After Brexit, artist Cold War Steve fights on

Source:AFP Published: 2020/2/16 17:18:40

The Winter of Miscreants by British artist Cold War Steve Photo: AFP

Is the battle of Brexit all over? Not for British artist Cold War Steve who, armed with only a laptop, is continuing the fight through his satirical dystopian collages.

Ever since Britain finally left the European Union on January 31, the artist has been flooded with messages from pro-Brexit supporters telling him it's over, he lost, move on.

But the 44-year-old, whose real name is Christopher Spencer, insists: "No, I'm not going to move on. I'm going to keep them under scrutiny."

In his sights are what he sees as the populist "lies" of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservative government.

Cold War Steve's collages are created at the table in a small, cluttered room in his red-brick home in Sutton Coldfield, near Birmingham in central England.

He thinks up ideas during the night while his wife and their three daughters are asleep, then works on them during the day.

The artist gradually refines the Photoshop collages which have brought him 225,000 Twitter followers, as well as a solid anti-Brexit reputation.

'Misplaced and absurd'

In one montage posted on Brexit Day eve, he hijacked a photo of Brexit Party members of the European Parliament waving miniature British flags during their farewell session in the chamber.

They are at the bottom of a sinkhole in a tarmac driveway between a paunchy-looking Johnson sprawled on a bench in flip-flops and US President Donald Trump with his backside turned to the viewer.

"I just wanted them to look stupid," he said.

In the background, a mountain of garbage evokes Britain's 1978-79 "winter of discontent," when rubbish went uncollected during strikes.

His imaginary scenes are often situated in unmistakeably British settings - typically grim ones that hark back to a less than glorious past.

"They're always wanting to go back to Britain before EU membership, before cultural diversity. So I often stick them back in these so-called glory days," he said.

"They've got a hangover from the empire and an obsession with World War II. And the fallacy that Britain was standing alone and can do it again... it's all just misplaced and absurd."

In his spoof scenarios, Queen Elizabeth II, celebrities, politicians, soap stars, TV presenters, soccer managers and business chiefs regularly turn up in the most unlikely places.

But there is one recurring character who has become the artist's trademark: actor Steve McFadden, playing troubled hardman Phil Mitchell in the BBC soap opera EastEnders.

For Cold War Steve, he represents an everyman figure - a disconcerted or disappointed onlooker.

Therapy to success

Even though he despises Brexit, Cold War Steve accepts the divisive issue in Britain's history has also brought him success - and even salvation.

The probation officer, who went through several jobs after studying art, began to compose montages on his mobile phone in 2016.

It was something to do on the bus to and from work and helped him combat drink and depression.

Initially they were incongruous scenes placing McFadden in the Cold War - hence the artist's name.

Then, in June 2016, a 52 percent majority in Britain voted in favor of Brexit, and the artist changed course.

"It was devastating. I was just completely shocked," he said.

He channeled his anger into art, finding that making Brexit-related collages was "very therapeutic."

His creations quickly took off and garnered an online following.

Now he has books to his name, the cover of Time magazine and an exhibition in London.

He has also collaborated with the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

'Good for business'

Trump has increasingly become a fixture. One recent work depicted the US president and his fellow Republicans in a reworking of Hieronymus Bosch's hellscape The Garden of Earthly Delights.

Cold War Steve's next exhibition is an original move. In April, anyone can download 23 works for free and exhibit them wherever they see fit.

He cannot imagine giving it all up. "They [Johnson's administration] keep providing endless material for satirists because they're just so inept," he said.

"I'm in a difficult position where the worst thing... was for Boris Johnson to become prime minister. But then from a work point of view, it's good for business!"

Newspaper headline: Critical


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