This series of drawings was a continuation of loose expressive experiments in abstraction and conceptual drawings that I started on a particular paper that I felt uniquely complemented the varying marks I was making. I began this while I was between my 2nd and 3rd years at University Studying Fine Art Drawing at Camberwell College of Arts. The initial studies were attempts at conveying themes such as inequality, white privilege and authority. As human form began to emerge from more abstract expressive pieces the work often took on more of a direct message. Pieces were done concerning the removal of statues in the Southern States of America, the visit of Donald Trump to the U.K. and the Grenfell tower fire. After filling all the available pieces of paper the work was left until I decided during the first lockdown to work over the pieces I felt were unsuccessful with new designs still utilising the playful, experimental style that I had worked with previously.
Slave in China,
This piece was created as a reaction to ever growing influence of China's domestic policies on the world. Completed after an earlier piece critical of the United States and its impact on other nations, I felt that due to the reorientation of power in the 21st century public critiques of China or more accurately of the CCP should voiced. In the same way that John Heartfield targeting Reich politics in the 30s this piece takes aim at the deplorable actions of the CCP in regard to the use of slave labour camps, the traffic and slaughter of endangered animals for Chinese medicine, the overproduction of harmful and toxic materials and China's expansionist militaristic policies.
The piece shows a behemoth staggering toward us, mouth gaping as if to swallow everything it comes across. Wearing a suit with a star button on the lapel he is caught mid step, under his outstretched foot is the ghostly silhouette of an elephant representing the threat the Chinese ivory trade poses to the survival of this species. Behind the figure are ducks represent those that follow the mandate of power, a large plastic duck also features in the image as a reference to Chinas role as the producer of commodities often made from petrochemicals that pose huge threat to our ecosystems. However, the most striking outline in this image is that of the border of China. Inside it are logos of the companies that profited from China's use of cotton grown and processed in Xinjiang, by forced labour of the minority ethnic Uygur population of western China. Above this pictogram the words SLAVE IN CHINA, mimic the MADE IN CHINA stamp seen on most products in the U.K.. A dismayed Winnie the Pooh attempts to take down the letters, Winnie the Pooh is used as reference to the Chinese premier Xi Jinping who briefly removed all images of Winnie Pooh after the comparison was made between their appearances. Although, this piece may feel controversial or insulting, I feel that these crimes against nature and humanity should be brought to the attention of as many people as possible and when sold 30% of the proceeds go to Amnesty international whom combat modern day slavery and human rights abuses.
United Snakes of America,
The aesthetic of the central figure in this piece is an attempt at encapsulating the self-perception of the archetypal American. Born of the American Dream, the pursuit of happiness, the exceptionalism that characterises that entreprenuerial cowboy businessman so aspired to from the westward expansion to the modern ear of business. However, he also symbolises the rotten underbelly of this concept, below his boots a single daisy sprouts from the ground only the head of the plant is seen however as the rest is obscured by a cascade of oil pouring from the hose in his right hand. In his left, a Zippo lighter is open and lit, a metaphor for the ecological destruction exacted by American business on its wild areas and the creatures that inhabit them. The most concise part of the piece however may well be the title of the piece and the image is conjures. Taking from a Nina Simone quote "The United Snakes of America" is represented by serpents reaching out, away from America's borders, a visualisation of Americas unpunished neo-colonialism of the 20th century. Their wars on Communism, Terrorism and Drugs bringing chaos to South East Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Central America.
Martyr, Looted, Ring of Roses,
These three pieces were all made during the first weeks of the first lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, all three concern the reaction of the U.K. public to this cataclysmic event. Using disparate images often from the christian artistic tradition, I challenged the conservative government and many right wing voices who attempted to push a narrative of Blitz spirit, of strong institutions and government control. This was in stark opposition to the reality around me.
In the first of this series the titular Martyr is taking the form partly of St Sebastian partly of a fleeing figure holding a child. The wounds on the legs and the arrows piercing the rear forms represent the ways in which the ignorance of peoples actions wound those trying to act socially and think of people other than themselves. The doctors, nurses and the host of often poorly paid highly exposed rarely thought of front line workers, are represented pushing through the host of small minded, represented as small bodied people warring against one another while the enemy is unseen and unharmed.
The following image Looted, was a direct response to the news footage of people flocking to supermarkets to overbuy. I found this the worse representation of a western society and something that I was naive enough to consider impossible in Britain. It showed greed, ignorance and selfishness as people bought for themselves at the expense of others, I felt that these people were stealing from the common lot. The body shown, ribs exposed, hand skeletal, stretched out and enormous is like Hobbes' Leviathan, like the leviathan it represents the state. Not the government, but the society of Britain contained within its shores and supposedly a collective, but here a selection of people self concerned and greedy.
The final image in this series as the title suggests was inspired by the British Nursery Rhyme "Ring a Ring a Roses". The obvious viral connotations need no explaining however, what joins the figures dancing round the central crucifix, unlike in reality is more than just their hands. Stretching between them is a length of barbed wire not only symbolising the danger of transmission. Creating a physical form, representative of the threat we were all feeling at this time. But it also serves as a metaphor for the barbarous words of blame and hatred aimed at pre-prescribed enemies. Whether immigrants, political revivals or foreign nations, the attitude of many at this time flew in the face of our collective fate mirroring the equally unhelpful squabbles in the face climate crises that spawned this disaster.
Xi the Pooh,
This was the first piece where I used the image Winnie the Pooh as a stand in for China's president, Xi Xing Ping in the image Xi devours the jungle. A clear message about the way in which China's aggressive national policies have caused cataclysmic damage to their ecosystem. Done during the first months of the COVID pandemic some of the skulls floating out of the fumes of destruction wear masks, a reference to the effects of human incursion into bio-diverse areas, destroying or consuming the environment in the process. Although the evidence for the cause of COVID-19 has shifted from this viewpoint to some even murkier explanations of Biological testing in Wu Han, the case still remains that the "National project" embarked on by the CCP under Xi has proved devastating for animal, plant and insect species in China.
This piece was inspired by the omnipresence of exploitation in the production chain. Colonialism is often misinterpreted as a national matter, but it is often forgotten that the most infamous cases of colonial exploitation was perpetrated by private companies such as the East India Trading Co., The Royal Africa Company or later Standard Oil and Union Minere. This type of practise has continued since corporations became big enough to exercise their own will at the expense of poorer nations from the first colonising of the "Caribean" by Columbus, himself privately funded by the Spanish to the later Colonising of The Americas and Africa by Spanish, British, Dutch, Portugese and French. This exploitation has continued in the same countries by new companies, from Shell to Coca Cola. This piece depicts that translation through the combination of images the central figure a man clad in conquistador armour beneath a mine, so often symbolic of colonialism concerned so often with mineral or oil wealth. The nature of hierarchy can be seen through the composition choices, as well as the large triangle behind the figures. At the bottom of this the people of the effected country, some starving some working, others armed victims of wars inspired by this kind of inequality. At the top of the piece in contrast the smirking, smiling faces of those who profit from their international megaliths.
Inspired by the account in Nick Hayes' Book of Trespass of The Blacks, an organised anti-establishment group of poachers that opposed land owners during the 1720's in England. The vivid way in which Hayes described these rebels, armed, motivated and dressed as women with faces blackened, caught my imagination. Their defiance and deeds made them suitable as proxies for the historic clash between men of property and those that have been displaced by authority. The visual language employed in the depiction of the land owning elite on his horse, utilises savage caricature. Showing the disregard for this figure, emblematic as he is of the embedded class system in Britain, bound up in the ownership of land. The Horse being an extension of his power is equally degraded, a symbol of power and often persecution, his enormous endowment is a stand-in for that of his masters masculinity. A message of the true nature of hiring force to implement your will. The Black's weapon also speaks of his character, the bow is quiet, requires skill and is clinically lethal. It's not the cosh or the club, the pike or the sword used by brutes and therefore conveys his intelligence and thus the legitimacy of his personhood. He is stealthy in his pose, pagan in his attire and deadly in his expression.
Created in January the repeat imagery was inspired by my recent success juxtaposing graphic images such as cartoons or brand logos with looser more tonal drawings. Taken from Christmas Wrapping paper received that year, the use and repetition of the image of Santa Claus represents the way in which happy imagery often masks the damaged affected by the excess of consumption in the west. Like the non recyclable wrapping paper it was taken from, the repeat pattern wraps what's behind it and serves as the kind face of industrialisation. The image behind it is symbolic of the way in which the undisturbed natural areas of countries become "developed", the environment recycled into product. The mathematical approach seeing something as a denomination a representation of itself that can be commodified then sold, rather than the Artistic attempt to replicate due to empathy with the subject.
One of my favourite outcomes in this series Climate Crisis was inspired by the horrific wildfires in Australia, then California. I remember seeing the images muted on a tv in pub, the realisation of these apocalyptic images being ignored by the people around me as images of war, or murder, or corruption are ignored when they become repetitious on the news inspired a thought. The thought that we'd watch people go extinct and feel helpless as we have watched rivers die, the forests cut down and animal species become extinct. This idea is illustrated through the central detail of the screen of an iphone while texting. I find emojis fascinating because to me they are the inheritor of 35,000 years of art, they are pictograms, a language and an indicator of value. You can see what people value because the only democratic principle of the market, that what people care about will be catered for, is illustrated through the selection of emojis that exist. This language is therefore defined by what is included but also what is excluded for example there are only three tree emojis. Same as the number of ice creams, less than the number planes and less than half as many depictions of currency. In this picture the three trees and their value is threatened by the fire emoji the curser is between them implying the threat of deletion, above them the consensual thumbs up looms like the Spector of harmful ambiguity. Around this image I once again used graphic images and illustrations, a range of Xi the Pooh's this time layered over images of Hitler from a book of cartoons by the British satirist David Low. The comparison between the dictatorial menace of these two nationalist is mirrored again with an image of the posturing Mussolini in his Roman armour over an image of U.K prime minister Boris Johnson, a message about the way in which positive social change is so frequently quelled by powerful authoritarians.