I had a difficult conversation about this painting at the recent Cluster Contemporary Art Fair. A Ukrainian woman approached me and asked me to explain it. I don’t think she was happy with what I said. First, I should make clear that I see only one aggressor in this war in Ukraine, and I admire the dignity and bravery of the Ukrainian people. But that is not what this painting is about.
Clearly I was mocking Putin, naked on his golden throne with rickety wooden legs. And having Macron with Boris Johnson wearing theatrical costumes is obviously questioning their motivation for their actions on the world stage. Biden cheering on from a distance is a comment on the US’s stance in this war. No, what puzzled this woman was the relevance of the naked men wrestling.
Many visitors who saw this painting at Cluster Contemporary spotted the reference to old photos of wrestlers by Eadweard Muybridge, and also to Francis Bacon’s Two Figures, which had used the Muybridge photos as a reference.
This is not a noble painting about Ukrainian heroism. Instead it is a grubby little story about you and me: it’s about everyone cheering their chosen sides from the safety of their living room; it is about how a primal conflict to the death by two warring races has become an exciting spectacle for the rest of the world; it is about my shame in feeling any excitement at missiles raining down on Russian tanks and troops; it is about my sadness over what we have become.
I have just finished my painting The Gleaners, complete with a figure bearing a striking resemblance to the The British Prime Minister Liz Truss. The paint has barely dried, and now I’m worried that she won’t be in office by the time I get to show the painting to the public.
The 3rd November. That’s the opening night of Cluster Contemporary, when I get to reveal it to the public. I would put money on her being deposed before then. Oh well.
I had the same problem when I featured Boris Johnson in a recent painting.
Boris Johnson’s dethroning was a long drawn out affair. That won’t be the case with Liz Truss. And also, I was not that worried about Johnson no longer being PM, as he was such a high profile figure, people won’t forget him in a hurry. Unlike Liz Truss.
A gallery owner once warned me that some of my paintings would have a limited shelf life, because of my inclusion of public figures. They were referring specifically to my painting Alleged Assault on Pax by Mars, with Biden and Trump.
Well, they may have a point. But I am producing these works because they are about subjects and themes I feel very strongly about: War and peace; Post Truth; social inequality. They don’t get much bigger than that. We are living in a tumultuous time, and the rapid changes at the head of the British government just reflect that. So bring them on. Whoever is next, I’ll have my paint brushes ready.