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Richie Culver
Artwork by Richie Culver

Art about drug addiction, dark secrets and despair

Berlin brought artist Richie Culver to his knees – here he talks about how he’s piecing his life back together, returning to England and the future

Three years ago artist Richie Culver moved to Berlin, looking to clean himself up and get his life back on track, he believed a change of scenery would do him good. What ended up happening, in his own words, is that he started living like a pirate. Caught up in the city’s nocturnal offerings, days dissolved into years, until Culver suddenly found himself back in London last year in a halfway house, recovering from drug addiction that had brought him to his knees.

As Culver repaired his personal life, he found himself without a gallery or representation. Stuck in the halfway house, Culver also had very little media to work with but a computer and pen and paper. As he pieced his personal life back together, Culver began working on a book that he casually refers to as his “Berlin Chronicles”.

When Shelter, an organisation that fights homelessness, approached Culver about an art exhibition, he realized the only thing he possessed that approached art was this unfinished book. So Culver lifted a few of his favorite texts from the book and blew them up as art. As he prepares to launch his first exhibition in three years, Things That Never Really Worked Out – Most Things, Culver talks to Dazed about his Berlin days and the aftermath.

What has been going on artistically and otherwise in your life since last you spoke with Dazed?

Richie Culver: I guess you could say I took a few years off, really. Moved to Berlin and kind of didn’t do too much. It was a change of scenery and it affected my creativity and lifestyle, etc. I’ve been creating but not in the sense of showing anything publically. It’s been a kind of behind-the-scenes operation.

The new work is text-based, and it started as a book project after your return from Berlin. What is it about words as art that attracts you, or did it have everything to do with necessity?

Richie Culver: I started the book when in a halfway house back in England, and (one) of the only belongings I had left was my computer, so that is one of the reasons. When this exhibition actually got presented to me it was kind of all I had, so I thought, “How can I make this work? I don’t have a studio and I haven’t been creating for quite some time.”

It was a case of going through the book that I had written, taking out aspects, and then blowing them up large scale for the exhibition. The six pieces kind of run like a book of the stuff I’ve been up to and my mental health. I know that sounds kind of intense, but that’s what a lot of it is based around. So, the words were a means to an end. The work kind of speaks for itself. It’s kind of a modern day Christiane F, I guess. Obviously I’m not a 14-year old girl, though.

Have you fully abandoned the book or do you plan to publish it?

Richie Culver: It would be great if I could answer that and say I finished it, but I actually haven’t. It’s funny how if you do the right things life can pick up again. I’m in a totally different position to where I was this time last year, just through choices and doing the right thing I guess. But, it’s definitely something I’m going to finish. It really was something to do as far as keeping any kind of creativity flowing while I was in the situation I was in.

This was basically my “Berlin Chronicles”, as it were. I actually went to Berlin to clean myself up and sort myself out, but that ended up backfiring as bad as it ever has really. I have many stories like that, so I will probably do a fuller version of everything.

What was it about Berlin that made your plans backfire?

Richie Culver: How do I say it properly? To say that I think I didn’t have respect for the city would be the wrong way of putting it. When I went to Berlin I didn’t realise it, and was warned of its trappings, but it’s a different place as far as nocturnal activities and how far you want to push it. It’s a difficult one to verbalise, but it’s almost like a kid in a sweet shop if you go there and don’t set your life up right and instead end up living like a pirate. And then days turn into weeks and weeks turn into months and then it was like two years went by.

I heard all of these stories, but never thought it would happen to me the way it did. But it was not the nightlife that brought me to my knees, it was the drugs. Certainly the whole panorama, the whole Berghain thing, I did relentlessly every week. You know, I was into techno when I was a kid but then got into different music, but then I find myself in Berlin in my early 30s and all of a sudden I was like, “Wow, techno is still really going strong”. In fact, that’s the only music there is there. (Laughs) I had no other option to get into it and give it a go. You just really have to have a structure there if you’re working in the creative fields. I had no one to answer to, really, so that’s all she wrote, man.

So you return to London from Berlin and find yourself in a halfway house. What’s going on in your mind at this time?

Richie Culver: I’d cleaned up at this point and was crackin’ on with the book, and everything was slowly getting back on track. Things kind of started falling back into place regarding my personal life as far as my family and my health, but with my work I realised, man, I’m really going to have to start from scratch again here. Galleries and representation had kind of slowly faded away. And then the Shelter thing came up, which this exhibition is linked with, and I wouldn’t have it any other way because sometimes I can create better with the less I have.

You created a piece about stealing a woman’s purse. Did this actually happen?

Richie Culver: That one is self-explanatory. It’s about the devious things I get up to with girlfriends or whomever to keep me moving forward in this life I was living.

Another piece deals with stumbling into a casino in Berlin. Was this a habit of yours?

Richie Culver: This is one of my other vices amidst it all. You know what comes with Berghain, and going from there to other clubs and casinos, and then down into the gutter to get what I needed. It’s a difficult one to describe, and I’d like people to have their own take on it.

“Recreating these things is kind of saving me from reliving it” – Richie Culver

There is a dark humour to several of these pieces. Is this sort type humour a way of navigating your life or even the absurdity of life?

Richie Culver: Absolutely. I guess certainly going forward it will be like that, and it’s been in some of my past work. I tend to lean toward personal circumstances to go on because some of the stuff I get up to, and some of the situations I find myself in are so extreme it feels like I have no other option but to create around them. It gives them another life, really.

I’m now living a totally different life but there it still a part of my head that is always in the gutter or in the darkness or whatever you want to call it. I guess recreating these things is kind of saving me from reliving it.

Things That Never Really Worked Out – Most Things runs until 2 August at Protein, 31 New Inn Yard, EC2A