Jeremy Deller has been tapped to take over the British Pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale, but that doesn't mean the 46-year-old London-born artist is the embodiment of British contemporary art. "I don't think I'm meant to be representing the ideals of the country," Deller says. "No, it's just that they think you're suitable, that you're doing an okay job, basically. We'll see." Deller has never been an artist consumed by his own ego. For more than two decades, his multidimensional, multivenue work, which spans music, film, ephemeral performances, archival research, a snack bar, simple signs raised in public spaces, even a historical recreation of a 1984 clash between police and striking coal miners, has continually emphasized the power of community over the individual and the extraordinary social value of inclusion rather than the sterility of white walls. The tone can be humorous (a banner reading "life is to blame for everything" hung outside the Hayward Gallery in London at a recent retrospective; "Bless This Acid House" remains a popular art poster from 2005). It can also be stark (previous works have touched on the war in Iraq and the 1993 siege in Waco, Texas). But, in either mode, Deller may be the closest contemporary artist we have to carrying on the magnetic, open-ended spirit of the Happening. This past November, Deller exhibited his latest effort, a show at New York's Gavin Brown, which Deller refers to as "Animal, Vegetable, Pop Music." Deller created two biopics—one of eccentric British artist Bruce Lacey, the other of glam-rock professional wrestler Adrian Street—constructing odes to the drives and desires of these two outsize personae. "They are both biographies of living people maybe past their time in age but still working, still doing stuff, and also pretty much maverick characters within their world," Deller explains. A maverick character himself, Deller spends much of his time at a small coffee shop on Holloway Road in Islington, where he likes to hang out and conduct meetings. "I go there as much as I can, really," he says. "I have a lot of stairs up to my apartment—like 80 stairs—and some people, that just kills them. It's easier for me to go down the stairs and meet people there." Deller seems committed to bringing everyone together on the street.
PHOTO: JEREMY DELLER IN LONDON, OCTOBER 2012. ALL CLOTHING: DELLER'S OWN. HAIR: CHI WONG/JULIAN WATSON AGENCY. PRODUCTION: ANGELE ALBERTI/ THE PRODUCTION CLUB. PHOTOGRAPHY ASSISTANT: ZACK MICHAEL HOLLISTER. STYLIST ASSISTANT: SALLY BOLTON.