A gay art school student, who plans to lose his virginity in front of a live audience, has been arrested in London while promoting the show.
Clayton Pettet, 19, who was warned that his performance art piece could breach decency laws, told The Daily Beast he had been picked up by police officers after taking an unconventional approach to publicity. He was caught by officers after spray painting the date of the event on a billboard in East London.
The teenager remains coy about the precise nature of his explicit performance, but he says he will lose his virginity to an anonymous male friend in front of about 100 guests. He graffitied Art School Stole My Virginity, the name of the show, in pink letters under a railway bridge on Old Street. Scotland Yard confirmed that they had arrested a 19-year-old male on November 26th on suspicion of criminal damage. No charges were brought against him.
“It was so embarrassing,” confessed Pettet, a student at London’s top art school, Central Saint Martins. “I got cuffed and mug shot and everything. I was in the cell. They said, ‘What color graffiti?’ And I was like: ‘blossom pink’ and they were laughing, and I was sat there like: fuck me.”
Pettet threw his head back and laughed as he recounted his tangle with the police. He was relaxed despite the global media frenzy that followed the announcement of his show. We were sitting in a bar in Shoreditch, less than 100 yards from where the slogan is still visible, and still marred by a minor numerical error: the event will take place on January 25, 2014… not 2013.
You’ve had quite a lot of negative publicity. How does that feel?
The publicity as a whole helps my piece which is about what society thinks of virginity. People are saying this will taint your name forever, but I don’t give a shit. If it’s going to relate to me, it’s going to relate to me. I love my piece.
I want to hear people’s feedback, but people saying things like they hope I get AIDS or this boy should slit his throat for a performance piece, I’m not interested in that. There have also been a lot of Christians saying they’ll pray for me, or that I’m cheapening sexuality, for me that’s really ironic for religious people to say I’m cheapening sexuality, when they’ve been cheapening homosexuality their whole life. But that’s only my view.
You must have known it would be controversial to lose your virginity in front of an audience.
I didn’t set out to be controversial—I think it got so controversial because people think virginity is such a taboo. If I had already lost my virginity and was going to perform live sex it wouldn’t have caused so much interest.
I’d already been working on the concept of virginity, so this just follows that. Some people have been saying I’m taking it, some people are saying I’m giving it, some say oral, others that I’m not doing it at all. Virginity is subjective.
Who are you doing it with?
We’re so close; we trust each other with everything. Not a boyfriend. It’s not romantic… although I am attracted to him. I find him attractive, definitely.
What do you want people to take from it?
I want them to take away the complete fucking destruction of virginity. Like all of my art, I want to change people’s perceptions.
You’ve done similar work?
When a man and a woman are having sex, the woman is often left unsatisfied. I wanted to explore the woman’s orgasm, when they enjoy sex like a man, suddenly they are a whore. I called it Whoregasm and put these massive photographs of girls orgasming and put them all over London, I wanted to expose the orgasm, that women are allowed to orgasm. I got a B.
How did you get people to have an orgasm in front of you?
My friend Rosie helped, she’s an incredible artist. I just think it’s an over-taboo. For hundreds of years art has been depicting sex, when people talk about my piece and go: “Sex and art, what the fuck?” It’s like this has been going on for hundreds of years, sex has been represented since the Venuses holding their breasts—it’s just asking the modern muse to orgasm. For me it’s nice to see female pleasure for a woman dominating, not for a guy. For me it’s not hard to ask, it’s good to see a woman enjoying her sexuality rather than just the guy enjoying it.
Now it’s your turn to take your clothes off. Are you scared?
No, there’s prints of me at St Martin’s completely naked. I couldn’t not be comfortable with that to do a piece like this. People have called it voyeurism, me just wanting to exhibit my body but we’re animals—that’s the most natural way. I love clothes but there’s such a great thing about being naked.
