From the streets to your space…
The latest brace of flyingleaps artists’ posters to hit the streets proffer both a mind-boggling truth and seemingly insurmountable tragedy.
The ingenious Hayden Kays is known for his unflagging visual invention, pithy wit and wry take on societal ills as well as human foibles. ‘FACT’ (2022) is a classic in this latter vein. Against a vivid pink ground in his signature black typewriter font Kays relays a truth that is a constant source of bafflement. Given that male behaviour time and again ranges from idiotic and self-entitled to frankly unspeakable the text presents a persistent riddle: ‘If you think sexuality is a choice, how do you explain the fact that women still like men?’
Modern Toss is the legendary cartooning duo comprising Jon Link and Mick Bunnage. For nigh on two decades they’ve given us not just lols but also a form of much needed allyship when it comes to challenging social norms like the ‘advantages’ of work. There’s next to none if you’re stuck in a bullshit job. Turning their critical eye towards the consumerist economy and our finite planet in their brilliant poster we see a helicopter hovering over a drab busy street, its speakers blare out the apocalyptic double bind we find ourselves in: ‘BUY MORE SHIT OR WE’RE ALL FUCKED’.
LEE BAKER AND CATHERINE BOROWSKI
Poignant with a big ‘P’, political with a small ‘p’, the latest flyingleaps’ poster by Lee Baker and Catherine Borowski titled PHONE YOUR MUM BACK (2022) is also a subtle swat at the commodification of motherly love.
Some of us can’t, of course. Our mum’s have already ‘passed the Fields of Gazing Grain, […] passed the Setting Sun.’ And, perhaps even more dispiriting, there’s a few who would hesitate to do as the poster suggests for complicated, personal reasons.
On another level, with its lush colouring and the unambiguous nudge to do something considerate, PHONE YOUR MUM BACK is a gorgeous and kindly intervention on streets throughout the UK. flyingleaps is thrilled to play a part in supporting this latest public art foray by two inspiring artists.
The floral design features a giant, deep lilac and burgundy bloom together with a sumptuous red flower: both appropriately chrysantheMUMs. At the top of the poster a solitary bee skips amidst health-giving echinacea. At the foot, dark blue poppy petals crinkle in the breeze.
Blue flowers are said to connote love and inspiration. Another association is that the colour blue in flowers stands for people who would like to reach for the unreachable and wouldn’t leave a stone unturned in order to accomplish their goals.
For one half of the creative duo, Catherine, this notion of ‘reaching for the unreachable’ is heartbreakingly pertinent. Having converted to Islam and very sadly died while on hajj in Saudi Arabia, Catherine’s mother now lies beyond reach. She isn’t able to visit her mum Aliya’s grave. As a non-Muslim she can’t enter Mecca. All Catherine has is a scrap of paper with the handwritten GPS coordinates of her mother’s grave.
As well as pursuing their art practice, Baker and Borowski are the founders and curators of the renowned and remarkable SKIP GALLERY project. The idea being to forge opportunities for artistic interventions in unexpected places by repurposing specifically modified skips.
In their words, “Skips are part of our everyday lives, providing the means by which we voraciously dismantle and renew both our personal and urban environments. They are so prevalent that we barely notice them. They represent what we want to jettison, to forget, so there is a profound irony and delight in the creation of artworks housed in a skip.”
Skip Gallery’s participating artists reads like a roll call of a lot of what’s exciting about the contemporary UK creative scene. Imaginative and ambitious, rigorous and provocative, established and emerging visual art are all qualities evinced by Skip’s impressive roster of collaborators.
Baker explained that the floral design of PHONE YOUR MUM BACK owes a debt to Japanese ukiyo-e period artists Utagawa Hiroshige and Ito Jakuchu as well as Dutch still life paintings and Velázquez, “I think the image works on several levels. There’s the eye-catching emphasis on colour and faithful representations of nature but history also is subtly conveyed in the work and composition, people won’t necessarily see this but they’ll perhaps feel it.”
Legend has it that Benjamin Irritant was raised by a colony of anarcho-syndicalist eco-warrior rabbits. He’s certainly been a distinctive voice on the street for decades. Irritant by name, relentless paste-aholic by nature, his work covers the spectrum from sweet utopianism to a screaming disbelief at the recurrent stupidity of humankind. Some of his interventions leave passersby in no doubt. Hence, four of his typically pithy texts on a wall read: ‘Success is based on growth’, ‘Growth is based on consumption’, ‘The earth has finite resources’, ‘You do the math(s)’.
Irritant has developed a wealth of captivating visual motifs. His rabbits play various roles. ‘It’s our world too’ reads a placard held by a rabbit in the throes of being arrested. Another forlorn solitary rabbit figure bears a sign that says, ‘Forget you ever saw me’. A more gangsterish half-masked bunny printed atop an exploded diagram is coupled with the phrase ‘We are ungovernable’. They may look simple, straightforward – that’s part of their allure – but the wordplay is always sharp, deft. And in a work referencing the invention of a magic trick: ‘The great wizard of the north’s hat rabbit says save the planet, smash the state. Don’t buy the illusion. Life isn’t beautiful until it’s beautiful for everyone. That’s where the real magic lies’ there’s a rich narrative history waiting to be discovered.
Anti-consumerism is a constant theme. Irritant’s goggle-eyed boy’s face with ‘They lie’ and ‘We buy’ plastered across his spectacle lenses being one iteration. A figure with a blocky object for a head – varieties of radio and television sets – accompanied by concise phrases often appears. The latest flyingleaps artist’s poster belongs to this rich vein of Irritant’s prolific output. A mottled figure with an antique radio for a bonce looms in front of the phrase ‘Prisoner of More’ on repeat. It’s the perfect antidote to Xmas excesses. There’s a label round the figures neck that also reads ‘Prisoner of More’ if anyone is in doubt.
In the street, gallery shows and personal collections Irritant’s innovative, witty, idiosyncratic collage style of image making spliced together with economic, conscientious wordsmithery is just what we need right now. As another of his human scale paste-up bunny interventions would have it: ‘The world won’t change itself’.
THE OPPOSITE TO A FEMINIST IS AN ARSEHOLE
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.
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.
SAME SHIT DIFFERENT DAY
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.
Daily Poo (2021) Chunky Mark
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.
‘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.
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.