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Kate Moss

  • 8 min read

Global style icon and consummate party girl Kate Moss is the most successful British model of all time. As well as being the most controversial and enduring model of our era, she is the generation’s muse, inspiring more artists’ work than any other non-religious or royal subject in history.

Kate Moss was born in Croyden and discovered at the of age fourteen. She arrived on the British cultural landscape in 1988 and ever since has been the English model at the height of fashion; the British beauty transcending every trend. Fashion designer Marc Jacobs has described her as the “muse to a generation... She defines a time, a feeling, that has become part of history.”

Beautilicious by Dirty Hans

Beautilicious by Dirty Hans

The supermodel has been tied into the art world professionally and socially ever since she was asked to collaborate with a series of YBAs (Young British Artists), for an art issue of British Vogue. The fact that the emergence of YBAs started to make its presence felt when Kate was already an international star could certainly be a major factor in her ascent as the most popular artist’s muse of modern times.

Kate Moss hung out with Damien Hirst, became pals with Tracey Emin and at one point was said to be romantically involved with Jack Chapman. She’s revealed, “I’ve worked with a lot of artists – Lucian Freud, Marc Quinn, Tracey Emin, Gary Hume, Jake and Dinos Chapman... I became friends with some of them. A lot of them really. And, you know, we’d seen each other out, hung out at parties and what have you, and over the years they’d ask me to do odd projects” Here are a few of her artistic entanglements...

Freudian Friend

In 2002, Kate Moss befriended one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, Lucian Freud. The unlikely pair were introduced after Moss named Freud as the person she would most like to meet in a questionnaire for i-D magazine. Within two days Lucian Freud’s daughter Bella Freud got in touch, saying “He just wants to go for dinner with you. Don’t be late.”

After going for dinner together, Freud immediately began painting Moss, who was pregnant with her daughter Lila Grace at the time. In interviews Moss said, “I went to his house and he started that night. I couldn’t say no to Lucian. Very persuasive. I phoned Bella the next day and said, ‘How long is it going to take?’ She said: ‘How big is the canvas’. I said, ‘it’s quite big,’ She said: ‘Oh dear, could take six months to a year.”

The painting took nine months to complete. Freud’s new muse sat from 7pm to 2am, up to seven nights a week. In the large painting her features are unrecognizably heavy. Her skin is rendered thick and blotchy from Freud’s signature application of swatches of paint slathered on the canvas with a palette knife. Critic David Cohen has asserted that, "It seems incongruous for Kate Moss to end up in a Freud painting: His aesthetic, so redolent of the miserabilist, earnest, existentialist postwar period in which he came artistically of age, seems a far cry from the slick, trashy, ephemeral pop culture epitomized by the cult of celebrity models."

However, the model muse and master painter found an unexpected affinity. Moss described Freud as “the most interesting person” she had ever met, while he conceded she was “physically intelligent”, but bemoaned she was always late for their sittings. There’s a touching photograph of Freud lying in bed with Moss, his arm around her, taken by his assistant, the artist David Dawson. Moss has said “I love that picture in the bed... Lucian was always really kind. I adored him.”

Not only did Freud capture Moss on canvas, he left his indelible mark on her body. The artist told the model how he used to give homemade tattoos using permanent ink and a scalpel when he was in the Merchant Navy during World War II. In an interview with Vanity Fair Moss explained, “He told me about when used to do all of the tattoos for the sailors. And I said, ‘Oh my God that’s amazing.’ And he went, ‘I can do you one. What would you like? Would you like creatures of the animal kingdom?’ I mean, it’s an original Freud.” And so Moss is now the muse who sports a physical signature, on her lower back, from the artist whose masterpiece portrait sold for £3.9m.

Kate Moss - Glow

Kate Moss - Glow by VeeBee

The Golden Touch

Since 2006, Marc Quinn has made numerous studies of supermodel Kate Moss. His highly anticipated sculptures of Kate Moss have transformed the unearthly beauty into a contorted figure with ankles wrapped awkwardly round her ears and the largest gold statue made since Ancient Egypt (solid 18 carat). “The sculptures are really about the same thing: why we do, or do not, find a person beautiful”, said the contemporary artist.

To create his artwork, Quinn found someone who could do the yoga poses and took many drawings, photographs and measurements. Later Moss went into the studio and Quinn made some life casts and took further photographs and measurements. From all of this he sculpted Kate’s body in the pose with her exact proportions.

