WHAT drives many artists is, if not success, then recognition and understanding.

The difficulty is that if an artist entertains new and interesting ideas, the chances of being understood are low.

Recognition must be hard-fought, which is a salutary lesson for the newly graduated. In colleges everybody speaks the same language, so reintegration with the rest of society comes as a shock.

I say it’s a salutary lesson because in general I prefer the work of artists who have spent time slogging at the coalface.

Many say they spend the first 20 years working out what they should be doing, and why.

A precious few, however, are snatched from obscurity early in their careers, and have entirely different pressures.

Early success isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Most visual artists don’t lead very public lives, but in the world of music many careers, and even lives, have been cut short for young people unable to deal with fame.

Having people believing that everything you do is marvellous can unhinge all but the toughest personality, apparently.

Before visual art became cool things were different.

I recently watched a biography about David Bomberg. He is acclaimed today and was a key figure in art education, yet died in poverty after collapsing from malnutrition.

Since the emergence of YBAs, or Young British Artists, we now have ‘rock star’ artists, and I’m sure Bomberg would have been amazed, but approving.

Gavin Turk became a YBA after Charles Saatchi included him in the ‘Sensation’ exhibition that defined them.

At the Royal College his final show contained a blue plaque saying ‘Gavin Turk worked here, 1989 - 1991’, and nothing else. He was refused an MA, but was rewarded by publicity from newspapers eager to outrage their readers.

His work is at the New Art Centre, Roche Court until February.

The show consists mainly of works in neon, a seductive medium that encapsulates the ideas of pop art.

The NAC Education Trust will be conducting guided twilight tours for school groups to show the work off best.

The cost per student is £3 (maximum 20 per group), and I am told these visits can be arranged for dates as far ahead as January.

Information can be found on the trust web site, linked to the New Art Centre main site.

Gavin Turk was present at the exhibition opening, looking very much an establishment figure in a three-piece suit and Dickensian beard, albeit a figure from another era.

Early success seems not to have spoiled him at all (I did speak with him but cannot claim it was a penetrating interview) so there goes my theory.

Martin Urmson

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