Gavin Turk

Gavin Turk (born 1967) is a British artist, and is considered to be one of the Young British Artists.[1] Turk's oeuvre deals with issues of authenticity and identity, engaged with modernist and avant-garde debates surrounding the 'myth' of the artist and the 'authorship' of a work of art.

Gavin Turk
Photograph by Pete Millson, 2 July 2001
Born1967 (age 5152)
Guildford, England

Early work

Turk studied at Chelsea School of Art from 1986 to 1989, and at the Royal College of Art from 1989 to 1991.

In 1991, tutors at the Royal College of Art refused to present Gavin Turk with his postgraduate degree, a decision based on his graduation exhibition. Titled Cave, it consisted of a whitewashed studio space, containing a blue heritage plaque (of the kind normally found on historic buildings) commemorating his own presence as a sculptor, stating "Gavin Turk worked here, 1989–1991". This bestowed some instant notoriety on Turk, whose work was collected by numerous collectors including Charles Saatchi, who later exhibited Turk's work in the exhibition Sensation, which toured London (Royal Academy of Arts), Berlin (Hamburger Bahnhof) and New York (Brooklyn Museum). Turk attended the private view of the Sensation exhibition at the Royal Academy, dressed as a down-and-out

He has subsequently produced an extensive body of work, which purports to question the value and integrity of a hermetic artistic identity.[2]


Turk's wide ranging practice often incorporates iconic images of figures taken from popular culture and art historical sources. A series of detailed life-sized waxworks, incorporating the artists own appearance, features the artist assuming various poses as different characters, including Sid Vicious, Jean-Paul Marat and the Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara. Turk's most famous work in this series, Pop (1993) is a waxwork of Turk as Sid Vicious. The work appropriates the stance of Andy Warhol's screen print of Elvis Presley. In the work, the right hand is pointing a gun, a motif which recurs in other works in the series, such as Bum (1998).

Turk has appropriated recognisable elements from artists such as Jacques-Louis David, Yves Klein, Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol, René Magritte, Alighiero Boetti, Robert Morris (artist) and Jasper Johns.

Elvis Presley

From 2005 Turk began producing a small number of silkscreen works on canvas, depicting himself as Elvis Presley, in a pose taken from the paintings by Andy Warhol of the same subject from the 1960s, such as Warhol's Triple Elvis. Turk applied diamond dust to some of the Elvis works made from diamanté applied to silkscreened canvas in vibrant pop colours, which sparkles in direct light. Warhol was one of the first artists to use diamond dust in his artworks. Examples of Turk's Elvis series are Diamond Yellow Elvis, 2005 and Diamond Pink Elvis, 2005.[3][4]

Che Guevara

A set of what appeared to be classic posters of Che Guevara in a beret, again revealed themselves on further scrutiny to be photos of Turk himself. Turk alleged that the management of London's (now defunct) Millennium Dome refused to display his Che Gavara (sic) sculpture, for fear of offending arms-manufacturing Dome sponsor BAe/Marconi (however a correspondent in Art Monthly magazine pointed out that work by the highly political left-wing cartoonist Ralph Steadman was being exhibited in the Dome at the same time).

Sculpture and public works

A series of three-dimensional Trompe-l'œil works includes objects cast into bronze, painted to give the appearance of the original object. Possibly his most revered works, these include bronze sculptures of plastic rubbish bags, see "Bag" (2000). Other sculptures include "Nomad" (2002), a bronze cast of a sleeping bag, and Box (2002), which resembles a cardboard box. Turk is perhaps the leading exponent of the painted bronze, and has cast objects from spent matches to worn paving slabs to discarded vehicle exhaust pipes.

In December 2009, Turk took part in the "Bricks" exhibition at Area 10 in Peckham in Southeast London. However, the day before the exhibition was to start, organizers noticed that his piece entitled "Revolting Brick" had been stolen and replaced with a fake brick. The fake brick held the words "Thank You Have a Nice Day, Next" and was part of a set of 500 that was given away at the exhibition. "Revolting Brick" was number eight in a series of ten that Turk had created and signed. The artist stated that he "was upset but flattered" at what had happened and that the theft "raises questions about value and worth".[5]

In May 2011, Turk's first large-scale, 12-metre public sculpture was unveiled between the One New Change City mall, designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel, and St Paul's Cathedral.