Quinn was drawn to Moss because of her ambiguous place in contemporary culture; a creature who is admired and obsessively observed, but about whom we know very little. He told The Guardian, “She is a contemporary version of the Sphinx. A mystery. There must be something about her that has clicked with the collective unconscious to make her so ubiquitous, so spirit of the age.” “Kate Moss is a cultural hallucination we have all agreed to create,” he asserts, “She is the only person who has the ubiquity and silence that is required in an image of divinity, that has been created through time, so that we can project onto it”

‘Siren’ (2008), Quinn’s solid gold sculpture was exhibited in the British Museum. Named after the deadly marine seductresses of Greek mythology, the piece presents Moss as a modern-day Aphrodite reminding us that her image has become as iconic as the goddesses of the ancient world. James Fox, co-curator of the display at the British Museum, said “It’s not about Kate Moss in its accuracy to her character. It’s using her likeness that has become so iconic to explore broader themes, to make a familiar face unfamiliar. What Quinn might be doing here is creating her in a cult-like form, in a solid-gold state, as a comment on celebrity culture and how it has mythologies Moss like a goddess, feverishly”

One of Marc Quinn’s Kate Moss sculptures, ‘Myth Venus’, sold for $1.2m at a Christie’s contemporary art auction in New York in 2011. The ten-foot-tall, white-painted bronze went to an “exceptionally cultivated” private contemporary collection and the hammer price was at the top end of pre-auction estimates. Kate Moss is truly the muse with the golden touch.

Stealth Kate by Mark Quinn

Stealth Kate by Mark Quinn

Pop Princess

If you had attended Kate Moss’ wedding you would have found Sir Peter Blake forking down the salmon alongside Bryan Ferry and Paul McCartney. The godfather of British Pop Art and the international fashion darling are pals. In fact it was Blake who took Moss to Stella McCartney’s 40th birthday party. Vogue reported, “In lieu of husband Jamie Hince, Moss arrived with pop artist Sir Peter Blake – famous for creating the Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ album sleeve – and his wife Chrissy.” The prestigious fashion magazine also published photographs of Moss and Blake at the birthday bash swigging bubbly with Tracey Emin.

    “I’d love to do a portrait of Kate”, Blake told the Telegraph, “Kate’s extraordinary because she’s not a great beauty but she photographs like a dream. It wouldn’t be a nude, it would just be of her face.” In 2010, Blake chose Kate Moss as one of his subjects for his stunning ‘Stars’ portfolio. Now Moss immortally sits alongside Brigit Bardot, Elvis Presley, The Beatles and Marilyn Monroe in his sparkling collection of Pop Art photo collages.

    When Blake reinvented his famous Beatles ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ album cover (1967) last year, Kate Moss made the impressive selection of people who have inspired the acclaimed artist over the decades. Appropriately the supermodel is situated beside her dear friend Lucian Freud, keeping Viviene Westwood, Alfred Hitchock Amy Winehouse, Anish Kapoor, Damien Hirst, JK Rowling, Delia Smith, David Hockney and others company. Peter Blake said, “I’ve chosen people I admire, great people and some who are dear friends.” Her enviable inclusion in the coolest collage in art history is proof of her position at the forefront of British culture; the perfect Pop Art princess.

    Model Graffiti

    Kate Moss is a big fan of Banksy. The infamous street artist immortalised Moss in a screen print portrait in the style of Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe. One of the prints was sold at auction in February 2008 for an astonishing £96,000. Two years later, Moss paid around $200,000 commissioning Banksy to create a mural for her. Apparently she wanted Banksy to depict her and some of her friends throughout the ages and the graffiti star even got the keys to her apartment to make the piece whilst she was on honeymoon.

    Banksy isn’t the only urban artist drawn to the British beauty, the maverick Mr Brainwash chose Moss as his muse for a giant mural promoting the debut of his first solo UK show. The brightly coloured paste-up was similar in style to Mr Brainwash’s Madonna album and situated on New Oxford Street. In his recent foray into British culture, Mr Brainwash has continued to explore Moss’ iconic image, depicting her in several successful limited edition prints and artworks, such as Kate Moss (Pink).

    Luminous Transcendence

    Chris Levine, famous for his hologram of Queen Elizabeth, has rendered Kate Moss as a ‘holographic stereogram’, a kind of light installation. His portrait, ‘She’s Light’ was created in collaboration with prominent make-up artist Charlotte Tilbury, a long-time friend of Moss’. It depicts the model in a meditative state, with red lipstick and a diamond necklace.

    “Kate has been an ambition of mine for some time,” Chris Levine told the Telegraph, “I always felt she was someone who somehow transcended fame for whatever reason her spirit was resonant in contemporary pop culture. It’s that spirit I wanted to express, to radiate.” Whilst Moss told Grazia Magazine, “I love collaborating with artists, so when my dear friend Charlotte asked me to do this project with Chris I was really excited, as his work is so unique. Chris captures from the outside what you feel inwards. It is amazing how he captures your spirit.”

    So why does Kate Moss think she’s become the art world’s 21st century muse? “I guess I’m adaptable. I don’t know, I kind of go with whatever they want. I don’t see myself as one thing. You know, I turn up at work and they can kind of do what they want with me really ,” she told Grazia magazine. Artist Alex Katz believes it is because “She’s completely ordinary. That’s what makes her extraordinary.” Certainly, the paradoxical nature of her accessible and mysterious beauty allows artists to approach but never quite capture the essence of her allure.

    At artrepublic we’re looking forward to another 25 years of great art inspired by the iconic Kate Moss.

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