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Factual Nonsense : The Art and Death of Joshua Compston

Coffield, Darren
Format: Hardback
Publisher: Troubador Publishing (Matador)
Published: September 26, 2013
ISBN: 9781780885261
256 pages, 1


Joshua’s gallery ‘Factual Nonsense’ was quite unlike any other. Called a ‘crazy powerhouse of ideas’ it was a kind of cultural think-tank located in the then run-down East End area known as Shoreditch, which would later become a cohesive and creative hub (since rebranded as ‘Silicon Roundabout’). Joshua was the driving force that turned the area’s fortune and reputation around.

Under the auspices of his Factual Nonsense banner, he held some of the most important and influential public art events of the late 20th Century. The first of these was an anarchic swipe at the notion of a traditional village fete called ‘A Fete Worse than Death’, with some of the biggest but the still yet unknown stars of the art world, including Damien Hirst and Angus Fairhurst, famously dressed as clowns and produced the first spin paintings at the Fete (for sale for the princely sum of GBP1). Whilst Hirst’s spin machine has, from lowly beginnings at the Fete, gone on to appear recently at the World Economic Forum, a billionaire’s playground, creating spin paintings for rich oligarch’s wives as entertainment, Joshua was to die alone, poverty stricken back in 1996 on the cusp of international fame.

Never reaping the rewards that were to come from the economic upturn and Charles Saatchi’s Sensation exhibition, his death was a marker for the beginning of an era of international fame and success for his contemporaries and the end of the ‘classic’ avant-garde. The list of the seventy or so names of people I have interviewed for the book over the past year reads like a who’s who of the contemporary art world, with contributions from the likes of Jay Jopling, Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas, Sam Taylor-Wood, Gary Hume, Gavin Turk, Maureen Paley and Sir Peter Blake. Although Joshua never achieved the recognition that he deserved in his lifetime, he was a pivotal figure in the London art scene during the early 1990’s.

Josh moved into Hoxton and opened a gallery there and started a veritable art movement, while the place was a neglected London backwater. His lasting legacy was to bring together a group of artists and gallerists and create what is now known as the YBA scene. The text is illustrated with previously unseen photographs, letters and extracts from Joshua’s diaries, which give insight into his thought process as well as the deterioration of his mental state towards the end of his brief but eventful life.

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