Rebel artist who threw it all away returns after 25 years

Jack Malvern,​ Arts Correspondent

April 26 2016

Nicholas Fudge seemed destined to be one of the most successful of the Young British Artists until two days before his graduation show. While his fellow students at Goldsmiths went on to reshape the art establishment and become millionaires, Fudge literally threw his chance away by dumping all of his work in a skip.

The lost YBA, who graduated from art school a year ahead of Damien Hirst and Mat Collishaw and in the same year as Gary Hume and Michael Landy, is now showing his work for the first time after stockpiling it for 25 years.

Fudge, whose work will hang at the Observer Building art gallery in Hastings, East Sussex, until tomorrow, said that he realised that his destructive act may have been a mistake. “Most of the time [I don’t regret it] because I had a new perspective, but there are times when your luck goes up and down,” he said. “There are periods when you are struggling. I’ve managed to live with almost no money at all. When there are hard times, you do regret that.”

Asked if he looked at Hirst and other YBAs and wondered if he might have attained the same level of success, he said: “I did. There’s part of me that would enjoy that. I was just as ambitious as everyone else at college. I think the idea of having that success and money would definitely appeal to me. There’s something about me that if I had had that kind of success and money I wouldn’t have come out of it very well. I was always quite self-destructive so it might not have ended that well.”

He said that he was closer in temperament to Angus Fairhurst, another Goldsmiths graduate of the period whose work was shown at Tate in 2004 but who killed himself four years later.

​Nicholas Fudge, a peer of Damien Hirst and Michael Landy, is showing his work, above, for the first time.

Fudge's destruction caused a minor scandal at Goldsmiths, where his tutor Michael Craig-Martin tried unsuccessfully to retrieve the broken work from the skip. “I think that Michael Craig-Martin was the most upset when I destroyed my work. It was kind of a mini-scandal. We were told we were the best three years in the history of the school,” Fudge said.

He said that his destruction was partly inspired by the Dadaist artist Marcel Duchamp, who proposed the idea of an artist disappearing. He wanted to rebel against a system in which artists aspired to to have their work shown in the galleries of Cork Street in Mayfair.

“I was quite a self-destructive young man. I was thinking of a lot of conflicting different things. Everybody was really excited about going to Cork Street. I thought it wasn’t really for me.”

He added: “When I was younger I was addictive gambler. I saw that with art: there’s a kind of risk involved. The greater the risk, the greater the reward. I had this romantic idea that if I disappeared and then came back later on there’s potential for greater rewards because you’re doing something different. I could do things on my own terms.”

Fudge, who uses traditional drawing techniques to create images which he manipulates on a computer, said that he admired Hirst’s work but it was more conceptual than his own. “His work subjects are money, death, sex - they’re all taboo things. For me, I wanted to separate art from money.”