Not for the first time, that great art offensive known as the Cultural Olympiad is giving cause for serious concern. The Olympics are essentially a marketing opportunity – once every half century or so, we have the chance to show the world why Britain is such a wonderfully dynamic, creative and amusing country. While the running, jumping and pedalling are happening elsewhere, various events will showcase our cultural life.
The committee in charge of the Cultural Olympiad has just revealed its plans for art. There will be five major exhibitions running simultaneously in London. Turner will be at the National Gallery, David Hockney at the Royal Academy. A selection of modern British artists influenced by Picasso will be at Tate Britain, while the National Portrait Gallery will be showing Lucian Freud. Damien Hirst, inevitably, will be at the Tate Modern.
Yorkshire landscapes, fat nudes, stuffed sharks: is this really the contemporary Britain we want to show the rest of the world? It is not too late for the Cultural Olympiad committee to turn to an artist whose life and work encapsulates our culture to perfection – Ronnie Wood, veteran rocker and guitarist for the Rolling Stones.
Wood’s work covers a wide spectrum. A group portrait, commissioned by Lord Lloyd Webber, shows Kate Moss, Tom Stoppard, Mick Jagger, Joan Collins, Jerry Hall and other major personalities of our time at the Ivy. He has painted a series of nudes of his young Brazilian girlfriend. Recently, he has been working on his iPhone with the help of an app called Brushes. The artist’s work is in famous collections around the world. Bill Clinton has a couple of his prints. Eddie Jordan, from the world of racing cars, is a fan.
Ronnie has another huge advantage over fellow pensioners like David Hockney. He has, in the time-honoured fashion of the famous, been to hell and back several times, a journey which has been faithfully recorded by the tabloid press.
Here, in one interestingly raddled package, is an artist who encapsulates all that is great about modern Britain. A celebrity in his own right, he has been commissioned by another celebrity to paint a group of celebrities in a famous celebrity restaurant, making him a sort of Gainsborough of our 21st-century elite. His private life, an unsteady rake’s progress, involving drink, drugs, divorce, and troubled relationships with women several decades younger than him, is worthy of Picasso or Dali.
His work may be a little ropey, but the Cultural Olympiad should be as much about the life and the image as it is about what happens to be hung on a gallery wall. As the perfect summation of contemporary Britain, Ronnie Wood has it all.
Independent, 11 October 2011