On Sunday 29th January, Desert Island Discs celebrates its 75th birthday, turning three quarters of a century old in style with David Beckham as the guest.
Over the years there have been plenty of artists chosen to be cast away: from Peter Scott, interviewed by Roy Plomley back in 1951, to Yinka Shonibare, who appeared in March 2016. From a long list of formidable talent we're highlighting five of our favourite interviews with castaway artists.
1. Duncan Grant, 1975
While just under 12 minutes of the interview with Grant have survived from the archive, they're well worth listening to. They include such delights as the competing BBC accents of Plomley and Grant, Plomley's clipped and to-the-point questioning (on the Bloomsbury Group: 'Some good parties, one gathers?' Grant: 'Yes, excellent, delightful, and helpful.'), and Grant recalling a bizarre practical joke in which he and Virginia Woolf dressed as princes from Abyssinia and were taken on board a naval ship.
When asked what inspired him to take up painting in the first place, Grant replies:
'Early on at school, my school-lady was sent a large and important book on Burne-Jones, and this was an absolute revelation to me, the feelings I had were fairly ascetic ones, and I'd never had them before... I think that was a point in my life which was very important, because it put me on the way... never have I forgotten him, although I've had many other influences'.
2. Maggi Hambling, 2005
Well-known for her sculptures A Conversation with Oscar Wilde and Scallop, Hambling is a mischievous and fascinating interviewee. Her deep, sometimes gravelly, voice adds an air of gravitas to her record choices, even when she chooses, as her preferred track above all of the others, Marilyn Monroe's Runnin' Wild, due to her love for the film Some Like it Hot. Perhaps more in character, she chooses the wine cellar of All Soul's College, Oxford, as her luxury.
Questioned about her art by Sue Lawley, she says:
‘Someone once said to me that one is never alone when one’s working. And unless the work is one’s best friend, I think one might as well not do it. It has to be the absolute priority... (you can go to your work) when miserable, when you’re bored, whether you’re tired, whether you’re randy, whatever you’re feeling, you can go to your work and have a conversation with it... sometimes you work on a painting for two, three, four months and then have to destroy it... and that painting can happen in a morning, but it couldn’t happen unless I’d done that piece of rubbish before’.
3. Tracey Emin, 2005
Early on in the programme, Sue Lawley asks Emin about the fact that some of her small, quiet watercolours were displayed along with her famous My Bed – but weren't mentioned at all in the press. Could she have enjoyed the success, fame and recognition that she has if she had stuck to the watercolours only? Considered and softly spoken, Emin replies:
'As an artist, to get some kind of notoriety, or some kind of credit or fame, then you have to make a seminal piece of work. You have to change the face of what people understand as art, or as contemporary art. I've done that with two pieces of work – I've done it with my tent, I've done it with my bed... most artists, no matter how successful they are, and even if they earn a really good living, the majority of them don't make anything seminal in their life... whether people think it's good, or bad, or rubbish, I have done it. That's the difference. Picasso did it with Cubism. That's what the difference is.'
4. Molly Parkin, 2011
Larger-than-life, draped in vibrant fabrics and described as the 'Grand Dame' of bohemian living: Molly Parkin is amazingly open in her interview, requiring little probing by Kirsty Young to give up the most intimate of details. She was 79 when she appeared on the programme in all her bohemian finery, and as she chooses Bette Midler singing 'Accentuate the Positive' as her first record, Parkin affirms, 'I believe however low you go, there's always a little shimmer of light somewhere to focus on'.
Unprompted, Parkin says of her third choice of record – Louis Armstrong's A Kiss to Build a Dream On – 'When I came to London, left art school and started teaching at Elephant and Castle, I met a Welsh jazz pianist... he said to me, Moll, there's somebody appearing in London, a black musican – he wasn't well known at that point – Louis Armstrong, and you've got to see him, Moll. And so I did go, and at the end... I was in fragments of joy, the delirium of hearing this jazz for the first time, and seeing him play, the love of life that came from him. He caught hold of me and whispered in my ear "you're mine for tonight honey"... he just stopped me... and kissed me full on the lips. I'd never been kissed like that before, and do you know he set my blood boiling... so he's remained with me.'
5. Steve McQueen, 2014
He's eloquent, humble, interesting and his choice of music is brilliant (that last one might be subjective) – Steve McQueen's Desert Island Discs is an absolute pleasure to listen to, if only to hear anew the strains of Prince, Michael Jackson, The Specials and Kate Bush.
McQueen talks about how he was passed over at school, his future considered already 'tied up' when he was 13 years old. Art, he says, was his salvation, the first time he could properly breathe and let out his ideas: '...it was wonderful, it was discovery, it was freedom'.
When asked about the number of forms his work has taken over the years, he replies: ‘Yes, there’s no differentiation of film, or art, for me... art is one thing. Film, as if film is the a novel, and fine art being the poetry – it’s the same thing, but saying it in a different way... it’s all about ideas for me, but the ideas ask for the form. You’re led by the idea and what it wants to be, how it wants to represent itself, and sometimes it wants to be a photograph, sometimes it wants to be an artwork, sometimes it wants to be a narrative feature film’.
You can search through the whole Desert Island Discs archive, and find out which other artists have been cast away, here.
Molly Tresadern, Art UK Content Creator and Marketer