Shallow Not Stupid

At the exhibit Daydreaming with Stanley Kubrick (Somerset House, London), I kept expecting to see a chocolate log covered with custard or a big trifle with the director’s bearded face bending towards it. This is a memory, not a daydream, of the silent dessert-eating contests I had with Stanley Kubrick when I lived in his caravan.

The Kubrick mystique — imprinted on the 20th century through the noirish melodrama of his early movies, the ultra-violent cult of Clockwork Orange, and the iconic 2001: A Space Odyssey (which still feels modern even though it has aged) — co-exists in my imagination with the man who ate custard.

When I was young, I ran away to London and moved into Hyde Park. The boy sleeping under the next tree was an extra in a Stanley Kubrick movie. Stanley heard that Mad Jack was sleeping in the park and invited him to live in his caravan, which was parked on the movie set. And the actor, who was really an artist, invited me.

Who knows if Stanley regretted his decision to let me eat in the commissary. You can’t tell to look at me how much I can pack in. Stanley’s plate was overloaded with chocolate log, custard, cheesecake, crumble, any pudding going. Sugar is evil, but it depends on your attitude whether an addiction to cakes is humiliating. 
Stanley, a naturally competitive man, was too dignified to acknowledge our contest out loud. Usually I won, but I cheated by not having a main course first.

The artists in Daydreaming have responded to Kubrick’s work, taking a theme or a character and mixing it up with the landscape in their own heads. Film installations normally annoy me, but I loved Toby Dye’s, featuring Joanna Lumley in a Barry Lyndon wig having a powdered face-off with one of the Diane Arbus twins from The Shining, while Jack Torrance tries to jump out of the screen and punch the viewer. The closest thing to a cake in the show was Sarah Lucas’ plaster-cast dildo, a Clockwork Orange reference, which could be reinvented as icing sugar.

Mother of modernism, Georgia O’Keeffe has a retrospective at London’s Tate Modern, which also opened this week. Her seductive, sensual flower paintings — she didn’t like them being called vaginas — have an emotional appeal. The famous Jimson Weed/White Flower Number 1 sold for $44,405,000, the most paid for a painting by a female artist, though as O’Keeffe (almost) said, “I’m an artist, not a woman.” She gave up being a poppet to devote herself to painting, quickly realizing she could stay up all night either dancing or working.

At first glance, Kubrick and O’Keeffe are opposites, exponents of the mythical right brain and left brain. Kubrick is cold and confrontational, making films about war and decay. Happily married to his artist wife Christiane, whose Rousseau-esque portrait of him in their jungle garden opens the Daydreaming show, Kubrick focuses on the breakdown of human relationships.

Jack does his psychotic best to murder his annoying wife in The Shining. Tom Cruise wants to fuck everyone except Nicole in Eyes Wide Shut, a film that presaged their real-life divorce. There are no women in Full Metal Jacket apart from a sniper and a slut. Clockwork Orange, his sexiest film, was also his most phallic. Phalluses were everywhere, from the Milk Bar’s stools to the high-rise building that droog Alex lives in, applying his eyeliner and false lashes. Banning the film, so that his daughters wouldn’t see it, was a whiplash stroke of marketing genius.

But Kubrick and O’Keeffe both had a vocation that defined them and both, despite being original and alluring in their own mysterious way, are admired for their work, not their personalities. They are the antithesis of 21st-century celebrity, and the enduring power of their art uplifts the soul.

Georgia isolated herself in the desert, Stanley in the English suburbs. Stanley didn’t go to parties; an imposter went in his place, having comp drinks at Soho’s Groucho Club, confident that the real Stanley wouldn’t show up. O’Keeffe’s desert had a lot of traffic, including Frieda Lawrence, who ate the rum baba that killed her there. Jane and Paul Bowles, who went there to write and fight, could have been characters in a Kubrick film — as could my mom, who escaped to Santa Fe to be an artist after our house burned to the ground.

And no, I didn’t start the fire. I had already run away to London and eating custard in Stanley Kubrick’s caravan when the fuse was lit on the petrol curse.

Listen to Eating Custard with Stanley Kubrick on Apple Music or read more about Kubrick’s caravan in Spying on Strange Men

The Corridor, starring Joanna Lumley and Aidan Gillen

The Second Law, by Paul Fryer

The Shining carpet, by Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin

by Philip Castle

In and Out of Space, by Charlotte Colbert

A Clockwork Britain, by Paul Insect

Metanoia, by Polly Morgan

Trident A Strange Love, by Peter Kennard

The Shining, by Gavin Turk

Requiem for 114 Radios, by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard

Twilight, Doug Aitken

The Grady Twins, by Nathan Coley