Amelia’s Magazine | Ninja Turtle Sex Museum by James Unsworth: A Review

James Unsworth penis hole

I first came across James Unsworth on the walls of the Royal College of Art. His MA final show stood out like, web well, an erect penis. His work is known for erect penises, and poo, and sexual depravity in many different guises. A true modern day harbinger of the grotesque, James draws on the most bestial parts of human nature to create awesome works of art.

Last month I unexpectedly came across his work on the walls of uber trendy fashion shop Machine-A, and then by chance I stumbled across the closing throes of his first solo exhibition at the Five Hundred Dollars gallery in Vyner Street. It featured the finely detailed line drawings he is so well known for, and so much more….

Machine-A James Unsworth wallpaper
James Unsworth wallpaper in Machine-A.

Vyner Street on First Thursday is a ridiculously busy hum of art scene activity which I tend to avoid, but last week I made it along to meet some friends. “Is there anything worth seeing before I have a pint?” I asked. “Well, there’s some Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fucking,” was the reply. A gigantic bell rang in the recesses of my mind… as soon as I turned in the door I instantly recognised Unsworth.

James Unsworth ninja tshirt

It’s typical of James Unsworth to create an entire exhibition out of a 1980s cartoon for children: mutated and subverted and turned completely on it’s head. On one side of a small booth at the front of the first room a glass cabinet displayed mugs for each of the turtles… shitting in mid air. I have no idea what the names of the turtle characters are since their heyday was a bit late for my childhood, but I have no doubt that many visitors to the gallery recognised them. “I have a big problem with the elitist aspect of most art galleries,” James Unsworth told Jayne Helliwell in 2007 for issue 08 of Amelia’s Magazine. “I want my work to appeal to a wider audience outside the art elite.”

James Unsworth Ninja Turtle Sex Museum2
James Unsworth Ninja Turtle Sex Museum4
Scenes from Ninja Turtle Sex Museum, the book, available for £15.

And so it made perfect sense to sell gift mugs, t-shirts in pizza boxes, stickers and art books. Within the booth was James himself, watching over the room as hoards of people wandered around, some talking loudly about how repulsive and terrible his art was. None of it, of course, phased James in the least. In an interview with Don’t Panic he claimed that “I enjoy watching people looking at my work; it’s a voyeuristic pleasure.” The greatest offence would be to pass by his work unmoved. After all, he didn’t paint a two metre high Ninja Turtle defecating beneath an erect penis in order to avoid controversy.

James Unsworth talks to guests
James Unsworth talks to gallery-goers.

It’s testimony to James Unsworth’s singular vision that the room was full at all times, with queues of people waiting their turn to poke an eye to the head of said erect penis in order to view a movie of four men dressed up in green plastic to look like turtles squirting semen-like paint all over each other and into anus like crevices as they carved at each other with fake retractable knives covered in ketchup goo. Another turtle offered up his anus as an alternative viewing platform for the film, stumpy bleeding severed legs held aloft. We wondered at the fun James and his friends must have had in the creation of this video art.

turtle power james unsworth
A still from Ninja Turtle Sex Museum: the movie.

“The Ninja Turtles just got back from Bangladesh and are waiting for the pizza to arrive, one of them finds the deadly ecstasy next to their stinking mattress in their sewer lair. You thought drugs were fun, right? But who could have imagined the horror and panic that find would bring? When they decide to take them with their beer and pizza, it all begins well, they dance. But soon they turn to fighting each other, the fighting turns quickly to lustful and murderous activity… Previously they had all wanked on the pizza too.”

The last part of this statement says it all really – James just loves to reach the epitome of grotesque bad taste, and then pile yet more on top.

James Unsworth defecating turtle
James Unsworth ninja asshole
Peering through the holes.

One wall was lined with beautifully decorated ceramic plates, severed turtle heads surround by decorative patterns of flowers and bloody carving knives. Prints lined up on a wall showed men with putrefying eyeballs kissing laughing penises, turtles in masks rimming each other, and lots and lots of wanking.

James Unsworth turtle plate
A decorative plate.

Naked ladies touched themselves in what would be an erotic manner if it weren’t for their green wrapped turtle heads with bulging cartoon eyes peering through the instantly recognisable headband, an empty box of beer worn as triumphant headgear.

Naked girl turtle head James unsworth
Naked girl turtle head James unsworth-beer

And yet, I couldn’t find any of this repulsive or even offensive. Amusing, yes. A thought provoking commentary on our obsession with violence and sex? Certainly. Alongside a sheer amazement at his dedication towards such a whole-hearted re-imagining of pop culture characters that were such a big part of his generation’s childhood.

And I wasn’t alone, for amongst the feigning of disgust there was much hilarity in the Five Hundred Gallery, and an insatiable need to keep looking. James Unsworth forces us to confront the basest elements of humanity by transferring the unthinkable onto anodyne childrens’ cartoon characters. Then making a joyful song and dance about it.

