Ahead of his scheduled Talk at Fircroft College on Thursday 18th January, we had a chat with performance artist and YouTube vlogger The Artist Taxi Driver, aka Mark McGowan.
How did you become The Artist Taxi Driver?
It was kind of an intervention into media, an intervention into politics. It started around 2000 – 2001 with public performances. By 2007, after about 10 years of doing critical art pieces and trying to get into political news media, I switched from that. It was around the time of IPhone’s and video and the accessibility of uploading directly from your phone to YouTube. The way things were moving with technology, I started to create this online character whereas before it was public performance. I turned a camera on one day and that was it.
Where did the name Artist Taxi Driver come from?
The first video was outside Frieze. Well actually, I said I was outside Frieze which is a big art fair but I wasn’t. I just made up this video where I wanted to go into the art fair but they wouldn’t let me in, it was on for about five days so there were five videos. I was talking about not being let into the art fair, about not being invited. During those 5 days, at one point someone said to me, “Are you a taxi driver?” I said no, I’m The Artist Taxi Driver. I had been a courier, a taxi driver and run a cab office as well. I taught MA Fine Arts at Chelsea for about 6 years, taught at Camberwell and different universities.
I get really inspired by lots of important artists and performance people and the way they style themselves. You can see good in all art, you can get inspired by everything. People who inspire me the most are generally rogues. Alexander Brenner who’s like a very bad man; Frankie Boyle who’s a Scottish Comedian. At the same time I like Giggs, I like his attitude. He’s very roguish, he believes in his creativity.
I say to students, when you’re creating something, whether it’s an essay, whether you’re making the tea, whether you’re having a bath – just make it the best one ever. I mean if it’s a bath, put the candles on get the bubbles going and make it the best bath ever!
What did you think about the way in which Grime artists got involved in the last election?
That was very cool. That’s good. I really like the way that Stormzy is sticking it to the Daily Mail and is his own person. I think people appreciate that he engages in politics. It’s really important that young people have role models. It’s good that young people have a really strong social conscience, especially when they see things like Grenfell Tower. It’s good that you have people like Stormzy who are pro public services and try to contribute to community, that’s what you want people to be involved in. Sometimes young people feel left behind and discarded so they take it out on their own communities. I try to make people realise that this is ours, this is what we’ve got and we’ve got to make the best of it.
Have you always looked at society the way you do? Or is this something which began later in life?
Since around 2000, around that time.
What was the catalyst that changed your way of thinking?
Before that, when I was about 35, I was a heroin addict on the streets, homeless, in institutions. I stopped using and they sent me to Art College. Got taken into care by the local council after going to rehab and therapy groups. I was in a house where you weren’t allowed out, like a recovery house. It changed me. Now they’re shutting services like this and we need more not less. I know a lady whose daughter had to go to a centre in Edinburgh as there were no spaces for her locally at all.
Does print media still have influence over the public?
A lot has changed. People are more aware that in a general sense, 90% of the media is corporate media. They have set agendas, they are not going to tell you the truth, it’s not an unbiased organisation. What they do, instead of blatantly lying, they control narratives. So the narrative is whatever they want it to be.
Activism, Politics and Social Media with The Artist Taxi Driver takes place on Thursday 18th January from 1 – 3pm.
To register for your free ticket visit our eventbrite page