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Bill Drummond: How To Sell Your Soul To The Devil

The artist behind the KLF reveals he is flogging it again - this weekend at the Manchester Contemporary

Written by . Published on September 25th 2014.

Bill Drummond: How To Sell Your Soul To The Devil

I SOLD my soul to the Devil once, can’t remember when I did it, but I got a good price. I got all the trimmings – fame, fortune, that sort of thing.

But then I had to take things a step further because I wanted to get my soul back again. This required the mandatory trip to the heart of darkness, which, as prescribed, was a journey up the Congo River to the inner station – literally.

For a time I found myself making music. It was during this period I sold my soul to the Devil. But then in the late 90s, after I got my soul back, I gave in to the urge to start painting again

Then things got rather hazy, something to do with the Tree of Knowledge and the Serpent still up on his branch and me nicking my soul out of his back pocket when he wasn’t looking. This was back in 1996. And all this really happened except for the bit that I dreamt, about the Tree.

The thing is, I did get my soul back. You would think I would be grateful for the rest of eternity. But here I am planning to trade it in again. 

This is the backstory, or at least part of it:

At the age of 17, I found myself at art school, for want of anything better to do. But while there I fell in love with painting. And under the spell of a particular tutor, he had us working from the life model eight hours a day, five days a week. He only let us use charcoal for the first three months. And never let us spend more than ten minutes on each drawing, before tearing it up and starting again. Then he allowed us to use black and white acrylic. We were now allowed to spend up to 30 minutes before we had to destroy what we had painted. He was teaching us to see and not just look. 

Then stuff happened and I was facing a three-year prison sentence. 

Bill Drummond Hanging His 25 Paintings At The Manchester Contemporary YesterdayHanging and flogging: Bill Drummond puts up his 25 Paintings in preparation for the Manchester Contemporary taking place this weekend

What was going on in art school seemed irrelevant, compared to what was going on in the real world.

 I decided to spend the rest of my life making art in the real world. So I put down my paintbrush and walked out of Liverpool Art College. The art I assumed I would be making would take the form of the written word. 

My hero at the age of 16 was Lennon, at 17 was Rembrandt, at 18 it was Kerouac. 

The real world embraced me. I did lots of different jobs in different parts of the country, from being apprentice trawlerman out of Aberdeen, to being a shuttering joiner building a bridge over the M5. And I wrote thousands and thousands of words. I destroyed each notebook as it was filled. My tutor would have been proud of me. 

Then for a time I found myself making music. It was during this period I sold my soul to the Devil. But then in the late 90s, after I got my soul back, I gave in to the urge to start painting again. But before doing so I set down the rules: 

Only use black or white acrylic paint. 

And no mixing of paint.

All canvases the same size.

All the golden section (A format).

All 6’ 3” X 4’ 5”.

The subject matter would be words.

The words would all use the typeface Trade Gothic Bold Condensed.

The words would relate to the various jobs that I was working on.

The paintings would act as signposts, adverts or proclamations for the jobs. 

These paintings would have nothing to do with self-expression. 

Then after painting the first two, I decided to allow myself the three primaries – red, yellow and blue – but definitely no mixing of colours. This was to be done in exchange for limiting the amount of paintings I would make to 25.

By 2004, all 25 canvases were painted and actively working as signposts, adverts or proclamations for what I was working on.

But after the 25th canvas was painted, I needed another one. So instead of breaking the rules, I painted over the first one with primer and started again. And that is what I have carried on doing. 

By 2013 the majority of the 25 canvases had been painted over four or five times. Layer on top of layer. It is like when I was 17 and in love with Rembrandt and I used to try to do all the layers of glaze that he would do to give a sense of depth. But in my 25 paintings there is no sense of depth.

These paintings are not for sale. They have a job to do.

Since 2011 they have also had a double life in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

In 2013 I decided to take these 25 paintings on a world tour. And I started to refer to them as The 25 Paintings. The world tour began this year (2014) under Spaghetti Junction in Birmingham and will end there in 2025.

Then somebody asked me if I would paint them a copy of one of these paintings for them, but not as big. I needed money to finance the world tour. So I decided to do A0 size scale models of all 25 of the paintings and offer them for sale at £5,000 each or £100,000 for a full set.

Then somebody asked me if I could do an A4 size one for them. So I did all 25 paintings at A4 to sell them at £1,000 each or £20,000 for a full set. But these A0 and A4 scale models would not be limited editions. I would sell as many as there are buyers. Each would be a unique scale model. I am yet to try to sell any of them. Thus have no idea if there will be any takers.

But then someone asked me what I would sell the whole 25 of the original ones for. And without thinking I said £1,000,000. That only works out at £40,000 per canvas. But there’s another thing: whoever buys them can not take physical ownership of them until the world tour is complete in 2025 and no more layers are going to be painted onto them.

Now I have passed my 1,000-word limit for this text and I haven’t told you how to sell your soul yet. So if you still need to know, email me at bill@penkilnburn.com and I will answer.

*Bill Drummond is knitting, nattering, selling souls and paintings on the Eastside Projects stand of the Manchester Contemporary, Old Granada Studios, Quay Street, Manchester, from this Friday (September 26) Until Sunday (September 28).

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10 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousSeptember 30th 2014.

He doesn't say how much he sold the Kerouac for. One of my mates had a fibreglass one, top of the range and he'd just got back from Llangollen took it off the roof rack and Professor Patrick Minford ran over it. No apologies, in fact he shouted get that bloody thing out of the way. To be honest I preferred the polythene ones. You could get two polythene ones for the price of one fibreglass but they tended to be in 3 colours red blue or yellow, so Bill might have had three of them for. I'm not bothered about the depth, to be honest. I preferred to stay on the surface. Like everyone who starts off kerouacing, I practised the Mexican roll but my sombrero got caught on the rocks and I couldn't get back up again. Put me right off. But I quite fancy having another go, so if he still has it and it's a reasonable price, I might be interested. But I tell you what, if I buy it, I want to be able to go for a paddle straight away. I'm not waiting until 2025! It'll be no good to me then. If I buy something, I want to take it home with me. Mind you I haven't got a car so maybe he could deliver. But don't leave it by Bedford House, just in case that Minford is still driving around like a lunatic. What colour is it?

2 Responses: Reply To This...
BaffledOctober 1st 2014.

Are you talking about the bed made out of the raft?

AnonymousOctober 1st 2014.

I've never mentioned the bed made out of a raft. That would be a cruel trick to play on somebody. I don't like these practical jokes. For a start the mattress would get waterlogged and it would sink. Lots of these modern beds are just slats of wood resting on a frame. They'd float away. Worse if it's one of those cast iron ones. No, you need to re-think that one. You'd be better off with an inflatable dinghy.

Prof Y ChucklebuttySeptember 30th 2014.

Oy...this put me down as anomalous before I got a chance. How's Mr Diamond going to know where to deliver my Kerouac? Oh it's alright now...I am back.

4 Responses: Reply To This...
Prof Y ChucklebuttySeptember 30th 2014.

Hurry up..I'm raring to go now. Always fancied going up the Congo in a Kerouac. Although maybe start with the Irwell.

John BradleyOctober 1st 2014.

Erwell I wouldn't start there, for an Alternative try the Alt or perhaps the Tue Brook behind the cinema.

AnonymousOctober 1st 2014.

Didn't he do What Tyne Is Love?

AnonymousOctober 1st 2014.

No, that was Gazza

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