Intervıew

A Sense of Paradise: An Interview with Dean Kissick, Writer

by Moselle Kleiner | Issue 24

Courtauld alum Dean Kissick (BA, 2005) is the New York editor for Spike magazine, where he writes a monthly column, ‘The Downward Spiral’, about the art and culture of our time. We spoke about the things that change, the things that don’t, and in the spirit of the sensory, Hieronymous Bosch.

Illustration by Emily Lashford

Moselle Kleiner: How did you end up at the Courtauld?

Dean Kissick: I went to school in Oxford and I got a place at Oxford to do history, but I decided to reapply and do history of art and try to move to London. I didn’t know very much about the history of art. When I came to interview at the Courtauld, it became apparent that I didn't know a lot of the basics, just because I'd never studied it or read a textbook before. The Courtauld seemed like a paradise. As soon as I came for an interview, I wanted to go. I was so bummed out because I didn't think the interview had gone too well, but I guess it did. I got a place. It was about 2002.

MK: I read that your introduction to life in London was going to the National Gallery.

DK: I didn't know anyone from my year, and I'd been at a boy's school for a long time. It was quite glamorous, suddenly being in London, in this class of mostly pretty girls and gay guys, and a few older students. We went to the National Gallery on the first or second day, we had a task to get to know one another, to choose a work from the collection for an advertisement inviting people to visit.

There was an elderly Japanese lady on the BA course who was very sweet, very quiet. She was saying we should choose this Picasso painting of a child with a dove, saying how beautiful it was, how sensitive, how it would bring people in. No one listened to her, of course, and I wasn't fighting her case, but I’ll always remember that first week, this older woman who disappeared one day, and that painting, which has since been sold. I think it belongs to the Qatar museum authorities. I hope to see the painting again one day. I'll travel to see that painting.

I was living in mixed halls and smoking a lot of weed. I would wake up in the morning and walk down Holborn, sometimes skateboard down, smoking a spliff, and go to class. It all felt so magical. We used to have really good parties in the basement cafe. You could smoke down there, so it was a real nightclub feel. It was great.

MK: Were you forming relationships with teachers? Or was it mostly atmospheric?

DK: I did a course with Paul Hills on Venetian painting. He was also my academic advisor. He told me not to stay at the Courtauld for a Masters, even though I wanted to— that it's good to go out and get a job and see some other places, even if you like where you are. I think that was very good advice. I would have had a great time if I stayed, but it was better to go outside the comfort zone.

The course that stuck with me the most was in my last year, gender issues in 19th century British art with Caroline Arscott. It was about sexuality and forms of perversity in Britain in those days. I loved learning about pre-Raphaelites, particularly with her.

Now I'm writing mostly about contemporary art. I am still very interested in the older stuff, maybe more interested in the older stuff, but obviously there's a lot more work available in contemporary art. That's where most of the money is. When I joined the Courtauld, I didn't know much about modern and contemporary art. Coming out, I still probably knew very little about it, but we had to know the history of everything. I learnt it all in the classroom.

How did you end up at the Courtauld?

The course that stuck with me the most was in my last year, gender issues in 19th century British art with Caroline Arscott. It was about sexuality and forms of perversity in Britain in those days. I loved learning about pre-Raphaelites, particularly with her.

Now I'm writing mostly about contemporary art. I am still very interested in the older stuff, maybe more interested in the older stuff, but obviously there's a lot more work available in contemporary art. That's where most of the money is. When I joined the Courtauld, I didn't know much about modern and contemporary art. Coming out, I still probably knew very little about it, but we had to know the history of everything. I learnt it all in the classroom.

Coral Woodbury, Revised Edition, 2020 – ongoing

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