While studying art at college Sarah Maple relished the horrified reaction of a tutor and some peers when she showed a photo. triptych of her holding up signs. In the first image she’s wearing a hijab and modest full-length red dress with a sign that reads: ‘I wish I had a penis’. Second, she’s in a red bra and panties, her sign reads: ‘Because then I’d fuck you’. Finally, dressed in a dark suit and red tie, her third sign is: ‘Then steal your job’.
Ever since then her wide-ranging practice been infused with critical wit. In 2009 Maple and thirty accomplices enacted an intervention across London by inserting an alternative Page Three into numerous copies of The Sun newspaper, it was the 40th anniversary of this tabloid ‘innovation’. The artist explained, “I wanted people to question why we have Page Three. It’s been forty years too long really.”
In the brilliant series ‘Portraits With Fans’ we see her standing together with ‘A-List’ male artists posing with their always-on faces while Maple looks marvellously glum.
The artist’s forays into mixed media have taken many forms including her ‘Celebrities in Stone’ series which translate inane tabloid headlines – MEGHAN MARKLE’S AVOCADO SNACK FUELS HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES – into carved marble tablets which ironically highlights the facile nature of what passes for news in the mainstream media.
The latest flyingleaps poster by Maple pulls no punches. A jotted text in fuschia pink deftly makes the case for women’s social, economic and political equality: ‘THE OPPOSITE TO A FEMINIST IS AN ARSEHOLE’. Simples.
We know, we know. Visual pollution, PR for planet fail, mental health scourge, capitalist lackeys: advertising shits in your head. But have you seen the state of mainstream print ‘journalism’? Its invidious failings, the malevolent and self-serving agenda have been deftly skewered before but the new flyingleaps artist’s poster is a further distillation of what our right wing media has to offer. The cynical stirring up of resentment, propagating mistrust and hate, producing and preying on vulnerabilities in the pursuit of profit. Day in, day out, it’s an unrelenting diet of… POO.
Chunky Mark aka The Artist Taxi Driver aka Mark McGowan regularly ‘fixes’ the Daily Mail’s front page for them. With Daily Poo (2021) he’s delivered a disturbingly squidgy, inanely grinning poomoji on a black ground to obscure the twisted, unreliable and spitefully sensationalist headlines that usually appear there. Much like The Artist Taxi Driver’s newspaper reviews every morning on Twitter and Instagram, Chunky’s poster going up around the UK is a public service.
It’s been argued that the Daily Mail and its ilk represent ‘decent, hardworking people, struggling to pay their bills, ambitious for their children and loyal to their country.’ These rags claim to lay bare the wrongdoings of the rich and powerful but if this is occasionally the case it’s only ever part of the story. The psycho-social, commercial and political imperatives behind such exposés remain shrouded in self-interested mystery. Erstwhile Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s recent eviction from office due supposedly to breaking his own rules leaves so many questions begging. Was it all just some cheap, prurient distraction? If so, what from? A change in policy that should’ve been declared and debated openly? Ever felt like you’re being played again and again?
The Tory cabinet have proven themselves to be mealy-mouthed, corrupt and uncaring. Their populist, ‘reforming’ agenda of hounding immigrants, base misogyny, Islamophobia and homophobia, undermining the NHS, etc., all that pre-dated Covid but the pandemic has turbo-charged their Parliament dodging strategy which seems to boil down to, “What would garner Daily Mail readers’ approval?”
Daily Poo (2021) is the artist’s latest comical critique in a career that’s taken many forms: Dancing outside New Scotland Yard wearing a tutu and pig mask; Sending grannies into space by means of a customised shopping trolley and rickety wooden ramp (having first, of course, briefed potential candidates before lift-off, “Are you sure you’re going to cope with all the public interest that’s likely to follow your space mission?” (prescient shades of Bezos and Branson there!); Dining on corgi and swan in protest at royal misdemeanours…
During the stormy Brexit years McGowan’s pointed Dada provocations gave way to critical interviews with politicians, activists, journalists, academics and everyday folk as to the fall out caused by ex-PM David Cameron gifting the right wing of his party a UK EU referendum.
During the pandemic by various means he’s continued to call out Tory incompetence, their lies, the devious and criminal chumocracy. What’s more, while Chunky’s observations can engender rage, the artist also regularly elicits tears of laughter.
Look out for Mark McGowan’s work appearing in the forthcoming BEANO exhibition at Somerset House this autumn. As his Daily Poo (2021) poster typifies, critical mischief making is his speciality.
If our pandemic circumstances are not very funny then Archer’s rendering of woodgrain really is. Fat stripes and a few seagulls (like, after a bit, the artist got a bit bored of fat stripes). Archer often inflects her painting style to suit her subjects. Same Shit Different Day is spot on. It’s a painting – and we know paint is involved ‘cos it says so on the can! – that parallels our profound ennui. It’s angry too. A furious, furry cri de coeur.