I don’t get the shock, people are happy to search on the internet for virginity being taken—“barely legal” but when it’s a performance piece, it’s a big deal. I’m just showing you what everyone’s already seeing and doing.
Do you think it’s odd that you are so comfortable and open about sex but you’re a virgin?
The most I’ve done with another people is kissed them, but with my own body I’m incredibly sexual, I know it sounds weird but really knowing your body. It’s this sense of narcissism. I’m so happy with myself.
I am clueless as to why I’ve chosen not to have sex. I honestly don’t know—maybe this piece will tell me why. It’s a question as well as a performance. Maybe I was innately waiting for this piece.
Well, you’ll certainly be marking the milestone very publicly. Maybe it’ll catch on like those kids who make lip-sync videos for their bar mitzvah.
Yeah, yeah, definitely. I had a bar mitzvah as well! All these connotations of becoming a man, do usually tend to mean having sex. I was brought up as a Jew—until I was about 13 or 14 and then I thought. What am I doing?!
What did your parents say?
They know all about my piece. My mum doesn’t care, but then she’s crazy anyway. My Dad got quite worried about how the press had taken it. He was like: “I want to know that you’re in control.” And I said: “I’m in control.” At first my dad was maybe a bit worried but they‘re so chill about things like that and they’re quite creative themselves.
And the rest of your family?
Most of my family is in Israel. I have 10 aunties and uncles and like 36 cousins. One of my cousins said she saw it in the paper in Israel and she’s a bit shocked.
…and then there’s my Christian auntie. I sent out an email to everyone who applied for tickets saying, ‘You’ll hear later in the month.’ But I accidentally sent it to everyone in my address book…so I hear from my conservative auntie: “Nice to hear what you’re doing, Clayton, but it’s not very suitable for your old auntie.”
It went to everyone. It was not ok. It went to like people I was moving in with, estate agents, everyone. That was a bit of a technical error.
You realize this is going to stick with you for the rest of your life.
Well, I can’t really get a normal job after this piece! But, I know that whatever happens I will be an artist, I don’t care if I don’t get any money. I want to start a new art scene, because there’s not really an art scene in England any more it’s lost its zing. There’s nothing wrong with older artists, Tracey Emin is great, I know it’s cliché but she’s fucking incredible, she’s a fantastic contemporary artist. She hated Saint Martins as well.
I’m not just going to work with sex all the time. Of course this is going to dominate my career like Tracey Emin’s bed or Damien Hirst’s cow they will always be their main pieces. It might be annoying if people keep bringing it up, but this is what got them attention. Every artist has a piece that they’ll always be best known for, like Caravaggio’s boy with the bowl of fruit.
Why do you hate Saint Martins?
It’s a love-hate relationship. I’m quite angry with them at the moment, what they’ve done is distance themselves, which I understand because of the legalities. What I didn’t get was when I was then used on the front page of their newspaper which reads “Clayton Pettet Bares All.” They wanted to distance themselves but I think they also like the notoriety.
Are there legal problems?
Not anymore, it’s going to be in a private space. Although, I did get arrested. I graffitied the date over there, [points down the road] on this massive billboard. But it says 2013! It’s under the bridge in pink writing. It kind of felt good, although I got arrested. They searched me and pulled the graffiti can out of my pocket and took it, that was £8—that’s a lot of money for me [$13].
I got cuffed and mug shot and everything. I was in the cell. They said, “what color graffiti?” And I was like: ‘blossom pink’ and they were laughing, and I was sat there like: fuck me.
The show’s in January—who’s coming?
I’m trying to vet the people who get tickets. People have emailed and I’m checking if they are fake names or just into gay porn or whatever—I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with porn but that’s not what this is. My piece is not porn. So, I don’t want perverts or people who just want to come and see a boy lose their virginity. I have a mix of people, I just want people who show a genuine interest.
There will be a photographer and someone filming it; other artists. I don’t know what I’ll do with the film: don’t think I’ll whack it on YouTube.