James Unsworth Ninja Turtle Sex Museum
James Unsworth Ninja Turtle Sex Museum
Scenes from Ninja Turtle Sex Museum, the book.

“Our new exhibition is about Ninja Turtles with big cocks, sex and death and it’s all free! It will be absolutely the best exhibition you have ever seen. No mistake. It’s a violent, exhibition full of taboos. It’s up to you to see it or not. Are you ready?”

Unfortunately it’s all over now. But do go check out his website, where you can buy some suitably disgusting prints. No doubt there will be some pooing Ninja Turtle mugs for sale on there some time soon.

I Am Poor, I Am Boring by James Unsworth
I Am Poor, I Am Boring by James Unsworth.

Categories ,First Thursdays, ,Five Hundred Dollars, ,James Unsworth, ,Jayne Helliwell, ,Machine-A, ,Royal College of Art, ,Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, ,Vyner Street

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Amelia’s Magazine | An interview with illustrator Faye West, as featured in Amelia’s Compendium of Fashion Illustration

(Commision which came about from Amelia's Mag feature) by faye west
Commission which came about from Amelia’s Magazine feature, by Faye West.

Faye West‘s whimsical watercolours first came to my attention nearly four years ago when she had just graduated from university. Since then a lot has changed, but her unique take on fashion illustration remains the same – beautiful, timeless and finally gaining the recognition it deserves. Since appearing in Amelia’s Compendium of Fashion Illustration 2011 has been a busy year for Faye and 2012 looks set to be even more so, with a big move to London imminent. Time to check in with one of Amelia’s Magazine’s most prolific and delightful contributors…

My Fave 'Amelia's' piece by Faye West
Faye West‘s favourite illustration for me. This was to illustrate the Gossypium dress and bag that comes free with issue 10 of Amelia’s Magazine, and appears in Amelia’s Compendium of Fashion Illustration.

You first came to my attention several years ago when you delivered some gorgeous (and yummy) hand decorated cupcakes to my door – what prompted the idea and what persuaded you to get in touch again last year?
My London College of Fashion friends finished their Fashion Journalism degree with a bit more of a clue in what was going on than I had (Faye studied at Fashion Promotion and Illustration at University for the Creative Arts), and knew Amelia’s Magazine was highly illustrative so we devised a plan to woo you with illustrated cupcakes. I had always meant to follow it up with some illustrations, but it was before I was twitter-conscious and the next brief I happened to see was in fact the ACOFI, or Amelia’s Compendium of Fashion Illustration open brief.

Faye west Cupcakes
Those infamous cupcakes! I wish I had taken a better photo… alas they have long since been demolished…

Florian Jayet S/S 2012 by Faye West for Amelia’s Magazine.

How has producing fashion illustrations for Amelia’s Magazine and ACOFI developed your perception of the fashion and illustration worlds?
It has basically been a way to stay working to briefs, in the way you do as a student. It’s very hard to stay motivated without someone else setting you a brief because you are only doing self-authored work which tends to get a bit stale. The variety of images you then produce are so wide and interesting that your work just evolves through all the experimentation. Amelia’s Magazine is almost like a giant spider gram of illustration opportunities.

Finalist entry for V Mag Gaga comp
Finalist entry for V Magazine Lady Gaga competition.

You’ve just launched a sexy new website, what prompted the redesign?
I wanted to get a website up and running that was a bit more of a platform for my pieces, almost as though someone had decorated a Faye West shop for all of my work to be displayed or sold in. It was also a little challenge to myself to get to grips with the creative side to website building.

Sketchbook Magazine image by Faye West
Sketchbook Magazine image by Faye West.

What was behind your decision to create Edit Collective, and can you describe a bit more about the project?
I had just spent a while contacting galleries, local to Devon and London and had a very negative response. Which is all part of the business but having graduated over 6 years ago, exhibiting was a goal that was proving unobtainable. So I thought I’d see if anyone else was having the same issue and the idea of a group exhibition started. Edit Collective is basically to show off the work we have produced over the last year, all the JPegs sat on computer desktops, and original pieces filling up portfolios not seeing the light of day. I was so bowled over by the interest from other artists that it involves near to 30 artists. I hope to continue expanding this number each year, keeping to the proviso that it is editorial work. Fellow ACOFI featured illustrator Gemma Milly is partnering my venture and the majority of artists have come to know each others work through contributing to magazines such as Amelia’s Magazine.

Faye West Self Portrait
Faye West Self Portrait.