We keep going. Not to let the side down please note s/he got ribboned up to go out vandalising. And it’s a blue sky day, clouds are doing that scudding thing they do, our bear has probably been detained by the authorities and can expect a long stretch of confinement for their anti-social outburst. Plus ça change? Archer has helped us smile at our melancholy.
*Apologies, cannibalised this line off the wonderful Emma Arnold talking about the inspiring Jeff Ferrell.
‘Is this the sign you’ve been looking for?’, ‘Keep fuckin smiling’ and ‘Love every day’ is a boggle eyed, buck-toothed, dribbling gum bleed of a triptych. Leer creates monsters in various media but the trio of new flyingleaps posters echo his own forays into the street where he pastes up sheets of newsprint of single monsters holding up signs.
The messages literally signalled range from the profane to free advice on well-being. Beyond that the colours, inventive compositions, the graphic energy and gurning expressions convey an anarchic joie de vivre that’s contagious. Leer’s public workshops are hugely popular with kids and adults alike. Sometimes only minutes in the making, watching the artist devise a new monster it seems that their appearance is as much a surprise to him as anyone else. Their creation is a mischievous performance of discovery and fun.
Displayed in the street Leer’s monsters assume the role of urban jesters, mocking the attention seeking consumer spectacle. Spray painted and marker penned on top of the daily news, obliterating pages of The Sun or Telegraph, etc., they also imply a mocking attitude toward the constant stream of distraction offered up by the mainstream media. But most of all they bring a smile to people’s faces. And that is a generous gift, especially during a global pandemic. As it says on the artist’s Insta. bio. ‘Art’s not serious, being dead is.’
Rainbows? Monsters? Comic Artrage? Sharp, virulent visual and text based socio-political poster interventions on the streets? All of the above, of course. Kicking off with Rainbows…
Our latest flyingleaps collaboration is with the artist and poet Angry Dan who’s earning quite a reputation for himself across London and further afield.
His eye-catching prints and murals that pair delighting, vivid and witty imagery together with wise-cracking limericks are a fillip for the eyes and smile inducing balm for sore spirits. Oh, and sometimes a heart-breaking call to action when you take a moment to stop and think for a while.
‘All That We’ve Got’ (2021) might at first sight seem like a lightweight paean to drippy optimism. It’s not. Sure it’s bright, looks gorgeous and you can’t really miss noticing it but the full quote takes us to an ever more pressing ethical and existential dilemma.
We are fucking over planet earth at an exponential rate. And, as astronomer Carl Sagan noted, now and for the foreseeable future it’s the only home we’ve got. This lonely speck, a pale blue dot in the great enveloping cosmic darkness, needs not just our remedial attention. It needs a complete overhaul. The earth can’t breathe.
As if enduring a third lockdown wasn’t grim enough, January 2021 witnessed the frenzied final throes of the UK Govt. painfully, destructively unloading their hard Brexit from the EU. It didn’t have to be this way. Right leaning Tory hubris and greed, cloaked in ‘global Britain’, ‘levelling up’ and other spurious lies have ushered in a new era of economic and social unease and bewilderment. That’s on top of COVID.
Years of deception by the mainstream media and cynical, self-serving bluster dished up by a privileged few played on genuine fears and grievances. The EU was, is very far from perfect. But Boris Johnson and his cronies peddling false hopes as to the benefits of ‘going it alone’ symbolically, and in practical terms, flies in the face of the cooperation, mutual support and the progressive policies and investment in people we need to achieve fairer societies.
Simon Roberts’ ‘Stonehenge’ (2020) was the 51st flyingleaps poster since the day of the UK/EU ref. back in 2016. His ‘Welcome to Little Britain’ image mimicking official tourist industry propaganda seems to chime with the end of a chapter in our history: ‘Visit the wonders of Stonehenge and experience a post-Brexit Britain, cut off from Europe and enamoured of its own insularity.’ So, what’s to be done? What’s the way forward?
More Lies (2020) Magda Archer
Street poster spotters will already be aware of Magda Archer’s refulgent, biting and thoughtfully impatient paintings. Her More Lies(2020) captures perfectly the horror at realising you’ve fallen for it again. Been hoodwinked by those you’d maybe expect to be able to trust. Again.
There’s a spiky brawl of colour going on in and around the mouse-like critter. Scratchy black mark-making battles with the pinks and blue, the greens and greys in such a way as to corroborate the creature’s aghast and infuriated facial expression.
You were expecting to be served something dependable, wholesome, beneficial. But what came along with the carrots? Nothing you asked for. Cummings, more like. More lies, more like.
Throughout COVID-19 lockdown you’ve been a good mouse, doing your bit, feeling afraid, uneasy but eating up your ‘greens’ as requested. Only to realise that what’s been served up on a plate by Johnson and Co. is worse than unpalatable. It’s criminal.
