When an artist says his inspiration is former Everton FC title-winning manager Howard Kendall, you know you are dealing with someone unusual. When he also cites Paul Weller and Morrissey, new wave and funk, and says he prefers to call his works “songs”, it’s obvious he is not your usual painter.
Then Persi Darukhanawala, from Kennington, says: “I don’t really like museums and I don’t think of myself as an artist,” and it is clear his mindset is fairly unique. The art world does not seem to mind, though. The Zanzibar-born Zoroastrian artist has been shortlisted this year for the prestigious International Art Olympia Prize in Tokyo – one of the richest cash pots available to painters and photographers on the planet.
A gobsmacking half a million US dollars is available in prize money, in the second staging of the event, which was launched in 2015. Final judging takes place in June in Tokyo.
Darukhanawala, a graduate of the Courtauld Institute of Art, said he was pleased to have got this far. “I’m delighted to be in the final judging,” he said.
“Anything beyond this selection would be a bonus – winning would mean I don’t have to worry about money so much for a few years.
“I militate against the noise and sentimentality of the modern world. I am in revolt against many things around me. There is anger at a lot of things going on.”
His entry is called Zero Revolutions per Minute. He said: “White is an important colour in Persian Zoroastrian culture, and the minimality of my work is in stark contrast, I guess, to much of the maximal sentimentality and ‘noise’ of modern culture. My work is almost silent but in constant flux.”
Darukhanawala, who lives and works on the same Georgian square that was home to modern British master, Craigie Aitchison, was asked to submit a “statement” to the judges, but instead sent them a “non-statement”.
He said: “I have no statement to make as an artist. I don’t know even if I am an artist. I’m a human being (just) who makes pictures (I think of them as ‘songs’).
“My art communicates – mostly in ways I can’t forecast or fathom. It is psychological. I don’t want a great deal to do with the traditional frameworks of meaning around me, be they artistic, political, aesthetic or moral.
“I am deeply sceptical and suspicious of the myths that sustain the stone-cold digital-capitalist machine prevalent where I live. I’m (just) a small person who is almost silent – only almost – in largest measure thanks to my picture-songs.”
He added: “If people ask me what my art means, I say ‘You tell me’ because they can often find things I don’t see.
“I need to keep my independence and integrity – or I might as well have become and accountant.
“I once worked as a consultant in insurance and it did not speak to me. It is fair to say it is the opposite of what I wanted to do. But I have not taken art seriously until recently.
“Paul Weller’s songs, like In The City and This is the Modern World, mean something to me and I like to express that.
“And Morrissey makes poetry out of the everyday in songs like Reel Around the Fountain. “My inspirations are also Goethe, Roger Hilton, Howard Kendall – former manager of my beloved Everton – and Milan Kundera.”
Raphael Woolf, lecturer in philosophy and vice dean at King’s College London said: “His lines, shapes and strokes are ever in movement: in his head, before he puts them on paper; during the very action-oriented act of painting; and, perhaps most notably, after they have been made and hang on the wall.
“Forever changing, they are laden with purpose and in constant conversation with the viewer. I don’t really know anyone else working in this way and producing this kind of strikingly original work.”
Art Olympia seeks to uncover and support talented artists from all over the world. In 2015, 4,200 works were entered from 52 countries. This year, there have been more than 1,700 entries from 81 countries. Only four works from the UK made it through to the final stages in 2015.
The international entries were judged in New York by a distinguished panel of judges that included executive director of New York’s The Drawing Centre, Brett Littman, director at New York’s Gagosian Gallery Kara Vander Weg, and curator of American Art at the Centre Pompidou Foundation in New York, Florence Derieux. The aim of the prize is to develop a “hub for cultural exchange among world artists”; to “discover talented artists who can succeed globally”, and to “create a new art by world artists for the next generation.”
Zero Revolutions per Minute has already flown to Tokyo and will be exhibited alongside works by the other finalists from June 17 to 25 at the Toshima City Government Office in the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo.