Read the Chris McQueer short story: IS IT ART?
Chris McQueer's stories are beautifully profane & fucking hilarious, yet often echo with the truth of working class lives too rarely seen in literature. A live scene regular, he's now put them to page for debut collection Hings. Read IS IT ART? here
Crawford stood alone in the art gallery. It was a rainy Tuesday afternoon and he had the entire place to himself. Studying the scene in front of him, he stroked his beard. He allowed his mind to wander as he considered what the artist behind this piece could have been trying to convey. In front of him stood a concrete bollard. Resting on top of the bollard was a ball of multi-coloured wool. Crawford postulated that the wool perhaps represented the creatives of the world while the concrete stood as the uncultured proletariat. Perhaps, he thought, the whole thing was a scathing attack on the capitalist system. Or maybe it was…
Crawford’s contemplation was disturbed by the presence of someone standing directly behind him, chewing loudly. The sound of lip smacking and heavy breathing filled the empty gallery. Crawford sighed, turning round to see who had ruined the ambience. He was met with the scornful gaze of a teenage boy, maybe about 15, holding a box of chicken nuggets.
"Wit’s this aw aboot, mate?" the teenager asked him.
"Um, I’m sorry?" Crawford said. He always felt intimidated by the working class.
"That," the teenager nodded at the concrete and wool exhibit in front of Crawford. "Wit’s it aw aboot?"
"Well, um, I think, in my opinion, it’s ummm…" Crawford stumbled over his words; he hadn’t expected to be put on the spot like this. He didn’t really know much about art. He just liked to kid on he did. It made him feel clever. Like when his pals spoke about Eastern European politics or something, he knew no one really had a clue what they were saying, they were just regurgitating facts they’d memorised from the paper in order to feel smart. "I think what the artist is trying to portray here is the, um, class struggle as viewed by–"
Crawford was cut off as the box of mechanically-reclaimed chicken was thrust into his face. "Ahm Deek, by the way," announced the teenager, "Want a nugget?"
Crawford struggled to process what was going on. Sizing Deek up, he noted he looked like a caricature of a ned. He had a standard short back and sides haircut with the rest of his hair gelled forward. He was wearing a bright blue tracksuit, the joggies tucked into yellowy-white sports socks. Topping off the look was a pair of chunky red trainers.
Crawford declined Deek’s offer of a nugget. "Um, no thanks," he said. "I try not to eat junk food."
"Suit yerself," Deek said and ate the last one, dropping the empty box and wiping his hands on his tracksuit top. "Wit is this meant tae be exactly, mate? You look smart. Wit is it? And wit’s the deal wi your accent? Where ye fae?"
"Well, I suppose, technically, it’s a sculpture or maybe it would be classed as an installation. And I’m from Hillhead, Byres Road actually."
"Hmmm," Deek mused, stroking his own bum bluff covered chin. "Is it art though?"
Crawford snorted. ‘Of course it’s art.’
Deek walked around the concrete bollard, rubbing his greasy hands on his tracksuit top. "Is it though? Ah mean, don’t get me wrang, ah don’t know much aboot art. Ahm just here incase anycunt catches me doggin school, but it disnae look like art tae me."
"Just because it doesn’t conform to normal artistic styles it doesn’t mean it’s not art."
"Dunno man. Bein honest, ah hink it’s a bit shite."
Deek shrugged and turned his back on Crawford and made his way to another gallery. Crawford shook his head. He went to join Deek in the other gallery, leaving the empty chicken nugget box behind. He decided he was going to try and educate this lad.
In the next gallery, Deek stood watching a video on a giant screen. One by one, glass bottles of juice were dropped from a great height and onto a pristine white surface while a woman’s voice recited the names of the different kinds of juice as the bottles smashed.
"Pineappleade. Smash. Limeade. Smash. Cream Soda. Smash. Lemonade. Smash," and on she went.
"Here," Deek motioned for Crawford to join him in front of the screen. "Ye cannae say this is art, surely? That’s just makin a fuckin mess."
Crawford sneered at Deek’s ignorance once again. "The artist is obviously trying to get a point across," he said. "Maybe it’s about the fragility of man’s ego?"
Crawford turned to see Deek’s bewildered face.
"Maybe the burd joost disnae like gless boattils ae ginger? This isnae art either."
"Well what exactly would you class as art then, Deek?"
Deek looked deep in thought for a moment. "Ah want tae see what else there is in here. Then ah’ll show you wit art is, mate."
"Okay," Crawford said. "It’s a deal."
Upstairs, they explored a gallery displaying a range of rubber fetish-wear. Gas masks, gimp suits and all manner of imposing black instruments adorned the walls. Crawford felt a bit uneasy about being seen with a minor in this room so he tried to make this viewing a quick one.
"OOFT," Deek announced, touching a shiny black gimp suit. "Is this wit goths wear cutting aboot the hoose?"
Crawford rubbed the back of his head. Deek clocked his uneasiness straight away.