Spaffed (2020) kennardphillipps
Spaffed (2020), the latest flyingleaps poster by political art duo kennardphillipps, features the current No. 10 Evil-Clown-in-Residence Boris Johnson.
The original print and hand-crafted portrait on American and British Stocks pages of the Financial Times drew a comment along the lines of ‘They’ve blacked him up, that’s racist!’ Erm, no. They haven’t. And it isn’t. Though Johnson’s noxious, inflammatory language is.
In Spaffed we see the PM wearing what’s known as the ‘Auguste’ clown face. In traditional clown hierarchy this posits him as a simpleton, somewhere between the ‘Boss’ and the ‘Tramp’ clowns: twixt SPAD Cummings and the new Chancellor then?
The title of the work refers, of course, to Johnson’s use of the word in his criticism of money spent on historic child abuse investigations. The collapse of a case involving high profile politicians notwithstanding, for survivors of abuse the past is never buried. And, again, for the current PM to have used such a crass, inappropriate word in this context betrays a savage disregard on his part. It also talks about the depth to which political discourse has sunk under his berserker buffoon influence. Who was the intended ‘audience’ for this remark? Who was it supposed to chime with?
Spaffed completes a trilogy of kennardphillipps’ Brexit PMs. The flyingleaps project kicked off with their Study for a Head 7 (2016). At one reading this was David Cameron rendered again in stark black and white on the FT’s salmon-pink pages but with a raw, critical strip torn off. Profit (2017) came next with PM Theresa May’s face minus her eyes. A creepy, myopically harping visage who, it turned out, really didn’t have a clue. Now that Spaffed has joined the throng a trio of cocky incompetence is complete.
Ben Turnbull’s MADe In America (2019)
This is the latest superb, arresting and timely addition to the flyingleaps collection. His signature approach to collage being particularly suited to street display: they catch our attention from afar and up close amply reward sustained viewing.
So Turnbull’s work engages in a number of ways. First the bold and eye-catching portraiture wrought from rich swirling slicks and slabs of colour and tone. On closer inspection of MADe In America we see form dissolve into a wriggling mass of flesh, ears and eyes that make up this 45th ‘Kebab-Face in Chief’. Jokers and clowns colonise his shirt collar. Dark deeds appear in the cut of his suit and, of course, there’s a screaming skull in his tie knot… All created from the artist’s painstakingly researched and cleverly employed source material, namely comics.
But this isn’t straightforward collage, the medium contributes to and propels the message. A recent show American History X Volume III - Manifest Decimation saw Turnbull produce a bold critique of the historical and contemporary mistreatment of Native American Indians, these were gripping images but the fact that they were collaged from Western – Cowboy & Indian – Comics introduces further degrees of critical wit and complexity.
Likewise for Turnbull’s flyingleaps outing. A portrait of Trump flicking the finger perfectly captures the president’s petulant contempt, his ugly, windy arrogance. Then realising the work deploys clippings from the pages of the classic US satirical Mad Magazine adds a droll, pithy rebuttal of pretty much everything the current POTUS likes to think he stands for. He’s a joke but a darkly calamitous and extremely dangerous one.
Look out for Turnbull’s MADe In America on the streets of London, Manchester, Bristol, Brighton, Glasgow. And don’t miss out on this latest opportunity to continue to collect some of the best of contemporary art around.
All posters are 30×20 inches.
All posters printed in 2021 are limited editions of 100 – prior to that they are editions of 300. All are 30×20 inch.
(apart from More That Unites Us (2017) and Agitate In Memoriam (2018) which were limited to a run of 100)
Dr.D aka Subvertiser
While the debate goes on as to whether flyposted and other oppositional art or visual activism has any direct effect in bringing about sociopolitical change, what it can do at its best is feed into the publics’ disposition.
Through strong imagery, cogent or quizzical text, humour, relatively speedy production and distribution, via its capacity to occupy anomalous spaces in the urban environment and through an imaginative, enacted engagement with matters of concern it can generate social media interest and help inform, even propel, opinion.
Dr. D’s targets include surveillance culture; the social effects of neoliberalism; commodification; mealy-mouthed and uncaring politicians; abuses of power in the media… Much more than bald sloganeering Dr. D’s imagery and text pieces often emerge, on reflection, as enigmatic meditations on twenty-first century existential angst.
Transgressing boundaries can reveal hidden rules. One could cite the precedents of the carnivalesque ‘telling truth to power’, vaudevillian comedy, Dada gestures in art but all of these, in a – it’s only a bunch of pucks/entertainers/artists – sense, operated in ‘sanctioned’ arenas. Dr. D’s contributions to the urban environment are rarely sanctioned and it’s this that contributes significantly to their traction and incisiveness.
The urban spectacle would have us believe that its over-riding character is, yes aspirational, but emphatically neutral and apolitical: that generally we’re going to be just fine if we carry on pretty much as we are. Dr. D’s pithy interventions, highlighting so many germane issues and employing such a variety of modes of address, repeatedly suggest otherwise.