Playing for Keeps

Billy Childish, the musician/artist/poet/novelist whose immense body of work darkens the sky over our 10-song bands of the day, has been busy. No surprise there. The Englishman's legendary output includes more than 30 collections of poetry, 1,000 paintings, and 100 records with acts such as the Pop Rivets, Thee Milkshakes, and Thee Headcoats. (A line on his Web site sums it up best: "Every five years or so Billy splits his group up and starts again from scratch.") His myth, already fattened thanks to 12 years on the dole starting in the ´80s, got a high-art shine in 1999 when he founded the Stuckism art movement, championing a return to old ideas such as figurative painting. ("Artists who don't paint aren't artists," reads a properly inflaming line in the manifesto.) A funny aside occurred in 2006, when he embarked on a media spat with Jack White. After White, landing what he probably thought was a devastating blow, dubbed Childish a "bitter garage rocker," Childish sent an open letter to NME. "I have a bigger collection of hats, a better moustache, a more blistering guitar sound and a fully developed sense of humour," it read in part. Score one for the bitter Englishman.

For the past few years, however, his lifelong practice of art, which has never been tainted by the establishment (he got kicked out of art school), has resulted in something that seems low-key: woodcuts. But his themes naturally lean toward the sordid and gritty, with a little sex thrown in. Most are portraits or feature people engaged in ordinary activities, from the profane (sex) to the mundane (bicycling). All have a dark, haunting look, including the self-portraits, which feature his landmark moustache. It not so much resembles a handlebar as a push broom that's been used for decades to tidy up a pub's sticky floor.

An opening reception for "Paintings and Woodcuts" is Sept. 5 at 6 p.m.
Sept. 5-30, 2007

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