Malcolm Poynter: The Violent Genius

Mad as a bag of spanners and political as you like, why on earth has inspirational artist Malcolm Poynter turned his back on London in favour of a quiet little town in Austria?
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It beggars belief. Really! Committed Londoner (and some will say he should be committed) and amazing artist, Malcolm Poynter at the tender age of 61, has moved from his bjoux (well, a bit crowded with his life-size sculptures of angry Horsemen of the Apocalypse, painted coffins and contorted fish) studio in


to a little town called Aigen in Upper Austria. He's bought - wait for it - a garden centre, a vast, sprawling garden centre, and turned it (with sheer, hard physical labour, his own and a friend's) into a magnificent gallery for his own



What on earth possessed him? He can't speak German, they still wear lederhosen, he's far far away from his beloved Kingsland High St. "It's simple," he says, ever bombastically direct, "I had 200 square metres in Dalston, here I've got 3,600 square metres (Oh, how men love to talk in square metres). Half of my work was stuck in storage in Billericay, here it is all on display. I fell in love with this building as soon as I saw it. Here I have the freedom to make what I want and I'm having a new lease of life artistically. Tomorrow 40 children's chairs are being delivered for a new piece."

Poynter is a contemporary of Antony Gormley. Or vice versa. He also uses himself as a cast often in his work, but Poynter is more overtly political. 'Fuckhead' was his response to the Tories, for instance. He also moves constantly between painting and sculpting, and has numerous works on the go at the same time. Famously, he creates one of his Horsemen of the Apocalpse every year. He's on his 32nd at the moment. "It's based on a photograph I saw when I was 8 years old," he says. It was taken in the First World War and a horse is still being held by a calvary man who is dead. It is the image of the area of grass that has been eaten by the horse which is so poignant. It's a powerful image and has stayed in my head all these years. I was forbidden to look at this book of War Horrors so, of course, I did. This sculpture will be my version."

"Poynter is a contemporary of Antony Gormley. Or vice versa. He also uses himself as a cast often in his work, but Poynter is more overtly political. 'Fuckhead' was his response to the Tories, for instance."

I've known Poyner for 25 years. I interviewed him for the Guardian and we became friends. Rumbustious drinking companions, ready-to-take-on-all-comers debaters. Both prepared to party and then be reclusive with equal gusto. We're quite similar. Flamboyant, publicly. Quiet, privately. Over the years, we've cried, laughed and shouted together. I once hosted a cheese party (yes, the Cheese Society turned up with all manner of previously unknown delights) at his Dalston studio, to which we insisted on inviting a lively flamenco dancer and singer. Malcolm, joie de vivre flying, was the first to join her on the dance floor.

I've also been out to Aigen to visit him. I have witnessed the oddly 1960s setting for his new life. The lederhosen, the dirndls, the relentless whiteness of the skin and vibrations. Oh dear, is this reverse racism? No, it's more a comment on the homogeneity of the culture. In fact, it was 70 something, pink haired (still) gallery owner and performer, Nick Treadwell who led the way from London. Treadwell and Poynter have been mates - well, Treadwell was his agent, and they've frequently been wrongly mistaken for a gay couple, it's those oranges and reds, dears - for 40 years. Tired of the British art establishment's closed doors, Treadwell moved to Aigen six years ago. He bought a 500 year old prison and turned into into a gallery, locally known as the Pink Prison because it is painted in a particularly lurid shade of puce. The locals have welcomed Poynter and Treadwell like art pop stars. They are fabulously big fish in this little pond.

Poynter's building is not just one edifice. There are exciting outhouses, a barn and two cottages. The workshops outside are full of little bodies with duck heads, fish with bird heads and small women carrying umbrellas. Mutation and climate change are themes. In the main gallery, one room upstairs houses his signature piece, One Step Forward, a gigantic wheel filled with bones (the victims of all these ongoing wars, government policies, chemical mistakes, poverty and more) with one lonely figure struggling to keep alive on the rim. It's a bleak but always relevant social comment.

Dubbed 'a violent genius' by pop culture commentators, Fred and Judy Vermorel, they wrote a book about Poynter in 1977, as well as one on Malcolm Maclaren. Poynter's work has also been referred to as "subtle as a punch in the groin" by critic, Waldemar Januszczak.

"I was violent when I was a South East London teenage mod," he says, "I was a runner at the Stock Exchange which was also violent. There were a lot of fights after work. I've alwasy had a temper, and back in those days and for many years, I used to shout and frighten people to death. People were intimidated by me. Then I started to focus all that energy into my art."

Mind you, not so long ago, Poynter had his bicycle stolen from outside his studio in Dalston. Furious, he made his way to Brick Lane knowing the ways of the little sods who steal bikes. Lo and behold, there it was in the selling hands of some bolshie teenagers. Poynter did not hold back. He bellowed at them as though he were straight out of bedlam. They responded accordingly. The bike was meekly handed back. Poynter had made his point.

In law-abiding Aigen, there is little use for this anger so that incredible energy goes into his work. Up at 5 30am, he bounces between different pieces, starting some, finishing others. All his ideas of Poynter world and weltanshaung.

"I've alwasy had a temper, and back in those days and for many years, I used to shout and frighten people to death. People were intimidated by me. Then I started to focus all that energy into my art."

Back in his new gallery, there are strangely attired figures emerging from cupboards, curious baby figures balancing precariously on beams, gesturing with guns or simply wearing mafia sunglasses. "They're fairly new," he says, "they're my Suicide Babies who no longer want to live in this world."

His art often inhabits a disturbing emotional landscape where there seems to be no escape. There is a morbid preoccupation with the damaged state of the world. Yet, paradoxically, his work is also full of colour, vim and brio. There's also beauty. One of my favourite pieces is The Dancer, a delicate porcelain take on Degas, she is clad in an ethnic Afghan outfit. Poynter is unafraid of the dance of death, just as he is unafraid of the dance of life. His work should be in the Tate Modern permanent collection. Why haven't you been over, Mr Serota?

In the meantime, he's getting on with what's important to him. Creating an environment - "I want to make another gallery here for new, young artists' work and to make the barn into a theatre" - and producing new work. Endlessly.

What does he miss about London? "Being able to just walk out at any hour and get a Vietnamese or Turkish meal," he says. "and my friends." However, he doesn't miss Gilbert and George who dine daily in Dalston. "No, I avoided them, they're not my cup of tea. They liked Thatcher, one of my least favourite people on the planet."

And rest assured, Poynter in his seventh decade, has not calmed down. Only last week, he was arrested in Aigen. Admittedly, it was a mistake. He'd taken some poles from a recycling plant that he thought he could legimately re-direct into his home. But apparently not. Poynter ended up at the local police station arguing it out.

And hopefully, he'll remain forever a violent genius...

To keep up to date with Malcolm Poynter visit or contact him directly. Post: Poynter Galerie, 1 Baumgarten Muhle, Schlaegel. Tel +43 0728120584  mob +43 664 8632497

Rose is writing Not On Safari In Harlesden on

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