The Curmudgeon


Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Obituary: A J Beansprout

The death last Wednesday of Algernon Jehosaphat Beansprout has brought to an untimely end one of the most promising artistic careers of recent years - an end all the more unfortunate as it comes hard on the heels of the Tate Gallery's decision to lift the ban on his work which was imposed after the riot of 2002.

Born into an impoverished family, Beansprout spent his formative years in a disreputable and occasionally violent neighbourhood where the test of maturity was the number of neighbours one had mugged. From an early age the young artist showed signs of being deeply affected by the deprivation around him; his earliest surviving work is an angry blob of red paint suspended in the frame without even a canvas to support it. Many years later, in interviews, Beansprout was to report that the entire household went hungry for a week after the work's completion, as he had used the only remaining egg in the family to obtain the necessary elasticity in the paint.

Circumstances were indeed straitened in these first years; so much so, in fact, that Beansprout was forced to do most of his early work on rice paper, so as to be able to eat the results should they prove unsuitable for consumption on the open market. Consequently, many early paintings, which could have provided invaluable clues as to the influences and development of the artist, were until recently thought irretrievably lost; fortunately, Beansprout's will provides for a post-mortem examination which will enable whatever remains of these hitherto inaccessible masterpieces to be recovered for posterity. Christie's have already placed a tentative asking price of seventy-three thousand pounds on the contents of the artist's small intestine.

But fame could not leave such genius alone for long, and his "Kamikaze Budgerigar" caused a considerable critical furore when it was displayed at the Tate Gallery as part of an exhibition for promising newcomers and congenital idiots. Two years later he produced "Revolt of the Stick Insect", his most uncompromising statement of the period, which caused a stampede of terrified audiences when the Tate displayed it the following summer. Perhaps unwisely, the gallery had included Beansprout's picture in an exhibition to which large numbers of adults, and others of a nervous disposition, were invited; but it was the artist who took the blame, and Beansprout's work was not shown in public for the remainder of his now tragically truncated lifetime.

This happened in spite of the frequent appearance of works, such as "Amoeba, Left Profile (mag. x30,000)" which revealed a much less aggressive side to the artist's persona. These pictures sustained Beansprout through the final difficult decade of his life, his burgeoning style illuminating countless subjects of remarkable diversity, from the austerely fascinating "Electroencephalogram of a Depressed Paramecium" to the romantically mellow and gently pastel-hued "Hedgehogs Detonating at Sunset, Euston Square Station".

In the last two years of his life, the artist's time became more and more occupied with human portraiture, thanks in large part to the enthusiasm of his new-found patron, the reclusive and grossly narcissistic billionaire John Paul Giddy III, who appears in most of Beansprout's late canvases. These include such titles as "Unremarkable Profile", "Nonentity", "Smallish Person with Incipient Baldness Problem" and one of his very last works, "Man with Forgettable Features Destroying an Art Studio". Weeks after this last portrait was completed, Giddy inexplicably withdrew his sponsorship, and Beansprout was left in penury, to die by accident when a bus shelter fell on him.


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