Clements’s Time

Bruce Hainley at the opening of “Richard Hawkins: Third Mind”

Left: “Richard Hawkins: Third Mind.” Right: Vincent Fecteau.

THERE WAS NO ONE who looked remotely as compelling as George Clements at the opening for Richard Hawkins’s first American museum survey at the Art Institute of Chicago, so I’m skipping any rundown or namechecking of supposed hoi polloi. Many will not know who George Clements is or why, if he’s of such aesthetic consequence, so Jean-Paul Belmondo–esque, he wasn’t actually present. Of course, George in all his complicated Georgeness very much was present, but “in” the art and not “on” the scene. I was going to use that fact to let loose on why I think there’s so much diarrhetic diarizing on the society around art rather than on art itself, noting that, usually, as uninspiring as the types are who make up that society, they still manage to be somewhat more entertaining or thought-provoking or curious to look at than the art itself, a hypothesis I’d bolster by dialing into a moment within the past decade or so when the convergence of online media, art fairs, boom-time collecting, artists as CEOs, and turdlike mantras (“The best art is the most expensive art”), often expounded by actual turds, really allowed the tumor of unthinking to metastasize—in short, when the art world emulated everything suggested by that special term subprime—but then I thought, naaahhhhhh…

Curated by Lisa Dorin, moving acutely among the artist’s various bodies of work—“body” and specific body parts animate more than twenty years of Hawkins’s making art out of stuff that might be considered its other—“Richard Hawkins: Third Mind,” like the pizza boy of William Higgins’s gay porn classic, delivers.

In the collage Untitled, 1995, George looks a little peeved to be stuck in such fancy duds at a pub, the photographer keeping him from his pint and cigarettes. The picture was clipped, perhaps from The Face, and Scotch-taped below Hawkins’s early draft, in his signature scrawling hand, of a spare time line that reaches its fullest flower in another collage, 1961 to now, 1996, which juxtaposes the artist’s streamlined bio—consisting of a line noting his date and place of birth (“July 6 1961 Mexia TX”) and very little else (other than the taped, florid distraction of a male model sporting a shiny Claude Montana suit)—with the operatic but systematically chronicled details, also penned in the artist’s hand, of serial killer and child molester Westley Allan Dodd, who reportedly grew up in a happy family; tortured and killed fifty boys, all below the age of twelve; and whose birth, in Toppenish, Washington, was just three days prior to Hawkins’s own. Taped next to and slightly overlapping “pub” George, another George lowers his head so that his hair obscures his face as he pulls back his arms to show off his fancy sleeveless T, black jeans, and pointy boots, in the middle of a thicket. Elsewhere, George is lost in thought in a graveyard. Or his handsome head floats, severed like Saint John the Baptist’s, against wavering, digital fields of various colors, pixelated skeins of bodily fluids running like mascara beneath his neck, in disembodied zombie george white and disembodied zombie george green and disembodied zombie george frozen.

Left: At the Lucky Horseshoe. Right: Richard Hawkins.

Clements was discovered by the great fashion photographer Corinne Day, who also launched the career of Kate Moss. Her description of why she photographed young fashion models frequently stripped of much of the folderol of fashion is telling in its relation to Hawkins’s methods and to how his work turns with various intensities on what T. J. Clark has called “the congeries of qualities [summed up] by the difficult word ‘class’ ”:

At first we were living in places like school dorms with shared bathrooms, full of people who didn't have enough money for their own rooms. I always thought they looked best when they were sitting in their pyjamas, smoking pot and getting pissed on a bottle of wine. I loved seeing them with bags under their eyes because I thought they were even more beautiful. They had a life in them. It wasn’t bland, or fake and covered in makeup.

There are many kinds of classes—of materials and ways of materializing. Hawkins takes things with life coursing through them and constructs lairs where his loitering muses can disrobe, have their faces painted, or molt into their undead doppelgängers. Triangulating ancient myth, fag Grand Guignol, and down-home smarts on how to make do with any medium or in any circumstance—call it flaneurism, or flanneleurism—he achieves emotive resonances nuanced, ribald, and heartbreaking. As Day stated: “Sometimes intimacy is sad.” Many of the most resonant pictures of Clements in Hawkins’s work are photos Day took—and then he took elsewhere. She died of a brain tumor on August 27, 2010.

Only the unwitting would assume that the lessons of art stop before the afterparty. Things only really get rolling when the late-night fun is organized by an artist known for using barflydom to find some traction on other cultural matters, generously doling out beer goggles to deal with the trolls still guarding the moat of Art After Modernism via paintings of Thai go-go boys and trannies with titles as louche and edifying as Options, not solutions, 2004 (depicting a bewarted customer in a harlenquenized disco trying to decide between the newly tittied potential of a sweetly smiling shemale and the meaty posterior of a muscle toy), and Customized or Readymade, 2005 (an artistic manifesto about the pleasures of the bespoke bodies of, say, chicks-with-dicks versus the found taut slopes of boys flaunting their boystuff). At the Lucky Horseshoe Lounge, on Halsted Street, the go-go boys were variegated, some apathetic to all but the cash in hand, others earnest in big boots, some waxed smooth and others entirely fuzzy, most filling out their jockstraps, front and back, and wearing snazzy sneakers, often with tube socks. Around the main bar, fake cobwebs laced the chandeliers, skeletons hung from the ceiling, and the television played some deliciously endless iteration of Halloween as those whose job it was to gyrate gyrated. Aesthetics is who gets invited to the dinner but not the afterparty. Aesthetics is who buys drinks versus who never needs a wallet cuz the bod’s his debit card. Aesthetics is how to ignore the professorial douche bag who keeps hectoring everyone about Hawkins’s invigorating treatise on “posteriority” but never seems to rim or be fucked in the ass, afraid to put his money where his mouth is—or vice versa.

Left: George Clements. Right: Rowley Kennerk with Daniel Buchholz.

His thick hair slicked back neatly, skinny frame draped in a single-breasted camel coat and beige shirt and beige skinny tie, all by Helmut Lang, George Clements is posed, sitting, in one of his final appearances in Hawkins’s oeuvre, coffee cup, ashtray, and tabloid on the table in front of him, cigarette smoke ensorcelling his surroundings. In the magazine photo, its full page supporting the entire collage, a strange oval-framed portrait of a bare-breasted but elaborately necklaced woman hangs above him. Hawkins has taped two squares, smeared with daubs of oil paint—one blocking most of George’s right shoulder, the other floating to the left of the woman in the portrait—like sloppily hung paintings, interloping. Two modes—in the patois of Hawkins’s epic, the Greasers (oil paint) v. the Socs (collage’s scissor-sistering)—powwow to make a third. Self-portrait of the artist manqué.

Clements is now happily self-employed. Mum on any previous Proustian life as supermodel–sex pistol–daemon, his website makes available his admirable work ethic:

We are a small company with big ambition.


We care about you because we care about our company and our reputation.

We are good, honest, hardworking tradesmen who pride themselves on the quality of their work.

Once we start a job we are fully committed to it and will never leave until you are fully satisfied.

He can be contacted at www.georgetheplumber.co.uk.