James Leavey's Sharing An Ashtray With... Tracey Emin

Tracey Emin

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James Leavey's Corner
  By James Leavey

The outspoken, provocativeLondon artist, speaks up...

JL: When did you startsmoking"

TE: I canít reallyinclude the first time I had a puff Ė I started smoking on my ownwhen I was about thirteen.

JL: Was that because ofyour friends"

TE: Major peer pressurefrom my mum, no really my family Ė everyone smoked.  I didnít wantto smoke because I did cross-country running.  One day I justthought, ĎOh fuck ití, went off and bought some fags and juststarted smoking; if you canít beat them, join them.

JL: How did yourcross-country running go, after that"

TE: It kind of sloweddown considerably, Iíd say.

JL: Did you stop for apuff, sometimes"

TE:  I used to run veryfast, disappear round the corner, and then sit around for a while,smoking fags, then sprint like hell for the end Ė finally I lostheart.

JL: What do you smokenow"

TE: I smoke MarlboroughLights, but I think I want to change to American Spirit.

JL: Why"

TE: Because theyíve gotno chemicals in them and no toxics.  And I have really chronicheadaches, and my eyes water all the time.  I try to blame it onmany things, but at the end of the day I think itís smoking. Istopped smoking for two and a half years, 1990 Ė 1993. I put a fagout and I thought, ĎRight!  Thatís it.í It was so easy because I waspregnant at the time. Then me and Sarah Lucas did the shop andthought it would be funny if we were both smoking. I thought I couldjust start and stop whenever I like.  

JL: What influence hassmoking had on art"

TE: Itís had quite a biginfluence, in a weird way, cos smoking kind of conjures up images ofdecadence and that kind of thing.

JL: And what influencehas smoking had on your work"

TE: Not so much influence- I havenít done much work with smoking, as such.  Itís more likewhen Iím working, I tend to chain-smoke, which is really bad. I likewriting in the morning but I donít smoke in the morning, so I tendnot to write any more.

JL: Thatís a shameÖ

TE: No, I doÖI have tofit it in, somewhere. But, you know, itís a problem.

JL: Youíve actuallyincluded fags in some of your workÖ

TE: Quite a lot. Becauseat the time I probably was smoking.  Also, I made my ĎUncle Colinípiece, which had a packet of Benson & Hedges in, because he died ina car crash and when he died he was actually holding them in hishand.

JL: Do you think in thenear future we'll be spending more time looking at smoking as an artform, than actually smoking"

TE: No. Smoking isaddictive, and pleasurable in some cases.  Itís the thing people doto unwind.  Itís not to be associated with art. Artists might usecigarettes or smoking or whatever in their work, but I donít thinktheyíd say smoking is an art form.

JL: What about peoplecollecting old fag packets and all that smoking ephemera for thedesign"

TE: Thatís the art ofpackaging. Itís not to be confused with smoking as an art form.

JL: If an anti-smokinggallery owner refused to exhibit your work, on the grounds that itencouraged smoking, what would you do"

TE: I wouldnít be showingwith that gallery, would I, because they wouldnít be interested inme.  Theyíre gonna be so fucking anally retentive, theyíre not goingto like my work, in the first place.  Saying that, a lot ofgalleries in America are non-smoking.  The gallerists arenít againstsmoking, itís just that itís against the law to smoke in a publicplace over there.  You donít really have much choice on that one.

JL: Do you mind if peoplesmoke while looking at your work"

TE: I donít like itbecause a lot of my work is textiles, and quite fragile. I donítwant it to be absolutely reeking of smoke.

JL: If there was a buttonthat, once pressed, would remove every image of smoking from theworld's art galleries, would you press it"

TE: No, of course not. Ithink people should be able to choose what they wanna do.  But Iknow smoking is not good for me, and Iím a happier person when Iímnot doing it. I donít smoke in the mornings, but when I start, Ichain-smoke.

JL: So would you like togive up smoking"

TE: Yeah, if I couldpress a button and remove every ounce of nicotine from my body andIíd never smoke again, then I would Ė absolutely, fucking,definitely.

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