Gavin Turk has exhibited widely internationally. His solo exhibitions include 'L'Amour Fou', David Nolan Gallery, New York City (2013), 'Türk', Galerist, Istanbul, Turkey (2012), 'Gavin & Turk', Ben Brown Gallery, London (2013), 'Jack Shit!', Aeroplastics, Brussels, Belgium (2011), 'Before The World Was Round', Galerie Krinzinger, Vienna, Austria (2011) and 'En Face', Galerie Almine Rech, Paris, France (2010), 'The Mirror Stage', Goodman Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa (2009),[6] 'Burnt Out', Kunsthaus Baselland, Basel, Switzerland (2008), 'Piss Off', Galerie Krinzinger, Vienna, Austria (2008) and 'Negotiation of Purpose', GEM Museum for Contemporary Art, The Hague, Netherlands (2007). Additionally, Turk has had solo exhibitions at Sean Kelly Gallery, New York (2005), the New Art Centre Sculpture Park and Gallery, Salisbury, England (2003), the New Art Gallery in Walsall, England (2002), and "The Stuff Show" at South London Gallery (1998).[7]

Recent group exhibitions include 'Street', New Art gallery Walsall (2012), 'Made in Britain: Contemporary Art from the British Council Collection', Sichuan (2012), 'Deja-vu? The Art of Copying from Dürer to You Tube', Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe, Germany (2012), 'Twenty', Aurel Scheibler, Berlin, Germany (2012), 'The Art of Chess', Bendigo Gallery; University of Queensland Art Museum, Australia (2012), 'Identity Theft', Mimmo scognamiglio Arte Contemporanea, Milan, Italy (2010), 'Pop Life: Art in a Material World', Tate Modern, London (2009), 'The Third Dimension, Whitechapel Art Gallery', London (2009), 'DLA Piper Series: This is Sculpture', Tate Liverpool, Liverpool (2009), Turk has also been involved in "teach-in" events such as "The Che Gavara (sic) Story" (2001).[8]


In August 2014, Turk was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to The Guardian expressing their hope that Scotland would vote to remain part of the United Kingdom in September's referendum on that issue.[9]

In November 2018, Turk was one of 82 people arrested during a coordinated occupation of five bridges in Central London. The demonstration which was co-ordinated by Extinction Rebellion, was to raise the awareness of climate change. Turk said, “It seems like everyone is in an odd sense of denial about climate change.” [10]

The House of Fairy Tales

In 2007 Turk established, with his partner Deborah Curtis, The House of Fairy Tales, a children's arts charity based in London, that brings together hundreds of artists, performers, actors, writers and philosophers to deliver theatrical events, guides and exhibitions. The project continues to further community education projects based around, supported by, and advocating art. The House of Fairy Tales tour the country in a mobile gallery horse box which made its festival debut at the 2008 Crunch festival in Hay-on-Wye. In 2009, they appeared at the Glastonbury Festival.[11] In the summer of 2009, The House of Fairy Tales also staged The Long Weekend, a pop-up festival for all ages, hosted by Tate Modern.


In 2001, Turk was awarded the Jack Goldhill Sculpture Prize for his work 'Bag' (2000) by the Royal Academy of Arts, London, who in 2007 also awarded him the Charles Wollaston award for his work 'Dumb Candle' (2007), a carving of a candle made from the top of an old broom handle.


Gavin Turk was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Arts, University of East London in 2010. Since 2012 Turk has held the post of Professor of Art and Design at Bath Spa University.[12]

Notes and references

  1. Tate Modern. (2009). 'Pop Life: Art in a Material World'. Retrieved 14 August 2012.
  2. "Photography – Victoria and Albert Museum". 18 January 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  3. Reinhold, Berkeley (6 January 2017). "How Andy Warhol was introduced to diamond dust by a diamanté dealer". the Guardian. Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  4. Buck, Louisa (19 November 2016). "Who What When Where How and Why: Gavin Turk questions everything at Newport Street Gallery". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  5. Gammell, Caroline (8 December 2009). "Gavin Turk brick worth £3,000 is stolen and replaced by 40 pence equivalent". The Daily Telegraph.
  6. Goodman Gallery artist's page: 'Gavin Turk, solo exhibition: The Mirror Stage'. Retrieved 14 May 2013. Archived 10 June 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  7. Preece, R. J. (2005) 'Gavin Turk interview'. artdesigncafe. Retrieved 14 May 2013.
  8. Jones, Jonathan. (22 January 2001). 'Glad to be Che', The Guardian. Retrieved 16 January 2010.
  9. "Celebrities' open letter to Scotland – full text and list of signatories". The Guardian. London. 7 August 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  10. Laville, Sandra (18 November 2018). "Artist Gavin Turk arrested in London climate change protest". the Guardian. Retrieved 18 November 2018.
  11. 'The House of Fairy Tales (London) website'. Retrieved 16 January 2010.
  12. "Weldon and Hensher head to Bath Spa". The Bookseller. Retrieved 9 November 2012.
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