We asked a cross-section of contemporary artists and musicians: What makes a dirty hit?



The Vaselines: I love The Vaselines, most of the time you don’t know if they’re taking it seriously, most probably not; tightness is hardly what springs to mind. The songs are wonderfully shambolic. My favourite is ‘Son Of A Gun’; it has effortlessly simple lyrics, with Eugene McKee sings of it raining when he goes away. Their songs are just wondrous inventions. They seemed to always be about sex; the lyrics and song titles, such as ‘Rory Rides Me Raw’, and that cheeky car horn in ‘Molly’s Lips’. Genius stuff! Of course, Nirvana, who were devoted fans, did a great cover, but the original is still the best.

The Stooges: I also love ‘Down On The Street’, on The Stooges album Fun House. Even before he sings, Iggy Pop comes on to us, growling and yelping like some feral animal. He’s in a deeply lost, wild place. When Iggy snarls “floating around, I’m a real low mind”, it is one dark,  mean, inescapably immersive place which you can’t turn away from. You just have to turn it up, and submit to it.

Nigel Cooke: Who is this painter, wildly bearded, standing bare-chested in the moonlight? With his creepy red smiley face burning like a fire. He is strangely lurking behind a tree, returning our gaze.

The mound/tree offers us a bit of security just in case he might get too close but his smile dark and devious, beckons us to him. You just know it looks like trouble to get involved with him. It’s very seductive.

Where has he come from, and what dark places might he take us to?

Nigel Cooke, 'Experience' (2009) the artist. Courtesy Stuart Shave/ Modern Art, London and Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York

Nigel Cooke, ‘Experience’ (2009) the artist. Courtesy Stuart Shave/ Modern Art, London and Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York

“Where has he come from, and what dark place might he take us to?”



It’s just so weird when it comes to sex. Sometimes, when you’re totally dirty, it can be so sexy; you’re filthy, he’s filthy and it’s all just so sexy. Not filthy like scatological filth, but like sweaty filth (male sweat- and even female sweat)- and cum and messy hair and dirty sheets and maybe a dirty bra and soiled knickers. Sometimes it’s all so sexy and other times it’s just so fucking gross.

Why is that?

It’s like art too- sometimes a painting just works, as if by magic, and other times it just doesn’t, even if the palette and subject matter are the same, the energy and sensuality can vary so much.

It’s hard to pinpoint what makes a really sexy painting. Gallerists are constantly ‘sexing up’ a work to sell it, but for it to actually embody something genuinely ‘sexy’ is, I think, quite rare. So, when I hear of sexy painting I usually think it’s something with an expensive price tag. However, Cecily Brown’s paintings are sexy and they are really dirty and, at time, quite sensual.

Tracey Emin and Gustav Klimt do dirty and sexy extremely well- especially work relating to masturbation. Willem de Kooning has a few works that are very sexy and very dirty. It’s those dirty fleshy pinks in ‘Pink Angels’ (1945) all the way up to ‘Woman, Sag Harbor’ (1964). Gerald Davis made that blow job painting, ‘Monica’ (2004) which was so sexy and so dirty. When I first saw the work, I was back and forth between being utterly repulsed and totally turned on. Elke Krystufek is sometimes too dirty or sometimes too sexy- I like this back and forth and occasionally being in the middle.

Gerald Davis, 'Monica' (2004) Courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London, Gerald Davies 2010

Gerald Davis, ‘Monica’ (2004) Courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London, Gerald Davies 2010

“I prefer an awkward, absurd sex that rarely finds itself in Britney Spears videos.”



I have a reputation for writing a lot of songs about sex. It isn’t strictly true, but you know, shit sticks. I try to avoid the streamlined, plastic and interstellar sex that permeates modern pop songs. I prefer an awkward, absurd sex that rarely finds itself in Britney Spears videos.

I like to use language that is uncommon in songs. I like to sing the word ‘fuck’. I don’t do it to shock; I think that would be impossible. It’s just that these are things we talk about everyday. They have become frequent territory for literature and television so why not songs?

Ambiguity and sweeping statements hold no appeal for me. I like to pepper my songs with no appeal for me. I use people’s names both real and fictional. It occurred to me that few people had attempted to write a song about porn and that it would be interesting to imagine a narrative based around a real porn star.

As a man I have, of course, in weaker moments, succumbed to the Internet’s primary use. I though there would be something amusing about using a porn star’s name that men would possibly recognise and women night assume was made up. The women in this industry have a strange type of fame, they are known to millions but remain covert, hidden.

Crissy Moran is not that different from any other porn star in the way she drifted from topless modelling into hardcore sex scenes. My only reason for basing a song on her was a certain dislocation in her eyes. She looked like she wanted to be somewhere else. Who wouldn’t? In every other way she was your normal pneumatic, glossy sex doll. She just looked so distracted.

The song had a serious intent. I was trying to write about something very sad and specific, a moment of tragic ennui amongst al the chaos of ugly, fake lovemaking. Porn is desperate and tragic in many ways and this idea of erotic displacement is something I’ve explored before and since in song. Nonetheless the song; ‘Crissy M’, was hidden away on an EP on a small label, I wasn’t that brave.

About a year later, a moderator of a forum attached to my website told me that a ‘Crissy Moran’ had registered. I brushed it aside but soon Crissy emailed me herself. The world has certainly been turned upside down when porn stars start Googling you. She said my song had made her cry but that she identified with it strongly. She told me that I was right to sing that “her heart wasn’t in it” and that she had abandoned ‘hardcore’ and now only did ‘girl on girl’. Oddly, she attached a picture of herself. Perhaps she though I didn’t know what she looked like?

