When I meet Dominic O’Gorman he is riveted to his canvas on Fargate, where he always is, in his striped beanie which he always wears. He is staring over his curved nose and pointed cheekbones at an acrylic cityscape. I ask if I can buy him a coffee and it becomes clear that his trading mind is as sharp as his features: “not now, but if you put some money in the red bucket I can buy one later.”
The bucket contains five coins. Only £114,995 separates Dominic from Maurizio Cattelan, who sold a banana duct-taped to a wall for so much last week. That, and the fact that to make his art, Maurizio Cattelan didn’t have to beg and steal.
After moving to Sheffield, Dominic became homeless and addicted to drugs: “There was just no room at the inn, and I got in with the wrong crowd and it were just downhill from then on,” he says.
As he paints, Dominic has a habit of interrupting himself. “If they were giving drugs away my life would have turned out completely different. You had to find that money every day – so you’ve got jail then. And that don’t make you turn into a better person.
“Now here’s a little something, I’m so lucky with these dry acrylics.
“So long as you’ve got a life of crime and you’re going to jail all the time, you can’t live a moral life, you just can’t. It’s too impractical. You don’t have the luxury of morals. Morals are for people who live in a nice, safe little world.
When I ask him what changed, he doesn’t hesitate: “I was in one of the second hand shops in town, Oxfam or something, and I’d been sort of semi-normal for a while and this old geezer in front of me opened his wallet.
“Oh that works don’t it – It’ll be better when it’s tidied up.
“This tenner just fell out and drifted down to the floor and he didn’t have a Scooby-doo he even dropped it. And I give it him back and he didn’t even know that I was. But I didn’t do it for him, I did it for me. And I suppose that were the fulcrum.”
From there Dominic found a flat through the charity Target Housing and started therapy. There, he picked up painting. He hasn’t stolen in fifteen years but after busking for four, Dominic makes little more than enough money to cover paints and canvases.
“If I wasn’t selling these I wouldn’t be able to paint. That would finish me off, it would break my heart. And you might as well give your work away for the prices I’m getting for them.”
With this he turns to the likes of Maurizio Cattelan. And from his perch on an upturned drawer in Fargate Street, this once homeless, addicted, convicted, and now recovered painter laid bare how bananas the art establishment really is.
“If one of them Saatchi brothers bought one of my paintings, the rest of them would automatically become worth thousands.”
“I want to bang my head against a wall and scream at people, its random splashes that are going to fall where they’re going to fall. If it were upside down who’d know? Would even Jackson Pollock know?”
“Mark Rothko, another one, a little red square with another orangey red square underneath.”
“Look at Piet Mondrian, silly crossword puzzle things painted in silly colours and that, but if you look at his stuff when he came back from London after seeing Van Gough – it’s beautiful stuff.”
At the sound of my laughter, Dominic’s sharp face cracks into a mischievous glow. I ask him why the public should buy his art instead of theirs. He looks at the red bucket with a wry smile and bellows: “get ‘em now before I’m famous and dead, and you can’t afford ‘em anymore.”