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The Young British Artist on vegan Christmas pudding, socks and night walks in London



What’s your earliest or best Christmas memory?

My eldest son was born on 24 December and we left hospital on Christmas Day. And when we went out onto the streets of Paddington they were absolutely deserted; there was no one there. We were just a couple clutching a baby, with no experience of what you were supposed to do with a newborn. It felt like a bomb had gone off and we were emerging from a shelter. A very magical experience. We spent the rest of the day with my now late grandmother and my family, and my grandmother unfortunately had Alzheimer’s so she kept saying ‘He’s very young, does he sleep well at night?’ and we just replied ‘We don’t really know, he’s brand-new.’


What smells and tastes do you associate with the festive period?

Mulled wine and frankincense.


Do you prefer Christmas pudding, Christmas cake or a chocolate Yule log?

Christmas pudding because it’s vegan and I’m vegan, so the other ones are off limits. I’ve actually never come across a Yule log. It seems like a traditional thing, but I haven’t seen one.


What’s on your Christmas list to give and/or to receive from The Royal Exchange?

At the moment I’m having a moment with amazing tea from Fortnum & Mason. So it would be tea for Turk. To be honest, when it comes to giving, I like to give people art. That can be a little difficult as a lot of my art is quite challenging, but it would be wrong if I didn’t. I’m definitely into making and doing; homemade, handmade.


What’s your Christmas gift-wrapping style?

Definitely recycled. I would say I am quite neat; but quite often when it comes down to it I haven’t got the Sellotape ready. Then they get it wrapped using the ribbon to hold it together, or some mad origami folding technique that doesn’t require any Sellotape. I do like invisible tape. It looks frosty. I also quite like ribbons or strings.


Do you have any special, unique or unconventional Christmas traditions?

I dream about going for a walk after lunch, but lunch is always so late that we end up going for a walk in the dark. So that’s the tradition – a London night-time walk. And we go as far as we can manage. You’ve got to walk off that lunch. The city is always deserted and that’s one of the nice things about this time of year. Our street is normally bumper-to-bumper with cars, but it’s really empty on Christmas day.


Do you own a Christmas jumper?

About five years ago I got a jumper from Amnesty International as a present. It’s a grey jumper with a barbed-wire design around the neck that looks like tinsel, so the effect is festive. People see it and say ‘Ahhhh’ – and then they see what it is and say ‘Ooooh’.


Boxers or socks?

The year before last, my mum gave me this thing where I get a pair of socks every month, so I’m alright for socks. So it would have to be boxers. The sock delivery is a great present for someone, though. They come in the post. It’s lovely. If you want someone to feel your presence from long range, it’s a good reminder. The people in my studio once gave me a similar thing for cheese – a cheese delivery every month. Socks and cheese. There’s a connection there somewhere.


What’s your favourite Christmas film?

It’s a Wonderful Life, like everybody else. I just plug in and weep.


Do you have a favourite Christmas song?

Well, not wanting to sound like a Grinch, but it’s not any song on those round-and-round-and-round playlists. I do like the classic Nat King Cole song but I can’t listen to it at Christmas. There’s that horrible moment when you realise you’ve started tapping your foot to one of those Christmas songs. So any song that isn’t one of those!


What signifies the start of the festive season for you?

It does seem to be the moment that you see decorations going up in the shops in November.


What do you think is the best way to help others at Christmastime?

It’s giving your time. My wife Deborah did several years for Crisis at Christmas with her mother, where they went and looked after people who don’t have homes and generally live on the streets. So giving others who need it a lot of attention.


Gavin Turk is part of the Young British Artists movement. He has pioneered many forms of contemporary British sculpture, including the painted bronze, the waxwork, the recycled art-historical icon and the use of rubbish in art;