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Natty Brooker's Spaced-Out Art

Former Spacemen 3 member Will Caruthers curates an exhibition of the friend, artist and collaborator who created their unique visual aesthetic

British artist Natty Brooker, best known for his collaborations with the legendary bands Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized, is debuting his life’s work in England for the first time this week. His friend and former band mate Will Caruthers, who curated the exhibition and helped track down Brooker’s missing works, talks about looking back on a lifetime mapped out in art, and how Brooker’s terminal illness makes the retrospectives of his tripped-out art in London and Sheffield even more poignant.

Dazed Digital: This exhibition has been shown in other cities around the world but now it’s finally coming to London. What’s the significance of this location?
Will Caruthers:
It's the first one in England, so it's the first show where all the ex-members of the related bands will be able to see the exhibition and perform. It will also be the first time we will have been in the same room for quite a long time and should prove to be a very interesting evening.

Dazed Digital: Which pieces hold the fondest memories for you?
Will Caruthers:
 OOZING THROUGH THE OZONE LAYER because it was on the wall of my flat in Rugby for a good few years. Natty gave it to me in 1987. The yellowish tinge of the print is due to the huge amount of smoking that went on around it. I guess every print holds the mark of the people who had the originals. Each of the pieces hold memories for me because they were nearly all owned by close friends so I remember them from those people’s houses. It was quite strange to see them all together for the first time.

Dazed Digital: Was Natty more easily able to create something which really chimed with the bands because he was involved with the bands himself?
Will Caruthers:
 Natty was such a huge part of the whole Spacemen aesthetic that he couldn't fail. I remember seeing the devil and angel from Lazer Guided Melodies for the first time. It was such an unusual piece, yet it became the dominant image for Spiritualized during the release of that album. Apart from a few minor changes to Natty's original design – the angel had a breast reduction and lost her tambourine – it was entirely his choice and direction, and it was absolutely fitting and unique. I believe that the person who turned it into a statue and photographed it for the album won an award for it. Natty didn't.

Dazed Digital: Was it difficult to track down a lot of the work given Natty’s penchant for giving work away?
Will Caruthers:
 We didn't manage to get hold of everything we would have liked, but on the whole people were happy to lend us the work and to help out. There are certain pieces that even Natty can't remember where they went. He has some of the originals and I have a couple. The others were mainly with people I am still in contact with, so it wasn't too difficult to persuade them to part with them for a few days.
There was a bit of a frantic search for The Guitarist, with the original seemingly lost. Luckily, there was a scan taken some years before and a quick forage through my mum's attic turned it up. I was on the phone from Berlin: "Try the red box with the Balinese mask on top!" ...buried treasure you know.

Dazed Digital: Does this show have a new poignancy for you both now that Natty has been diagnosed with terminal cancer?
Will Caruthers:
 All of these pieces are so much a part of my life and are bound up with memories of my misspent youth in Rugby that looking back on them is a lesson in mortality and the passage of time. I spent the night at Natty's house a while back and we ended up laughing pretty hard about some of the things we had got up to, and some of the people we knew. He was talking about all the things he wanted to do in the limited time he has left. His illness was the spur for this show. It puts things in perspective for me and hopefully for everyone else involved.
Life is short. I think he really deserves wider recognition for his talents, and I hope he gets it before he dies. I try not to let sadness get in the way, and his attitude to the whole thing is totally inspiring.

In addition to the art on display, the London Launch event will feature appearances from Sonic Boom, Gruff Rhys and Dan Treacy. Will Carruthers, Jonny Mattock, Mark Refoy, Roscoe, Kevin Shields, Pat Fish, Bassman and Natty himself (health permitting ) will also be in attendance. Charitable donations will be accepted on the door.

Opening events in London/Sheffield
July 15 – Hoxton Bar and Grill, London (8pm – 1am)
July 17 – Smart Art Galleries, 249 Baslow Road, Sheffield (8pm -1am)