How did you get involved with Think Act Vote, and can you give us a taster of what you’ve produced?
I was sent a lovely email asking if I would like to take part in their upcoming publication. As a student I was away with the fairies, I had no political view point at all which seemed to vex my tutors a bit. But in my old age I am starting to become very interested and unfortunately angry at the current state of affairs. This is what drew me to to illustrate Katherine Hamnett‘s piece in particular. I have illustrated something playing on her infamous slogan tshirts, mixed with the idea of a figure representing Democracy in the same vein as the Statue of Liberty.

for Ballad of Faye West
Illustration for Ballad Of by Faye West.

What is the VV Collective and what you have done for it?
This is Vivian Vile, a collective put together by two artists who feel that young female artists can often be overlooked. I am always drawn to the feminine, and feel quite proud to be alongside some wonderful artists and photographers in the ‘Members Lounge‘ They were involved with Ladyfest this year which was something I had wanted to get involved with since being a student interested in Riot Grrls and the like. They have just launched a competition to submit a self portrait which, if successful will be exhibited at Cultivate on Vyner Street. I decided to really set myself a challenge and paint on canvas with acrylic which was a little more time consuming and frustrating at times compared to my usual water colours. 

Harriet Gray's Dream by Faye West
Harriet Gray‘s Dream by Faye West.

Gareth Hopkin's Dream by Faye West
Gareth A Hopkin‘s Dream by Faye West.

You’ve built up quite a friendship with Ukraine based illustrator Daria Hlazatova, recently creating Lupine Osmunda together – how did this come about – both meeting and doing a project together?
I am her number one fan. I just loved her work so much, it makes me feel like a child starting at fairy tales again! So basically I commissioned her to illustrate me scenes from the Twelve Dancing Princesses because it was a story book I had as a child with illustrations which fascinated me. We often chat on twitter and email and our discussions would turn to the bizarre dreams we were having so we decided to illustrate each others and turn it into a project.

Teatum Jones by Faye West
Teatum Jones S/S 2012 by Faye West for Amelia’s Magazine.

Apparently you have some exciting news, that you will be will soon be in-house illustrator for Ballad Of. How did this come about and what will you be doing?
Yes, it’s all very new so not started anything yet. But I really enjoyed doing some pieces for the girls for their last issue. They have a two submission limit to give everyone an opportunity to have their work showcased. It was the last submission for me which I was rather sad about! So I asked them to consider me if they were ever looking for someone to help out with little illustration jobs. They liked the idea and agreed to have me on board, so I am looking forward to their next issue and to start writing some of the Illustration blogs for them. Ballad Of is one of the things I found through fellow Amelia’s Magazine illustrators on their blogs and through twitter; a wonderful example of how many doors have opened from the advice you gave me to get some internet presence!

Ballad of Bag Faye WEST
Ballad Of tote bag by Faye West. Photo courtesy of Lindsey and Claire.

GLITTER love Faye West
GLITTER love by Faye West.

What has been the most exciting thing to happen because of your involvement with Amelia’s Magazine and ACOFI?
Has to be seeing my work on printed silk dresses for Beautiful Soul and finding out that I was one of the 30 illustrators going in to Amelia’s Compendium of Fashion Illustration! Also I designed an exclusive limited edition tote for Ballad Of‘s last launch party and I had a special Courtney Love commission (see above) from a blogger who like the image I did of the singer for Topshop Boutique a few years ago.

Tallulah pet portrait commission by Faye West
Tallulah pet portrait commission by Faye West.

Anything new coming up? What will you be up to in 2012?
At the moment I am working on portrait commissions for Christmas presents, I have had a high number of dog portrait requests this year! Very sweet. I love being asked because you know you’re helping someone give a special and unique gift. I plan to move back to London, get Edit Collective‘s exhibition under way, and I would really like to concentrate on some more print design. Here is a link for portrait commissions which I have just put together! Do get in touch!

Morris Dancers by Faye West for Amelia’s Magazine.

You can see more of Faye West‘s beautiful work in Amelia’s Compendium of Fashion Illustration. Buy both my books together with four rare back issues of Amelia’s Magazine (including the one with the bag illustrated above) for just £50. A bargain! And I can’t wait to see how Edit Collective evolves.

Categories ,ACOFI, ,Amelia’s Compendium of Fashion Illustration, ,Ballad Of, ,Beautiful Soul, ,Courtney Love, ,Cultivate, ,cupcakes, ,Daria Hlazatova, ,Devon, ,Edit Collective, ,Fashion Illustration, ,Fashion Promotion and Illustration, ,Faye West, ,Gareth A Hopkin, ,Gemma Milly, ,gossypium, ,Harriet Gray, ,interview, ,Katherine Hamnett, ,London College of Fashion, ,Lupine Osmunda, ,Pet Portraits, ,Riot Grrls, ,Sketchbook Magazine, ,Statue of Liberty, ,Think Act Vote, ,Topshop Boutique, ,Tote bag, ,Twelve Dancing Princesses, ,UCA, ,University for the Creative Arts, ,Vivian Vile, ,VV Collective, ,Vyner Street

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