Joshua Compston

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Joshua Compston
Joshua Richard Compston

(1971-06-01)June 1, 1971
Putney, London, England
Died5 March 1996(1996-03-05) (aged 25)
Shoreditch, London, England
Resting placeKensal Green Cemetery
EducationCamberwell School of Art, Courtauld Institute of Art
Known forContemporary art
Notable work
A Fete Worse Than Death, Other Men's Flowers
MovementFactual Nonsense, Young British Artists
Patron(s)Jeremy Fry, Charles Booth-Clibborn

Joshua Richard Compston (1 June 1970 – 5 March 1996) was a London curator and progressive thinker, whose company Factual Nonsense was closely associated with the emergence of the Young British Artists (YBAs).

Early life and career beginnings[edit]

Compston was born in Putney. The son of a judge, he was educated at St Edward's School, Oxford. Encouraged by his parents, Compston became an enthusiastic collector of antiques and ephemera. In his adolescence, he developed a friendship with Sir Peter Blake, and would bring him gifts of found ephemera.[1]

Compston studied Art Foundation at Camberwell School of Art, followed by History of Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art.[2] At Camberwell, Compston was the contemporary of Darren Coffield, who later became his biographer.

At the Courtauld he soon became frustrated that the teachers and art writers were taking insufficient interest in the work of living artists, and that as a result students were ignorant of major figures in 20th century art.[3] Traditionally, students at the Courtauld had been taught in rooms hung with the masterworks from the history of art. Taking advantage of a relocation of the school, and new empty walls in the teaching rooms, he put all his enthusiasms into levering the Courtauld into exhibiting the work of contemporary painters on temporary loan - a practice which continues to this day, entitled 'The East Wing Biennial'.[4] He graduated from the Courtauld in 1992. At this time, he was associated with the American gallerist Maureen Paley.

Factual Nonsense[edit]

In 1993, he opened a gallery at 44a Charlotte Road, Shoreditch, the first gallery to open in what was then a semi-derelict part of east London. European Dadaist manifestos, 20th century propaganda and the Arts and Crafts Movement were influences in his creation of the Factual Nonsense brand and concept of social philosophy. The name was taken from the title of a painting by David Taborn.

As well as working with many of the artists of the YBA movement, including Gavin Turk, Tracey Emin, Sarah Lucas, Angus Fairhurst and Damien Hirst, Compston's main collaborator was the printer Thomas Shaw, with whom he created numerous Factual Nonsense posters, prints and other printed matter.

Compston organised events in Shoreditch as a part of his deliberate vision of shaping an artist community and creating far reaching urban regeneration, both of which became his actual legacy.[5] The events included two summer fetes (A Fete Worse Than Death), and a picnic in Hoxton Square (The Hanging Picnic).[6] Compston's legacy to Shoreditch was celebrated by a revival of A Fete Worse Than Death in 2014. His archive is held by the Tate Gallery.


In 1996, at the age of 25, Compston died as the result of taking ether at his gallery in Charlotte Road, which was also his home. His coffin was painted with a William Morris pattern by Gary Hume and Gavin Turk.[7] His funeral was attended by several hundred mourners including leading figures of the London art scene.[8] He is buried at Kensal Green Cemetery. Compston's tomb, on which he is depicted laid out on his little Thames boat, was carved from Portland stone by the artist and cartoonist Zebedee Helm.[9]

Published biographies[edit]

  • Jeremy Cooper - No Fun Without U: The Art of Factual Nonsense, 2000
  • Darren Coffield - Factual Nonsense: The Art and Death of Joshua Compston, 2013


  1. ^ Buck, Louisa (14 August 2013). "Factual Nonsense: The Art And Death of Joshua Compston". London: The Telegraph.
  2. ^ Cohen, David (15 March 1996). "Obituary: Joshua Compston". The Independent. London. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ "A Fete Worse Than Death". London: Made In Shoreditch. 19 June 2014.
  6. ^ Buck, Louisa (14 August 2013). "Factual Nonsense: The Art And Death of Joshua Compston". London: The Telegraph.
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 7 August 2008. Retrieved 30 September 2009.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ Leeming, Robert (20 August 2013). "Factual Nonsense: The Extraordinary Life and Art of Joshua Compston". Manchester: Flux Magazine.
  9. ^