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Catch My Drift

Rachel Whiteread turns houses inside out.

I am thinking about security as I prepare to paint today. There was a police bulletin about an attempted break-in a few neighborhoods away from where I live last night. I wondered what I would be most upset about if it was stolen from me (family members and dogs, aside). My poor vulnerable studio! And then I considered the fact that if the burglar was able to steal and sell my work, I should hire him as my agent.

People naturally try to enclose things that are precious to us, to own them: our houses especially. For most of us this is the most money we will spend on a single item. Spending that money ought to ensure us that it ‘belongs to us’ oughtn’t it? Ownership is just a state of mind, not an objective fact. As the farmers in the former “killing fields” of Cambodia could attest, who are currently being robbed of their generational lands because of the lack of a piece of paper, ownership is meaningless in the short-term unless it can be enforced. In the longer term, we are of course a collection of atoms who are but briefly arranged, more or less artfully, and then quickly disassembled with a sigh; in this context ownership of anything seems a little unrealistic and wistful.

A painting on canvas is the perfect way to own a piece of thought. It is easy to handle, easy to ignore and easy to buy, and easy to display. That fact irritates me today, as I consider it. As painters, we feel that the subjects or objects that we paint are elusive, cannot be held or owned: that they link in to something bigger, perhaps to that force that arranges our atoms so artfully. As an artist, I am happiest when I find a receptive audience, rather than just owners, for my work. Artists whose work becomes a commodity, however briefly, have been awarded the highest accolade our society has, and the critics will follow the market. Even water, air, the human body, is now reduced to simply a commodity, in which the object becomes avowedly and reassuringly meaningless in the search for today’s profit.

It is one of the happiest things about my life as an artist that I have found people, collectors of my work, who do ‘catch my drift’ and are willing to float along with me.

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