Pete Doherty is making art these days. Is there something?

If you lived through the early noughties, you may remember Pete Doherty, the gloomy lead singer of the British rock bands Babyshambles and The libertines. He suffered from a fairly public heroin addiction and once sprayed blood at an MTV camera with a needle. He was engaged to supermodel Kate Moss at the time. The couple quickly became the focus of a media frenzy; the public couldn’t get enough of the stories of their rocky relationship – and their drug use.

If there’s one thing you don’t associate Doherty with, it’s this art – but that’s exactly what he’s focused on since the end of his music career. His paintings, all made between 2005 and 2022, are now exhibited at the Janine Bean Gallery in Berlin, from September 10 until the end of the year. The most expensive piece costs – hold on – 35,000 euros.

Doherty isn’t the only celebrity in attendance Paint has been slammed after his masterpiece – Sylvester Stallone, Courtney Love and even former President George W. Bush did the same. But how do you know if an artist actually knows what he’s doing and isn’t just screaming for attention? We asked Harriet Hausslerart historian knows Free University of Berlinto review his work for us.

VICE: How do you really evaluate an exhibition?

Harriet Haussler: It’s always the same process. First I look at what is on display and then I read up on artist. What is their background? What is their influence?

This time it was easy because I already know Pete Doherty. So I was more concerned with how the art was displayed in the space because Doherty has been involved in that selection process.

At the entrance, the first thing you see is a sculpture associated with Great Britain. The exhibition therefore opens with “patriotic pride”, shall we say. At the very end, there is a closet where Doherty presents his deepest fantasies. There is something intimate about it, which is why he wanted to show it last.

How do you distinguish between good and bad art?

There is really only one objective rule: Is this work original or does it imitate others? In other words, is the artist a copyist or a genuine author? Everything else is subjective.

So is Pete Doherty a copyist or a writer?

Pete Doherty is a writer. He has created something new and individual here. You can of course recognize influences from other artists, but it is not an imitation. He’s doing something new. Thematically, he combines things like poetry, politics, identity, visual arts and music. He uses mixed materials: fine drawings, stencils, collages, brush drops. Sometimes he also works with unusual materials, such as blood.

Do you think the blood refers to his past addiction?

As a former drug addict who injected himself with the stuff, he certainly has a pretty personal connection to it. But blood has always been a theme in art.

Blood was mankind’s first color. Consider, for example, the prehistoric cave paintings. In the Middle Ages it was forbidden to paint with blood or other bodily fluids because they were considered gifts from God. In it Renaissance this ban was lifted and animal blood was used.

Since then, artists have often used bodily fluids to paint with. That Oxidation paintings from Andy Warhol are very well known: Warhol used copper paint on several canvases and then urinated on them. Due to the chemical reactions, the colors changed.

How would you describe Pete Doherty’s style?

Abstract figurative. Doherty shows both conscious and unconscious figures in his paintings: He draws figures in the background and then lets paint drip over them. The conscious figures are portrayed in a restrained manner, while the unconscious foreground is much wilder.

The unconscious partially overshadows the conscious; Doherty often does. He first does one thing and later makes something new out of it – but I don’t want to psychoanalyze it and relate it to his life.

What themes do you see in the sculpture?

You see a female body with a lampshade on her head and a guitar leaning against her leg. Her lower body is covered in some kind of flag. The colors on this carpet – red, white, blue – are of course the colors of Great Britain, but also the colors of France. Did you know that Doherty now lives by the sea in Normandy with his French wife? Which flag will feel more appropriate to him? Probably both.

The shape of the coat reminds me of the rough waves that crash on the coast of Normandy. And when you look at it that way, the lampshade almost looks like a lighthouse to let seafarers get there safely. I think Doherty is also looking for his home, his identity. The guitar is of course a symbol of the many years he spent as a musician traveling the world with this instrument – ​​perhaps without a real place to call home.

Can you see other references?

Doherty is also concerned with Britain’s historical past. The artwork to the right of the sculpture shows an old poster from a Libertines concert. The information about the time and place of the show is again templated on the paper in red, white and blue. It also says “Hong Kong”, in the same colors.

It’s all on top of an old ad for a Chinese tobacco brand. It reminds me immediately Opium Wars, which resulted in Hong Kong becoming a British colony. Of course, I also have to think of the millions of Chinese who became heavily addicted to opium. Britain and addiction: that’s where Pete Doherty is.

Can you tell from the artwork that Doherty had an eventful life?

No, I wouldn’t say that. Of course we can see his blood – one of the pictures also has his dealer’s phone number. But mainly you can see the kind of person Doherty is: someone who is constantly working, whose mind is constantly spinning, going back and forth, over and over. He is more than his past drug addiction. He has many more sides than that.

Where do you see the constant thinking reflected?

An awful lot of methods and themes come together in Doherty’s paintings. He tore off posters, redesigned them, sanded them down and put them back together. He adds new themes with his stencils and handwriting, creating connections that weren’t there before. He is constantly looking for new levels. Especially here we can see its multi-layered nature; it is always about a search, often for one’s own identity.

How does Doherty’s art differ from other contemporary art?

Doherty’s art doesn’t feel modern at all. These pieces might as well have been exhibited 60 years ago. Art at the moment is often digital and often work with social media – that is not the case here at all. On the contrary, his art is more reminiscent of bygone days.

Many famous people suddenly start painting when their careers are coming to an end. Is the art world enriched by the art of celebrities? Or would it be irrelevant if the creators weren’t famous?

Few visual artists have been equally successful in other fields. But famous singers, politicians or actors are not necessarily bad artists. But you are right, most of the art created by famous people is only famous because they are already successful. Whether that makes the art irrelevant or not is not for me to judge.

Is the art we see here “good”?

Yes, I really like the art displayed here. Pete Doherty is an artist at heart on so many levels. I think it is special how he combines poetry, music and visual art; he can certainly measure up to other artists.

This article originally appeared on VICEGermany.

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