Bill Drummond: How To Sell Your Soul To The Devil

The artist behind the KLF reveals he is flogging it again - this weekend at the Manchester Contemporary

Written by  Bill Drummond | Follow @ | Thursday, 25 September 2014 08:59

I SOLD my soul to the Devil once, can’t remember when I did it, but I got a good price. I got all the trimmings – fame, fortune, that sort of thing.

But then I had to take things a step further because I wanted to get my soul back again. This required the mandatory trip to the heart of darkness, which, as prescribed, was a journey up the Congo River to the inner station – literally.


For a time I found myself making music. It was during this period I sold my soul to the Devil. But then in the late 90s, after I got my soul back, I gave in to the urge to start painting again


Then things got rather hazy, something to do with the Tree of Knowledge and the Serpent still up on his branch and me nicking my soul out of his back pocket when he wasn’t looking. This was back in 1996. And all this really happened except for the bit that I dreamt, about the Tree.

The thing is, I did get my soul back. You would think I would be grateful for the rest of eternity. But here I am planning to trade it in again. 

This is the backstory, or at least part of it:

At the age of 17, I found myself at art school, for want of anything better to do. But while there I fell in love with painting. And under the spell of a particular tutor, he had us working from the life model eight hours a day, five days a week. He only let us use charcoal for the first three months. And never let us spend more than ten minutes on each drawing, before tearing it up and starting again. Then he allowed us to use black and white acrylic. We were now allowed to spend up to 30 minutes before we had to destroy what we had painted. He was teaching us to see and not just look. 

Then stuff happened and I was facing a three-year prison sentence. 

Bill Drummond Hanging His 25 Paintings At The Manchester Contemporary YesterdayHanging and flogging: Bill Drummond puts up his 25 Paintings in preparation for the Manchester Contemporary taking place this weekend

What was going on in art school seemed irrelevant, compared to what was going on in the real world.

 I decided to spend the rest of my life making art in the real world. So I put down my paintbrush and walked out of Liverpool Art College. The art I assumed I would be making would take the form of the written word. 

My hero at the age of 16 was Lennon, at 17 was Rembrandt, at 18 it was Kerouac. 

The real world embraced me. I did lots of different jobs in different parts of the country, from being apprentice trawlerman out of Aberdeen, to being a shuttering joiner building a bridge over the M5. And I wrote thousands and thousands of words. I destroyed each notebook as it was filled. My tutor would have been proud of me. 

Then for a time I found myself making music. It was during this period I sold my soul to the Devil. But then in the late 90s, after I got my soul back, I gave in to the urge to start painting again. But before doing so I set down the rules: 

Only use black or white acrylic paint. 

And no mixing of paint.

All canvases the same size.

All the golden section (A format).

All 6’ 3” X 4’ 5”.

The subject matter would be words.

The words would all use the typeface Trade Gothic Bold Condensed.

The words would relate to the various jobs that I was working on.

The paintings would act as signposts, adverts or proclamations for the jobs. 

These paintings would have nothing to do with self-expression. 

Then after painting the first two, I decided to allow myself the three primaries – red, yellow and blue – but definitely no mixing of colours. This was to be done in exchange for limiting the amount of paintings I would make to 25.

By 2004, all 25 canvases were painted and actively working as signposts, adverts or proclamations for what I was working on.

But after the 25th canvas was painted, I needed another one. So instead of breaking the rules, I painted over the first one with primer and started again. And that is what I have carried on doing. 

By 2013 the majority of the 25 canvases had been painted over four or five times. Layer on top of layer. It is like when I was 17 and in love with Rembrandt and I used to try to do all the layers of glaze that he would do to give a sense of depth. But in my 25 paintings there is no sense of depth.

These paintings are not for sale. They have a job to do.

Since 2011 they have also had a double life in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

In 2013 I decided to take these 25 paintings on a world tour. And I started to refer to them as The 25 Paintings. The world tour began this year (2014) under Spaghetti Junction in Birmingham and will end there in 2025.

Then somebody asked me if I would paint them a copy of one of these paintings for them, but not as big. I needed money to finance the world tour. So I decided to do A0 size scale models of all 25 of the paintings and offer them for sale at £5,000 each or £100,000 for a full set.

Then somebody asked me if I could do an A4 size one for them. So I did all 25 paintings at A4 to sell them at £1,000 each or £20,000 for a full set. But these A0 and A4 scale models would not be limited editions. I would sell as many as there are buyers. Each would be a unique scale model. I am yet to try to sell any of them. Thus have no idea if there will be any takers.

But then someone asked me what I would sell the whole 25 of the original ones for. And without thinking I said £1,000,000. That only works out at £40,000 per canvas. But there’s another thing: whoever buys them can not take physical ownership of them until the world tour is complete in 2025 and no more layers are going to be painted onto them.

Now I have passed my 1,000-word limit for this text and I haven’t told you how to sell your soul yet. So if you still need to know, email me at bill@penkilnburn.com and I will answer.

*Bill Drummond is knitting, nattering, selling souls and paintings on the Eastside Projects stand of the Manchester Contemporary, Old Granada Studios, Quay Street, Manchester, from this Friday (September 26) Until Sunday (September 28).