‘I enjoyed the hate’: Tat Vision on his Four Lads in Jeans statue – and his cabaret show

His golden sculpture, inspired by a meme of lads in eye-wateringly tight trousers, sparked a storm of derision. But is it even the Birmingham artist’s strangest work? Our writer finds out on a tour of his clutter-filled studio

‘That’s from a religion I created 10 years ago,” says Tat Vision, pointing to the corner of his studio where a giant papier-mache spider lies draped over a cross. “It will catch on one day,” he adds casually, as I negotiate my way through all the other oddities cluttering every surface of this workspace in central Birmingham, from Freddie Mercury masks to wobbly towers of VHS tapes and retro board games.

Yet nothing else here is so strange as what is standing proudly in the centre of the studio. If you cast your mind back to 2020, you may remember a photograph that went viral, known as the Four Lads in Jeans meme. It featured a quartet of muscular, sock-free lads wearing some of the tightest trousers known to humankind.

The shot, taken near Birmingham’s New Street station, spawned multiple parodies, including an animation appearing to show them singing a sea shanty. Most people’s reaction was to laugh, or perhaps ponder the nature of modern masculinity. But Vision’s response was to re-create the image as a lifesize golden papier-mache sculpture. When it was recently unveiled, outside the same All Bar One where the photo was taken, the statue made national headlines.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” says the 34-year-old Brummie, whose real name, disappointingly, isn’t Tat Vision but Well Douglas. “I never realised it would take off so much.” His distinctive sculpting style, which he describes as “quite messy and semi-disturbing for some people”, generated strong opinions, with some slamming the statue for being a “waste of money” and “an absolute mess”. Not that he’s bothered.

Give us a sea shanty … the original Four Lads in Jeans meme.
Give us a sea shanty … the original Four Lads in Jeans meme. Photograph: Kevin Rooney/PA

“I quite enjoyed those negative comments,” he says. “I heard people talk about it with a lot of hate when I was out – not knowing that I made it. I quite enjoyed that too, the sneakiness of it, being able to listen to people’s opinions. Negative comments are just good kindling for the fire. It helps spread it to the people who do understand.”

Douglas’s sculpture, which now lives in his studio having only been commissioned as a temporary display, references not just the Four Lads in Jeans but also a brightly gilded statue in the city centre known as The Golden Boys. It depicts three 18th-century engineering pioneers examining a partially rolled-up plan of a steam engine (although the work is nicknamed The Carpet Salesman as the plan does look a bit carpet-like). “I saw the Four Lads as my own version of a modern Greek statue,” says Douglas.

His studio is littered with striking papier-mache heads, including a Dominic Cummings mask that featured on fellow Brummie artist Cold War Steve’s Sky Arts documentary last year. But papier-mache oddities are just part of the Brummie’s artistic range. His Tat Vision moniker developed out of a YouTube show he created about his trawls through charity shops on the hunt for tat. “I love the mystery of it,” he says, “and the nostalgia of seeing something you haven’t seen in years.” The idea was to find items he could use to create short surreal movies or put in a review show.

‘I heard people talk about it with a lot of hate’ … the sculpture outside All Bar One.
‘I heard people talk about it with a lot of hate’ … the sculpture outside All Bar One. Photograph: Emma Trimble/SWNS

His tat gems include a collection of various copies of the 2001 movie Swordfish. “It’s a film with Hugh Jackman and John Travolta about hacking and it’s pretty awful,” he explains, adding that one of his recent acquisitions is a 1980s “smart plate” which was designed to not just hold a meal, but a drink and cutlery as well. “You can see someone has invented it thinking it will take off – and it’s just been left behind. Tackiness is important, particularly with the packaging: old print and old design, how it looks. We just did things so differently in the 80s and 90s.”

Douglas soon began creating artworks out of the tat, inspired by the 1990s kids TV show Art Attack. So far he’s made a Tat Mona Lisa and a Tat Robocop. But his current focus is the Tat Vision stage show, which he has taken to a number of festivals and venues around Birmingham. He’s planning a Christmas panto version for December.

“The show is a more me version of me, where I’m obsessed with tat and that’s my entire life. It has mutated into a weird cabaret show, kind of like a big pantomime with over-the-top villains, music numbers and comedy.”

