Adam Neate: Art for the people
By Richard Haugh
His artwork sells for thousands of pounds and he's widely regarded as one of the leading contemporary artists in Britain, so why does Adam Neate continue to give work away for free?
It's May 2008 and Adam Neate's work in a joint show with Ron English at London's Elms Lesters gallery has sold out.
It's further proof, if any was needed, that Ipswich-born Neate is one of the stars of the contemporary art scene and one of the most sought after.
Yet six months later Neate is planning to give away work valued at £1million by leaving pieces scattered around the streets of London.
The show, taking place on Friday 14 November, is a return to the process which Neate used to build his profile in the first place - having left around 6000 original paintings on the streets.
"Between dusk and dawn teams of distributors are going to leave 1000 pieces of my artwork around London, encompassing the whole city," Neate said. "It's going to be even distribution across the whole of London and not discriminating between areas.
"I've always dreamt of being able to do an entire city in one day and being able to work in the gallery and sell paintings has helped me fund my project that I've wanted to do."
Neate has taken inspiration from Andy Warhol by working with a team to reproduce his original work.
"I haven't actually touched them. They're multiples of a screenprint and stamping, kind of paint on cardboard and wrapped in cellophane. So they're a mass produced object if you like but the whole image remains the same as the concept I had for the image, but just different people using different combination of things to make it.
One of the 1000 pieces being given away
"No one is the same - they've all got different colours or different positions. It's a combination of elements I set it to require to make the image."
The image itself is a portrait of a man.
"I think portraits are quite engaging paintings. A portrait is the easiest image to look at and kind of interpret and understand with regards to another human's face with emotions and what have you.
"I felt that was the easiest image to use as a beginning point anyway.
"When I first started leaving work in the streets I was only able to paint like 1000 a year on average, so I could leave maybe at most 20 a day if I could paint 20 a night.
"So this new project is merely being able to push it to another level."
Giving something back
The London show is a personal offering of thanks from Neate to the street, the only place to welcome the work of a Suffolk College design graduate wanting to become a painter.
"Whilst living in Ipswich I finished my studies and got a job, like most people have to do, but I wanted to start painting as I didn't really do any at college but I always knew I wanted to paint.
"So I started painting for friends, and friends of friends, and people would come round my flat and see these funny little paintings on cardboard and they'd want one. And then I ran out of people to paint for so I started painting for myself really - I was in the swing of just enjoying painting.
"After a while my flat was getting full of all these paintings. I had this idea to do some good with them and maybe give them to charity shops in Ipswich.
"So each morning I'd bundle up a dozen or so in to bin liners and drop them outside charity shops around the town and then go to work, thinking they could do something with them.
"But then one day, after a few weeks, I was on my way home and I saw the same bag of paintings outside this charity shop and thought 'oh, they haven't looked at them'.
"But I looked closer and realised they had looked at them and stuffed them back in the bag - and left them out with the rubbish.
"So that was a bit of a turning point where I thought not even the charity shops want my paintings - I can't give them away.
"So I picked them up and started walking home with them and then realised my flat's full of paintings anyway, I haven't really got space for these anymore.
"So I thought I'm going to leave them in the streets.
"Just as a kind of a surreal thing to do - prop them up on lampposts, or doors, wheelie bins - just as a little exhibition in the streets. It all started from there really."
For an artist whose Suicide Bomber painting sold at Sotheby's for £79,500 in 2007 to return to the streets a year later is admirable, and it's a gesture which appears to be made with genuine admiration.
And for those who miss out, Neate says he's considering repeating the project elsewhere in the future.
"We'll see how it goes with this one, if people like it or what kind of feedback we get. But there could always be the New York show, or the Manchester show, or the Birmingham show, or the Paris show.
"It's whether or not my friends will be willing to stick with me doing that I suppose."
last updated: 14/11/2008 at 13:14
Have Your Say
My son Thomas was with his school for one week in London,we live in the North of Holland.Sunday he arrived and he tould that he has a present for me.it was a painting and he told that he found near High Barnet station,his teacher said to him please do not take with you maybe there are drugs inside she asked him not to take to holland and also the other teacher asked him what do you want with that thing is useless please put it away,Thomas said:no.no.I like it is very nice and I will give it my mum ,he said. 1 day after he came at home I was watching televisin the news at 22.00 hour.And then heard somthing about an artist in London and then I saw the painting, nearly the same as he brought at home. I was suprised and I was looking for my son and I told him there is something with the painting you gave to me,after that we saw the artist on tv and what he did that evening,he gave 1000 paintings away.Is is very special and I gave it back to him.Befor we knew that it was really art he asked me when I have my own house can I get it back.Ofcourse I said.I really like it that he loved it at once and that did not listen to his teachers.he has a good eye and feeling for art.This will always be in his memory,The streets of London.
Thats an amazing idea, its good to hear of people doing things just because they want to, and not for money. Sounds great, I wish I could be there to see it!
I picked up one of these paintings and thought it was fabulous - however it was placed on a war memorial and didn't realise i was meant to take it! So I put it back! :(
This is one of the coolest things I've ever heard! I picked up the story on the World Service late last night and this morning thought I had dreamt it! What a great idea! Well done, Adam, you are a truly creative genius and a top human being.