Contemporary British artists concerned with politics generally have one thing in common: a deep-rooted respect, if not a love, for the work of Peter Kennard.
Widely regarded as the UK’s most important living political artist, Kennard’s spent the last 40 years producing thought-provoking work centred around the great threats to society as he sees it. from the Vietnam War through the Cold War, to the US and UK’s invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, all with a starkly anti-nuclear overtone, Kennard’s been on the front line across multiple mediums.
A classically trained painter, Kennard’s involvement in the anti-Vietnam movement in the late 60s inspired him to create work that would be thought-provoking and strikingly political, not dissimilar to Stanley Donwood’s abandonment of what he described as his “nicey nicey” work after his experience at the poll tax riots in 1990.
The medium that Peter Kennard chose, and what ultimately booked him a seat at the table of culturally significant British artists, was montage. “I wanted to make my work part of the political scene. Rather than my political beliefs being separate from my art,” he said before the opening of his retrospective exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in London, Peter Kennard: Unofficial War Artist. “A photograph is a trace of reality, it doesn’t have all the baggage of paint attached to it.”
Originally inspired by the work of John Heartfield, Alexander Rodchenko, and Hannah Hoch, Kennard saw the power of montage and how he could create a sense of accountability from the top to the victim. “Montage is a great way to bring things together in society that are usually separate,” explains Peter. “You don’t usually see the political perpetrator and the victim in the same picture. With montage you can crunch these things together and hopefully you can make a critique through that.”
Perhaps some of the most recognisable work that Kennard has produced, due no doubt in part to the fact that it was produced in the internet age, is the work of kennardphillipps, created with fellow artist Cat Phillipps. Rather than getting stuck in any one medium, the goal of kennardphillipps is to get the message out by any means. The inception of kennardphillipps came about in 2002 when the UK joined America in the invasion of Iraq and since then has evolved to comment on all warps of world affairs, be it the situation in Gaza or closer to home with the current state of British politics.
The image that really catapulted kennardphillipps into the public eye was Photo Op, which saw former UK prime minister Tony Blair taking a selfie in front of a burning oil field. Seeing as the work of Peter Kennard and kennardphillips has had a significant effect on current guest editor Stanley Donwood, we were lucky enough to have Peter and Cat walk us through some of their most influential work.
‘Haywain with Missiles’ 1980 (Peter Kennard)
“The Haywain by John Constable, 1821, is the archetypal English landscape painting. It shows a stretch of water below Flatford Mill in East Anglia near Greenham Common where the Thatcher government agreed to station US nuclear cruise missiles in 1980. The missiles were going to go out of the US airbase and hide in the countryside, the government said they would “melt into the countryside”, they didn’t say how many of us would melt with them. The Greenham Women’s Peace Camp based around the perimeter of the base became one of the most influential protests of the 20th century and has continued to inspire Occupy and countless other protests around the world. For a time when the montage was first published as a postcard, a group of us regularly smuggled it into the National Gallery, London where the Constable painting is hung and swapped our postcard for theirs.”
‘Newspaper 8’ 1994 (Peter Kennard)
“Hands tear at the serried ranks of stock market prices in a copy of the Financial Times. The columns of numbers are ripped up in desperation. In the next day’s paper they will be back in place, the numbers rising if a war is declared or workers are paid less in some enormous corporation. Profit is the motive, the mass of humanity is the ammunition that shoots that profit into the stratosphere. Every Friday the Financial Times comes with a glossy magazine simply called, How To Spend It.”
In Humanity, 2016 (kennardphillipps)
“In the name of democracy send in the bomb
In the name of democracy rip this all up
In the name of democracy rip this all up
In the name of democracy don’t let them in
In the name of democracy say what you like
In the name of democracy have a free press”
Nobody’s Home, 2017 (kennardphillipps)
“It’s the supposed seat of power in the UK. No. 10 Downing Street, home of the Prime Minister. Outside, the people gather knocking at the door. There’s no answer for the unemployed, the destitute, the struggling. No one at No. 10 represents them. No one at No. 10 expects to see, hear, or talk to them. But they are here. What is always kept separate in the dying days of neo-liberalism are the owners of wealth and those they have kept poor.”
Sub Trump and Democracy Devoured
“American ideals are in tatters, with the rich living in policed penthouses and the poor against a backdrop of drought, disease, and poisoned water. Donald Trump was elected on a post-fact wave of anger to sort it all out. But he only aims to divide and profit from the scrap heap that Earth is fast becoming. His simplistic, violent rhetoric originates in his self-perception as a king. He believes that corporate might is an absolute right—no matter the destructive impact corporations have on the planet and its people. How can such a belligerent soul ever compromise or embrace cooperation? He won’t. Resist now!” – kennardphillipps