For Douglas, who studied fine art at Birmingham School of Art, interacting with the public is just as important as the work itself. “I think people are a bit baffled because my shows are like a sensory overload,” he says. “I’m doing about three or four different things, trying to cram it into a small amount of time. But I like a cluttered show. It takes people out of their comfort zones and I think that’s important.”

Most artists wish the world would start taking their work seriously. But Douglas would prefer the world to stop taking his so seriously. “It’s all about the fun and the playfulness of it,” he says. “It’s good when people can have a joke about it. But others will always get annoyed. And that’s funny.”

Tat Vision is hosting a Halloween mask making workshop at Dig Brew Co in Birmingham on 27 October.


Jessica Murray

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
‘It can’t be ignored’: Osman Yousefzada on his gigantic artwork
He has dressed Beyoncé and Lady Gaga – and now he’s dressed Birmingham. As his ‘infinity pattern’ is unveiled, the artist talks poverty, class – and why he’s not interested in being a ‘good immigrant’

Kate Finnigan

26, Jul, 2021 @8:49 AM

Article image
‘I made an exhibition for dogs’: enter the strange alternative universes of artist Mike Nelson
He’s built a cannabis farm, invented a biker gang, and created an immersive warren of 15 sinister rooms. As he opens a landmark retrospective, the installation artist invites us into his curiosity-crammed studio

Charlotte Higgins

14, Feb, 2023 @4:02 PM

Article image
Was the fiddler framed? How Nero may have been a good guy after all
He was a demonic emperor who stabbed citizens at random and let Rome burn. Or was he? We go behind the scenes at a new show exploding myths about the ancient world’s favourite baddie

Charlotte Higgins

24, May, 2021 @4:06 PM

Article image
Gilbert and George on their epic Covid artworks: 'This is an enormously sad time'
The artists have responded to the pandemic with comic, haunting works showing themselves being buffeted around a chaotic London. They talk about lines of coffins, illegal raves and ‘shameful’ statue-toppling

Jonathan Jones

01, Mar, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
Damien Hirst: 'I flirted with the idea of pickling people'
As a survey of his work opens amid the snow of St Moritz, the artist talks about his obsession with blood, his disconnection from the art world, and why he misses banter with his army of assistants

Jonathan Jones

18, Feb, 2021 @7:15 AM

Article image
The best art and architecture of 2021 – the year the galleries reopened
As the galleries reopened, Jean Dubuffet was recast as an incendiary prophet, Poussin revealed his raunchy side – and a giant Swedish ‘plyscraper’ showed the miracle of wood. Our critics rank the highlights of 2021

Adrian Searle, Jonathan Jones and Oliver Wainwright

20, Dec, 2021 @9:46 AM

Article image
‘Clay feels perverse’ – Theaster Gates on working on Obama’s library and going back to pottery
The superstar ‘social artist’ has revived derelict buildings and rescued a legendary record collection – but in lockdown, as two new UK exhibitions show, it was singing and throwing pots that made him happy

Alex Needham

21, Oct, 2021 @5:00 AM

Article image
From Hokusai to Himid: the unmissable art and architecture of autumn 2021
Hokusai explodes into Britain, Sebastião Salgado paddles up the Amazon, Lubaina Himid gets a retrospective – and an eccentric postmodern bath finally opens to the public

Adrian Searle, Jonathan Jones , Oliver Wainwright and Sean O’Hagan

26, Aug, 2021 @7:00 AM

Article image
‘Colour is in my blood!’: the vivid life of artist Sheila Hicks
She was taught by Josef Albers, bought rugs for Stanley Kubrick, and lives where Dr Guillotin experimented with his equipment. Yet, at 87, there’s only one person the great textile artist wants to impress

Charlotte Higgins

05, Apr, 2022 @5:00 AM

Article image
‘I feel your country’s anger’ – why the memorial to Britain’s Covid dead will be set ablaze
David Best’s temple-like monument will be filled with mementoes and notes from bereaved relatives – then torched. The Burning Man sculptor explains how this will create a path to peace

Kat Lister

17, May, 2022 @2:44 PM