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Winner of the Turner prize, Richard Wright: ‘There’s too much stuff in the world’

December 12, 2009

In a few weeks, his Turner prize-winning golden fresco will be painted over. Richard Wright reveals why that’s OK by him

Richard Wright‘Why has the Sistine Chapel survived? Because we need it?’ … Richard Wright. Photograph: David Levene

Richard Wright may have won the Turner prize the night before we meet, but he is queuing at the entrance to Tate Britain with the other early birds at opening time, nice and prompt for his interview, despite the hangover. This is what he used to do as a schoolboy and a student: get the overnight bus down to London from Glasgow, where he grew up (or Edinburgh, where he went to art school), and go to the Tate to see the Turners and Blakes, always with “a spaced-out feeling – I was always exhausted from not having slept, but somehow elated”. This might also describe his state of mind today.

A tall, rangy man with an intense gaze – a sort of Victorian-gothic cousin to Will Self – Wright won the £25,000 prize after showing an exquisite abstract fresco in gold leaf on a wall in Tate Britain. Painstakingly created in the age-old way – with a drawn cartoon transferred to the wall, then painted with adhesive and covered with gold leaf – its most startling characteristic is its in-built transience. On 3 January, after the exhibition closes, the image will be painted over. It’s the same with every wall-painting he makes. They are not meant to last; Wright’s point is that all art is mortal. “The fragility of the experience is the hinge for me,” he says. It makes the work more like a musical performance, he explains, something that exists in the memory of the creator and the audience, but can’t be owned, sold, or carried around. “There’s already too much stuff in the world. And it buys you a kind of freedom. Not having [paintings] come back to haunt you is a kind of liberation. You make something, and a month later it is gone.” If a handful of his works have lived longer, then it is only because the owners of their host buildings happen not to have painted over them. Mostly, though, they go – such as the installation he made in an empty house in Edinburgh in 2007, a series of dots in arcs on the walls and ceilings, a subtle remapping of the space. “Why has the Sistine Chapel survived? Because we need it. Some things are necessary. But perhaps not as many things as we think.”

Read more at: ‘There’s too much stuff in the world’

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