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Sex & Violence, Death & Silence

Gordon Burn

Gordon Burn – I think he’s a genius. – Damien Hirst, Guardian

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‘The Pop artists were among the first to understand the desire of consumers to change their lives through the purchase of clean, manufactured commodities. YBA, on the other hand, was more interested in the dirt that accrues beneath the laminate surface of shiny things. Their special perception was that cheap language and cheap materials didn’t have to equal cheap thinking. The trick was to tell it in a jaunty, unportentous, off-hand, unliterary – anti-literary – way. And then there were the drugs.’

Spanning nearly 35 years, Sex & Violence, Death & Silence is a collection of the best of Gordon Burn’s writing on art. Focusing on two principle generations – the Royal College pop art of Hockney and his contemporaries, and the YBA sensations of the 1990s – it explores how these artists rose to prominence with their friends and contemporaries, and what happened next.

Burn’s work is fast becoming a kind of chronicle. Its factuality always connects with the broader poetic rythms of cultural life. Displaying all his customary insight and empathy, his writing adds up to much more than a collection of pieces on art: superbly evocative and engaging, it offers a pathway through two of the most important and vibrant periods in recent art history, and is another compelling and ruminative look at our culture.

Critic Reviews

(A) chance to enjoy Burn's perceptive eye and voluptuous phrase-making ... It's a collection that justifies magazine journalism and asks the rest of us to up our game. ... Burn's writing whispers and sometimes screams with life.

Teddy Jamieson, Sunday Herald
Critic Reviews

Burn keeps himself honest not only by being knowledgeable, thorough and readable, but by mainly interviewing rather than interpreting the artists. And not just the artists: he acknowledges the importance of the dealers and collectors, too. ... It is, and will remain, one of the movement's essential documents.

Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian
Critic Reviews

Sex & Violence, Death & Silence offers an intimate, gossipy introduction not just to our most famous but to some of our more forgotten talents. Here is David Hockney shuffling about in his slippers and swigging at a bottle of brown ale, or Damien Hirst at his very first encounter with Jay Jopling, or Tracey Emin lamenting the destruction of her tent. Burns's talent is to make his readers feel like insiders too.

Rachel Campbell-Johnston, The Times
Critic Reviews

The most welcome book of my year was Sex & Violence, Death & Silence by Gordon Burn. It is also the saddest for, as well as being Burn's tenth book, it is also the last that he wrote. He died in July at the ridiculously early age of sixty-one. ... It is as eclectic, clear-eyed and shrewdly cool as his journalism was. But Burn's inside connection with the art world and the YBAs represents only a minor part of his abundant talent and particular, mordant gifts. ... The world looks different once it's been 'Burned' - you feel wised-up, more knowing, more sceptical, more cautious. He is and will be hugely missed.

William Boyd, Books of the Year, Times Literary Supplement
Critic Reviews

Gordon Burn was a one-off. The range of his interests and competence made him impossible to define. ... It's as hard to find precursors for him (Hazlitt?) as to establish parallels. The qualities that mark out his writing are clarity, energy and an immediate grip on the reader's attention. Burn, who died earlier this year, was also an art critic and, as this huge collection from more than three decades demonstrates, he gave this subject too the benefit of his insatiable curiosity and descriptive powers. ... (His) writing throughout is dry, witty, keenly observant ... Among all the noise and drivel, he finds work worthy of his concentration, and the quality of his attention enlists that of the reader and viewer. It would be hard to ask for more.

Sean O'Brien, The Independent
Critic Reviews

This tantalisingly titled collection brings together Burn's best work on visual art and focuses on two key periods - the early Pop artists and the Young British Artists. ... The erudite yet approachable result, which mixes established icons alongside profiles of newer artists such as Richard Billingham and George Shaw, is indispensable for anyone interested in the modern British art that lives alongside - and behind - the headlines.

Tom Hicks, Metro

Gordon Burn was the author of four novels, Alma Cogan (winner of the Whitbread First Novel Prize), Fullalove, The North of England Home Service and Born Yesterday. He was also the author of the non-fiction titles Somebody’s Husband, Somebody’s Son, Pocket Money, Happy Like Murderers, On The Way to Work (with Damien Hirst) and Best and Edwards. His last book,…

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