I felt that I had done her a great disservice. Despite the fact that she seemed enamoured with the song, I felt I had just found a novel way to violate someone who had too often been disrespected. I said sorry and she was fine with it all, but the relationship didn’t last. Not with the distance involved.

Soon after, Crissy left the porn industry altogether and became a born again Christian. She is now something of a poster child for the Christian anti-porn movement. She often posts heartfelt blogs and she does seem happier, if not a little raw and fragile. She describes the porn industry as hurtful and manipulative. As an atheist, however, I can’t help but feel she’s won the body prize.

When journalists write about Crissy they often come across my song and ask for an interview. There isn’t much I can say; I didn’t base the song so much on a person as a moment, as imagined feeling. I was also asked for the song to be used in a film about ex-porn stars but I declined. I decided it better to shut the door on this episode.

I think that music can often be sexy but is rarely about sex itself. I have a big pile of CDs for ‘that’ mood, but I hardly ever find sex being sung about in the way that it is often written and talked about. Perhaps it is just too inelegant and brutal when you pull the airbrushed layers away.

Darren Hayman 2010

Darren Hayman 2010

Bill Burton’s dad has the stallion’s cock firmly in his grasp, holding it hard and tight against his body. All the boys are sat on the wooden fence, watching. It’s sunny day; as big as my teenage thigh and the colour of a love-bite. Finally, the member is guided into the mare and they are at it. An awkward, clumsy fuck; huge arses, metal hooves and the noise- like two tractors stuck in the mud, grinding their gears. All the boys are awkward; they fidget and flush pink, piebald patches on their bumfluff necks and faces. They each have a hard-on which they try to hide or snigger away. I’m wet and my heart is racing. I’m the only female there- apart from the mare.
Sex was a natural, spontaneous and urgent thing. Foreplay wasn’t a set of instructions bought from a magazine- it was the immediate, impulsive activation of the imagination, the dynamics of game-playing, adventure and charm. It felt more like catching rabbits and laying traps. It was chasing or being chased, running through ploughed fields, tangled grass at your feet; it was hiding in hedgerows and holding your breath, listening to your heart and the sound of a leather belt buckle been undone and let loose.
I instigated my sexual encounters and took my opportunities when I wanted to. Equality wasn’t a word I needed to use. Only when I went to the Comprehensive did I witness the alternative. The ‘townies’ version of sex was bravado and suspicion. A confusion of push me/pull me- sex was jeered at and desired in equal measure. Girls paid a high price, mentally and physically, to engage in sex and to appear ‘up for it’, with make-up as a disguise or defence. They all talked and worried about it continuously. Their sexual arena was smothered in rules, products and corruption. Relationships mimicked benign dictatorships, and bullies determined not only group hierarchies but laid down the laws of sexual acceptance. You could be viewed as a popular, bold, desirable lass or a slag within an hour. Finally, anyone who did actually have sex was mocked and often made an outcast.
I’d known intimacy and mutual respect -the honest pre-coital confessions of male aspirations, the sharing of fears and the articulation and testing out of opinions, all given as generously as the orgasms. Nature and the world could not function or service without the female and every farmer and their sons knew this. It was about balance not conquest.
These fumbling, feral sexual experiences of my childhood landscape, along with irrational superstition and folk law, inform my life and underpin my work. It may be socially ‘dirty’, but sex, like food, land and nature, is fundamental. It defines existence.
Louise Clarke, 'Sap' (2009)

Louise Clarke, ‘Sap’ (2009)



In ‘Up and Down #1’ (2004), Glenn Ligon has recounted a memory of a child’s conversation with his uncle. Whether this story is true or not is left to the viewer’s own interpretation. The language is loose and conservational. The author – a child, who we can assume is now an adult- starts the narrative with a bold a statement: “My family only fucked in one position…”

The word “pussy” (to describe female genitalia) is commonly used in a derogative context. The juxtaposition between the naive excitements of the body with the uncle’s worldly advice can be viewed as amusing and is certainly provocative. But why would an adult speak to a child like this? Is there something else that the adult is trying to allude to with regards to the child’s sexuality?

“My uncle like, ‘Boy don’t you ever kiss no pussy. I mean that. Whatever you do in life don’t kiss no pussy.’ I couldn’t wait to kiss a pussy. He’d been wrong about everything else…”

For me, the story that’s written out encapsulates the dysfunctional way that some men view women. It’s interesting that the fear and disgust from the uncle- who projects a very masculine and one-dimensional view of women- does not transfer to the child’s view of “the pussy”.

“Woman had to beat me off. That’s enough, that’s enough. Please, Please. Two days…”

The text concludes with a sense of urgency as the woman takes on the role of aggressor rather than a “pussy”. The narrator seems to be left unsatisfied and almost desperate. It becomes ambiguous as the text fades into an inconclusive, unreadable blur.

This painting interested me because of its strong graphic- the acid bright orange background jars against the purple and green text. This immediate use of colour draws the viewer in, yet on closer inspection the text/ narration become the focal point of the work. In the tradition of text painting, Ligon also conveys how words can be used as a form of visual language. This has certainly influenced my own practice.

Glenn Ligon 'Up And Down #1' (2004) Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles

Glenn Ligon ‘Up And Down #1’ (2004) Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles

Dennis Rodman was sexy when he was playing in the NBA (not in the Celebrity Big Brother house!) When he was playing basketball, everything about him seemed to be sexually explicit, and nothing about him was subtle, including his ever-changing hairdo. He was a bit transvestite-ish, or a least had an ambiguous and yet ferocious sexuality which, given the context of the ultra macho NBA, was sexual in a kind of rebellious way.


17 and-a-half words about ‘Sister Ray’ by the Velvet Underground; it’s the sound of two former lovers fucking each other for the last time (with no bass).
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