Marianne Faithfull and John Dunbar's Innocence and Experience at Tate Liverpool

By Ben Miller | 26 April 2012
An image of a painting of two mythical sea goddesses above an ocean
William Blake, Pity (circa 1975). Colour print finished in ink and watercolour on paper© Tate
Exhibition: DLA Piper Series: Innocence and Experience (Curated by Marianne Faithfull with John Dunbar), Tate Liverpool, Liverpool, until September 2 2012

“Only 8% evil…I thought it was much more than that,” ponders Marianne Faithfull, briefly loitering before an Ed Ruscha piece, Roughly 92% Angel but About 8% Devil, in the show she has co-curated.

“All it needs really is a great ska record and it would be perfect,” she adds, looking at Ska’s Not Dead, a work by Scottish artist Jim Lambie involving a glittering pink turntable, suspended above a leather glove and safety pin.

“You can imagine putting The Israelites on it. It’s somehow very Liverpool to me.”

An image of a painting of two young figures on a bed
Nan Goldin , Greer and Robert on the bed, NYC (1982). Photograph on paper
© Nan Goldin, courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
Created with John Dunbar, the founder of the Indica Gallery during the 1960s and her husband when she met Mick Jagger, watching Faithfull swoop around the Tate space becomes part autobiography and, in turn, part bittersweet 60s reminiscence.

Indica gave Yoko Ono her first exhibition, and she was introduced to John Lennon by Dunbar. Ono’s work, Parts of a Lighthouse 1956-6, is on display, as well as a painting, by Marlene Dumas, of Lucy (Ulrike Meinhof, the German left-wing militant Faithfull wrote the track Broken English about, which plays in a separate audio-visual room).

“I called her a strong, lonely Puritan in my song, and she is. I know they say she hanged herself, but that’s not actually true. I thought she was shot in the back of the head, but you can’t see that. It’s based on a photo of her in her cell. It’s almost Medieval.”

An image of a collage showing newspaper cut-outs of various 1960s figures and stories
Richard Hamilton, Swingeing London 67 (1967-8). Lithograph on paper
© The estate of Richard Hamilton
Politics pervades the works. Suicide, painted by the German satirist George Grosz while he was temporarily discharged from the army during World War I, features a dog surveying a dead body on a blood red street.

“He painted images of murder, suicide and prostitution,” explains Faithfull, whose father was a British officer, her mother a Viennese Jew who fled her life as a dancer in Berlin to help her family during the war.

“To him, it would have been the better choice to kill yourself than to be in the German army as a serving officer.

“My dad said, ‘someone had to stop the buggers’, and many of the men from my dad’s generation would have said that.”

One of William Blake’s works, Pity, hangs next to Suicide. The show was named after an 18th century book of his poems, given to Faithfull by her father when she was little.

“I think I loved the pictures. And as I grew older I read the poems. For a child they are very simple and easy to read – I think they’re a good present – but for me it led me on.

“My father was a huge Blake fan. He gave courses and lectures about his longer poems.

“He was very fashionable in the 1960s, I was delighted to find out.”

Richard Hamilton’s Swingeing London 67, which Faithfull has at home, is arguably the central work of Innocence and Experience.

A myriad of newspaper cuttings from the arrest of Mick Jagger and his art dealer, Robert Fraser, at Keith Richards’ farmhouse, it is a therapeutic recap of a traumatic time (Fraser was imprisoned).

“The detail is fantastic. It’s serious, but it also helps you laugh at it…well it does for me, anyway.

“I will always feel that it was a terrible injustice. Keith and I are on record as saying we stopped believing in British justice after that.

“The press were trying to create an aura of real evil. You want real evil, look at Suicide. That actually is real evil, all of it: the whore in the window, the church in the background approving it, the suicide on the pavement, the dog sniffing around.”

She relates it to the modern media.

“I think it says a lot about this kind of journalism. There’s a lot going on in Britain at the moment that needs help, not phone-tapping Charlotte Church.

“Anyway, what really puts it into perspective is that I’m fine now, and I’m happy, and happy to have Richard’s beautiful work here.”

Faithfull and Dunbar divorced in 1970, but she says she was “lucky” to benefit from his knowledge of art.

“We were so young and our heads and minds were so open, so John guided me through.

“I was looking at paintings before then, but meeting him at 17 was a very good thing for me.

“We all have furniture in our mind – that’s the whole point of going to exhibitions. I can tell you that as you get older, you need it.

“A lot of these paintings do hang inside my head. But what I really mean by that is that they formed me and made me who I am.”

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