The End Of An Era? We’ve Barely Begun…
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?
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.
Genderqueer Human Rights Deity, 2020
Rachael House is a very busy bee who makes events, objects, performance, drawings and zines. Currently on sabbatical from her role as co-director of Space Station Sixty-Five – an artists’ run space in Kennington, London, established in 2002 – she has made well over a hundred drawings in lockdown.
These monochromatic brush and ink works are graphically bold, inventively patterned and freshly rendered figurative images paired with hand lettered, pithy texts. More often ranging across two or four square panels, House addresses a spectrum of issues that also speak to the wider UK society and latterly our pandemic psyche. There’s also more directly political expressions in support of sacked South Bank workers and the Tate strike; animal rights; the Tory government’s malfeasance and incompetence as well as the Labour centrist betrayal of progressive politics. She doesn’t mince her words.
In more personal pieces there’s a tenderness and vulnerability that leavens the obvious exasperation. Subjects tackled include: the disabling effect of rolling news on her mental health where her visualisation captures that sense of being under siege many of us are feeling;
Oh ‘Ello (2020) Magda Archer
In Archer’s ‘Oh ’Ello…’ (2020) a shiny, somewhat raw ‘n’ sore looking red bear opines wearily “More New Rules”, with the rollercoaster line ‘Here We Go!’ completing the picture. Kays’ ‘Tories’ (2020) writ large in a font and design that brings to mind a certain supermarket giant beginning with the letter ‘T’ is tagged underneath in a chirpy script… ‘Very Little Help’.
flyingleaps recent additions
Tories (2020) Hayden Kays
Whereas Tesco might claim a smidgen of benificence while pocketing soaring profits the same cannot be said for our government. While MPs got a pay rise, key workers and the creative industries have been very poorly served throughout. And how on earth do you justify not ensuring hungry kids get at least one meal and day in the holidays? You don’t. They’re not even bothering to hide their malice but respond only with that oh-so-trite line about not letting people become ‘dependent on the state’. Dido Harding and the rest benefitting from dodgy procurements seem to be doing alright. If only the Tories were dealing with this pandemic as expertly as they’re delivering Brex… Oh.
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.
Every age (has its own fascism) (2019)
This is Jeremy Deller’s second artists’ poster print for flyingleaps. It’s another excoriating critique of the self-serving, mealy-mouthed politics we’re currently being subjected to. The original Primo Levi quote continues… ‘There are many ways of reaching this point, and not just through the terror of police intimidation, but by denying and distorting information, by undermining systems of justice, by paralyzing the education system, and by spreading in a myriad subtle ways nostalgia for a world where order reigned.’
This is where we’re at right now. The UK mired in a chaos stoked by neoliberal myopia, right wing greed and xenophobia; a chaos massaged by mainstream media at the service of elites who couldn’t give a toss about creating a fairer society. Rather, wearing a velvet glove of deceitful, manipulative populism, an authoritarian and bigoted iron fist is being wielded at the centre of power and that, as we’ve seen, gives licence to narrowmindedness, boorish thuggery and worse across the country.
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.