took me a long time to work out how to use them. I found it frustrating how long the paint took to dry. Having never had a lesson, I was using them like watercolours – watering them down with turpentine, which gives you a very dull finish. About ten years ago I was a guest on Frank Skinners chat show and my reward was a box of quick-drying oil paints, which changed the whole thing. Now I can do a bit of painting, leave it on the radiator overnight and its dry by the morning. I tried acrylics, but I like the smell of the oil paint. I use art as a form of occupational therapy. You can switch off when youre painting, all you think about is the job in hand. Id recommend it to workaholics everywhere.
I usually work from photos in magazines – Hello!, OK! – and the Daily Mail is a particularly good source. When I see a photo I like, I tear it out and put it in a folder, and when I fancy doing a painting, I go through the folders and find a good image. Im very fond of the picture of a dog called Solomon. His owners were on holiday on the Isle of Wight and he went missing. He was found – after he had swum from the Isle of Wight to Southampton. These paintings are sort of what Solomon might have been thinking on that swim.
Ive done a few paintings of Solomon. And Ive started to make him do different things. In one painting he is wearing my watch. More recently, Ive been painting X Factor judges. Ive got this book about circuses with loads of bearded ladies in it – it reminded me a bit of Peter Blakes pictures of wrestlers. I had a picture of Sharon Osbourne and I combined the two. Then my wife Magda suggested that I should paint the other judges as circus acts. I think Simon Cowell is a modern P.T. Barnum. Theres a strong element of the freak show and spectacle about The X Factor.
I like painting figures from popular culture because of the fleeting nature of fame. I did the Chris Tarrant paintings when there was all that fuss about him in the papers after he cheated on Ingrid. So Im painting an imagined fall from grace. Before that I did one of Anthea Turner when she split up from her husband, which at the time was a really big story. Now were thinking – what was all the fuss about? I like the idea of the trivial being elevated to art. I have also painted a Mr Blobby-like character whose name is Parker Bowles-Windsor. He is the child of Charles and Camilla. To me he looks like a Philip Guston figure – a messy pink lump. I think its quite a funny idea.
I really like naïve artists such as Howard Finster, who did the Talking Heads Little Creatures album cover. And I like finding paintings in junk shops – Ive got a really nice one called Bruce of a dog in a straw hat. It strikes me that a lot of modern art provokes the reaction of laughter or a smile. Some art – to me, anyway – seems to be a deliberate joke, often a punchline to a set-up which we have to imagine for ourselves. Sometimes artists fight against this and say that it isnt their intention. In art, it seems its often important to appear to be serious. For instance, Maurizio Cattelans sculpture of the Pope felled by a meteorite (The Ninth Hour 1999) looks to me like a brilliant visual gag, worthy of Monty Python. Even works such as Damien Hirsts cows head with the flies (A Thousand Years 1990) – theres something quite darkly funny about that. Its a black joke. That piece in the basement of The Saatchi Gallery – the world leaders in their wheelchairs bumping into each other (Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, Old Persons Home 2007) – was a great idea, fascinating, and you had to smile when you saw it. If youre looking for a humour/art crossover, then I think David Shrigleys stuff is spot on. I like the childlike aspect of it, and theres a lot of irony. It looks easy, but its a tricky thing to get right, and a lot of people have tried to copy him. You look at some of his stuff and think I could do that, but actually, like all great art, all the bits have to be in the right place for it to work. I think being an artist is a higher calling than a comedian, because the comedian has to respond to his or her audience. In comedy, Ive had many jokes which I thought were really funny, but if the audience doesnt laugh, you end up having to drop them. An artist can do what he or she likes. You may not sell many paintings, but youre still an artist.