When Charles Saatchi bought the blood spattered portrait of Princess Diana, she became the focus of media attention. We interview Stella Vine about how she came to be the new sensation in the London contemporary art scene.

You've attracted a lot of media attention recently since Charles Saatchi bought your painting. How do you feel being the centre of attention?

I liked it at first, it was like being a little girl, but there's also been a lot of bad press and criticisms. A lot of negative stuff has been quite challenging but I actually also really appreciated it. It meant I have to work very hard to prove myself as an artist and not just some sensationalist stripper who is on this shocking art bandwagon type of thing. That's never been my intention.

Do you still work as a stripper?

No, not anymore. I was at the Windmill about six years on and off and I've worked in all the table dancing clubs. Recently I've been working in a small, dodgy club and I just got a bit nervous about it. I was thinking that there would be press there, or that the management would not let me in the door. I thought that maybe I should just stay away, out of the sight. I just stayed away. As the weeks have gone by, I've sold some paintings on the Internet and so I've actually managed better than ever before.

Tell me about how you got to know Saatchi.

My Diana painting was included in a group show, the Girl on Girl exhibition in a gallery called Transition in Hackney. The show was about female artists making work of art about women. He came in on the last day and bought it.

Photo: keiko kurita, 2004 ©

What was your first reaction when you knew that he bought your work?

Absolutely over the moon. It was the happiest day of my life. I'm not a Saatchi cynic. I don't go for that stuff at all. I think people can be very wealthy, be a very good business man, have a lot of passion and heart, have an incredible life and still have a good sense for art. I love it that most of the stuff that he likes, I like too. I feel I have a lot in common somehow with what he's doing so it's just an absolute joy. It's one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

Tell me about the Diana painting.

The Diana painting came from a newspaper. Paul Burrell was revealing a letter he had from Diana saying that she thought she was going to be killed by a head injury and I just went home that night and painted it straightaway. I've been doing a lot of paintings about the crash over that three day period. I did the car crash, without her in it, just a car. I did the boys, I did Paul Burrell with the Queen, and a lot of Masonic stuff. I was almost at a point where I was doing aliens ... you know, the whole conspiracy theory thing.

The next painting Saatchi bought was "Rachel", wasn't it? How did you come to paint it?

Rachel's image was all over the world. Rachel's death with a syringe in her hand was under mysterious circumstances. It's just haunted me for years and I kept drawing it in different paintings but I didn't realize why I was doing it. I was struggling with this other image and I saw that image on the Internet which had apparently been shown alongside the one with a syringe. I just downloaded and painted it within 20 minutes.

Stella Vine, (Left) Hi Paul I'm Scared..., 2003 (Right) Rachel, 2004
Photo: keiko kurita, 2004 ©

The painting has caused a sensation and it has been reported that Rachel's parents were upset about it.

When I painted Rachel I didn't know if there was any interest in what I was doing. My instinct was for this girl who had died. This was what was inside of her - unhappiness, heroin, sinisterness of the story, and all of this life that we have -the natural thing to do was to have blood coming out of this person.

I really want to paint the girl in the news at the moment. She was strangled in a bath by a guy. It's the same image as Rachel, innocent schoolgirls. I wanted to paint her, but I wouldn't dare to put blood on her now.. I wouldn't paint it now, because people would go "ahhh, she's done it again" or "she is exploitative" or "any time a girl dies I bet Stella Vine will paint that." Yet my instinct is to paint her. What I would have to do would be to paint a beautiful painting of this girl. The type of painting that I would be allowed to paint. I don't want to upset anybody. I'm not on a mission to be shocking.

Tell me about the new development that happened after the "New Blood" exhibition.

There are a lot of people who want to buy my paintings. There is a list of like 30 people who want my paintings. The painting of the same size is now selling for 2,200 pounds and the paintings at the show at Transition like 80 to 90 percent sold now.

There were also lots of things that I considered. There was a car company that offered me 6,000 pounds to paint a 50 x 30 ft high painting of their new car. It was going to be outside Liverpool Street Station and they wanted me to paint it in public, in three weeks. I didn't do it as I thought they were being exploitative, and they wanted to tell me what to paint ! There was also someone who offered to pay me for the rights to make a film of my book.

Stella Vine (Left) Stella Spain. 2004 (Right) Joseph and Joan, 2004
Courtesy: Transition

On top of all these new things happening to you, you are running your own gallery Rosy Wilde. That must be quite demanding.

It's just really confusing. It's nothing new, but I have to make a lot of decisions on my own. At my gallery I get inundated by people asking for me to represent them, or for me to show their work. But now I just literally don't have the time. I really need to hire a person with some work experience, but I haven't got the energy to see that through at the moment.

Is time management the only problem you are currently facing?

I've got a lot of financial disasters about to go pear-shaped. I think I've got about ten Congestion Charge fines, parking tickets from just this last week while preparing for the show. And before the Saatchi thing happened, I had the bailiffs around and I've got them around again now. They came yesterday to my shop and were documenting my possessions. I think that's why I'm so depressed. I'm fucking irritable when it comes to managing normal day-to-day things.

But despite all that, I don't feel like going back to stripping. It does make sense because I know at the end of the night I'm going to get some money but I just don't have the confidence. I've gained a lot of weight due to stress and I'm very unfit. I'm also frightened if anyone knew that I was this Saatchi stripper girl. Because I've been in the press, they'd take photos.

Photo: keiko kurita, 2004 ©

I've read somewhere that you were influenced by Tracey Emin. What are your views on her work?

I first saw Tracey Emin at the Turner Prize exhibition. I've read about the bed in the press. That's why I went. I felt so emotional I just thought "God, this is another PJ Harvey. This is someone who's tapping into that stuff". And for me there was never anyone else other than PJ Harvey. I've always thought that it was a shame because PJ Harvey only performs once a year. Then I saw Tracey's work and I thought "Wow, this is amazing!" I thought these are like the little drawings I did in the strip clubs when I was passing the time. I really identified with the whole thing. Then I saw her film, her dancing and saying "John, Craig, Peter, Paul, this one's for you". I just whelled up with tears as I was sitting there.

So do you think there's something in common between Tracey and you?

I think there are a lot in common between us as people. I had a beach hut for years in Norfolk ! I'm not some silly little "I wanna be an art star like Tracey Emin" type person. We are very close in our ages and I think we've both got a lot of drive. I think there's a bit of Andy Warhol in both of us. That idea of doing it your own way. If you have to advertise a gin bottle to be able to fund yourself, then you do that.. Tracey came out of a DIY aesthetic, with 'The Shop' etc, I admire that. The Art World is very slick now, very close knit, so a lot more people are doing the DIY thing again, as the Brit Art years have become the rules in a way, people are sort of rebelling against that. There are a lot of figurative work about. There is an air of something, not sure what it is ... maybe 'Pop Heart' !!

This interview was conducted in June 2004 / March 2004 by Toyoko Ito.
© Toyoko Ito, August, 2004

Useful Links:
Rosy Wilde
The Saatchi Gallery




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