Billy Childish

Billy Childish
Photo by: Wolf Howard
Born Steven John Hamper
Dec. 1, 1959
Nationality English
Field Painting
Works View Complete Works

Born in 1959 in Chatham, Kent, England, Steven John Hamper, known as Billy Childish, is a multi-talented artist, who advocates amateurism, and free, emotional expression through art. A co-founder of the Stuckism art movement in 1999, Childish promotes figurative painting as opposed to conceptual art, and a quest for making art a part of personal discovery. Billy Childish, with over ten aliases, is considered to be the most prolific of painters, poets, and song-writers of his generation, and is considered a cult icon.

Early Life

While growing up in Chatham, with a brother and abusive father, Billy experienced a great deal of trauma. When he was seven, his father abandoned home, and Billy was sexually abused by a male friend of the family’s at age nine. Billy left high school at age sixteen, while struggling with undiagnosed dyslexia, and became an apprentice stonemason at the Naval Dockyard in Chatham. While apprenticing for six months, Billy produced over 600 drawings in his spare time.

Upon presentation of his drawings, he was accepted into St. Martin’s School of Art in 1978, but quit one month later. He was again accepted into St. Martin’s in 1980, but was expelled from the school, for refusing to paint, along with other unruly, unorthodox behavior, and outspokenness. With no standard qualifications or job prospects on the horizon, Childish spent fifteen years living on the dole, surviving with government funding, using the alias Kurt Schwitters.

Billy became Artist in Residence at the Chatham Historic Dockyard, where at age 52, he currently works. Within a twenty-year period Childish has created over 2,000 paintings, has published over 40 collections of poetry, and has made over 100 independent records, as of 2012.

Art Philosophy

A self-proclaimed amateur, Billy feels that it frees him to explore art, making it fun. He does not believe in expectations, and recognizes that we are all human, not professional artists. Childish does not believe in the need to prove oneself with a title of professional artist. He feels that amateurs produce art through love, and professional artists produce for wealth. He believes that honesty in art is a very rare thing, and that art and life, should be a spiritual journey in which you can learn about life, and grow from life’s experiences.

While Childish likes recognition for his art and achievements, he does not believe in making achievement of recognition his goal in life. Art to Childish, is a way to meet limitations and humaneness, so that we can know and like ourselves with all faults included. Art is an outlet for our subconscious mind, and a relief from daily pressures and stress. Art should be engaged openly, and should be honest, and the amateur should not use art to impress anyone.

Billy Childish and His Art

Billy Childish uses worldly themes for his art. War, social protest issues, history, religious philosophy, sexual abuse, and alcoholism are a few of his most predominant themes. These are themes which are very personal to Billy, as he battled alcoholism for fifteen years. Buddhist retreats and alcoholism were used to help with the emotional pain experienced, due to physical, mental, and sexual abuse as a boy.

Childish has been called unconventional, rebellious, and a controversial visionary. His style is highly individualized, and varied. His poetry consists of spelling errors, lacks an author’s name, and usually deals with Billy’s personal life and adventures. His music group The Musicians of the British Empire, features homemade punk, rock and roll, and rhythm and blues music that is categorized as garage rock. Billy reinvents the group every five years or so, starting from scratch.

Billy Childish art forms consist of woodcuts, collages, paintings, and Pin-Hole Camera photography. His paintings are created using etching, watercolors, oils, charcoal and sketches. His paintings are signed using a number of aliases or name variations such as Bill Hamper, Guy Hamper, Jack Ketch, Gus Claudius, Danger Bill Henderson or a gallows insignia. The Chatham Super-8 Cinima is Billy’s film art, and he makes his films on a camera which was bought at a flea market.

Art Works

Billy uses a variety of materials, such as charcoal, oil, watercolor, or a mixture. Man Walking Up a Snowy Slope is a unique etching which is hand-painted in watercolors, while Lt. Sydney A. Cloman is on linen, using charcoal and oils. While he does many woodcuts such as Billy and Tracey, they are not necessarily his favorites to work on, but he will do them upon request. Childish has solo, and group exhibitions internationally in New York, London, Seoul, and Berlin.

Billy Childish is a unique and often misunderstood British artist. Art without boundaries, and restrictive techniques, allows this amateur artist to reveal part of himself. A successful portrait or painting to Childish, is one which reveals something, and his art does just that. Childish believes that people play a role in the big play of life. The role change with each scene, but the constant is being yourself. This philosophy of his art work has brought this amateur great international recognition and fame.