"You no intae this kind ae hing then, big man?"
"No, I can’t say I’ve ever tried it."
"Wit? Shagging?" Deek laughed, examining a huge double-ended dildo.
"No, I mean, just not, um, this kind of, um…" Deek burst into laughter.
"Ahm pullin yer pisser," he said, breezing past Crawford and out of the gallery. "Moan, big man. This place is fuckin weird."
Crawford found himself following Deek through the streets of Glasgow. "Where are we going exactly?" he asked his new pal.
"We’re gawn tae see some REAL art, mate."
Deek took Crawford on the bus to Easterhouse. The furthest east Crawford had ventured before this trip was to the gentrified area of Dennistoun. This was an entirely different world to the one Crawford inhabited despite only being 20 minutes away from where he lived.
Hopping off at the shopping centre, Deek motioned for Crawford to follow him. They made their way to a pub where Deek stopped to talk to one of the many grim faces huddled outside.
"Da," Deek said to a man who looked like a smaller, dehydrated version of himself. "This is Crawford. Ahm gonnae show him mah art."
"Fucking art," Deek’s da snorted. "Should you no be in school?"
"It’s an, eh, in-service day. Tell mah maw ah’ll be in fur dinner, awrite?"
Deek’s da blew smoke in Crawford’s face. "Nae bother."
"Moan," Deek motioned for Crawford to follow him again.
"What do you mean your art? You said to your dad you were going to show me your art."
"Aye," Deek said. "Exactly. Mah art. Ahm something of an artist maself."
"No way? Really?"
"Aw aye. Ah’ll show ye. Ah’ve goat a wee ‘installation’ as you might say roon fae mah hoose."
Crawford and Deek stood in front of a dilapidated garage covered in graffiti. In amongst the various FUCK THE POLIS and hash leaf daubings, some more wholesome things were sprayed in pink paint on the wall.
LIVE, LAUGH AND LOVE said one, nestled beneath a crudely drawn dick. FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS said another. Crawford stood open-mouthed.
"Was this you?" he said, stunned.
"Aye," Deek replied proudly, puffing out his chest. "Ah like tae think ae maself as, like, a mare positive version ae that cunt Banksy."
"This is beautiful, Deek. I mean the juxtaposition of the positivity of your messages and the language of the streets is just staggering. I love it. And this mural," Crawford ran his hands over a painting of a young couple, both clad in Kappa gear from head to toe, "is just stunning." Crawford couldn’t wait to tell his friends about Deek’s work. ‘Outsider art’ he was sure they called this kind of thing. He imagined himself hosting an exhibition of Deek’s work and being hailed as a hero for discovering this incredible new artist from the fringes of society. He wasn’t usually one for thinking about money, but he could see himself now as Deek’s agent, making them both an absolute fortune. Deek also had visions of making some money as he watched Crawford bend over to inspect his work more closely: Deek noticed Crawford’s wallet peeking out of his back pocket. It was too good an opportunity to resist. Deek grabbed the wallet out of Crawford’s chino pocket and bolted away down the street. Crawford felt himself go red in the face and felt his now-empty back pocket with a shaking hand.
"Cheers, mate. You’re the only person that likes it though. Everycunt else just hinks ahm weird. Especially mah da. He fuckin hates it."
"You’re right ah fuckin hate it," said a gravelly voice from behind Deek and Crawford. It was Deek’s da.
"Your son has a real talent," said Crawford, his voice quivering as he tried to defend Deek. "And it’s a shame you won’t encourage him."
Deek stood in silence.
"Know where he gets that talent fae, eh?" Deek’s da pointed a finger at his own chest. "Me – that’s who. Ye know who ah um, mate?"
Crawford shook his head. He felt his mouth go dry as Deek’s da took a step towards him. Even though he was a small man, he looked like he could fight like fuck.
At this, Crawford breathed a sigh of relief. This guy was obviously at the wind up.
"You are Banksy?"
"Ye fuckin deef as well as stupit? That’s wit ah said."
"Prove it," Crawford said smugly.
"Just look right there," Deek’s da pointed to the mural. "There’s a wee signature ah added. It’s in aw mah work. Just look, mate."
Crawford went up to the wall and studied the mural.
"I can’t see anything," he said, squinting hard with his hands on his hips.
"Look closer," Deek said. "He’s right."
As Crawford bent over, inspecting the mural, Deek looked at his da. His da replied with a wink. Deek pulled Crawford’s wallet quickly out of the back pocket of his chinos and sprinted down the street, laughing.
Crawford felt himself go red in the face and felt his now-empty back pocket with a shaking hand. He felt sick. Deek and his da had made him look like a right tit.
"Fuck you and yer daft accent!" Deek’s da shouted back at Crawford. He high-fived his son and they both headed back to the pub.
Hings is out on 27 Aug, published by 404 Ink, RRP £8.99
Catch Chris McQueer at Flint & Pitch on 27 Aug from 9pm, as part of Edinburgh International Book Festival's free Unbound series of events, free entry