25 Feb 2021
The political artistis duo Kennard Phillipps began working together ten years ago, since they bonded over a mutual fury at the invasion of Iraq. Since then, the two have been creating groundbreaking, iconic images and accepting commissions from all over the world be it the street, the gallery, the web, newspapers or public demonstrations.
This new body of work in your upcoming exhibition Blue Murder has never been seen before. What inspired you to repeatedly print David Cameron’s portrait onto the Financial Times?
C – He symbolizes the current government and their policies. He’s the stooge for all the rape of public services.
P - His face seems ideal because he’s a blank construction of emptiness. It’s a perfect space to have images come through of what he’s really about, which is the cuts and destruction of the welfare state.
C-He’s a thin veil of corporate power and corporate interest. In this work his face disappears almost immediately and you end up with just stocks and shares listings that fill up the empty space.
P – He’s a PR man. His face is just a surface, which is different to what’s underneath so we want to rip it apart and try and reveal some of the shit that they’re doing.
So you’re revealing the truth?
P- Politics is all about PR – the press gobbles it down and throws it back up and people are made to believe it.
C- The people with no money now have no power to push an economy over the edge or have any influence unless they rise up. It’s ludicrous that the poor end of the society has had any impact on the nation as a whole – but wide amounts of the public believe that due to propaganda.
P – This lot are the most dastardly that we’ve ever had and that’s what we’re trying to describe in the work.
C – I don’t know if they are the worst – in the Labour years Thatcher’s policies were continued very tragically. They didn’t do enough to reverse what she did. It has got to such a level now that the inhumanities of the Tories policies have gone to extremes. The level of rights and power that people have to protest or battle against new cuts is minimal compared to the early 80s.
So is that what you’re doing with your artwork, in particular this project Blue Murder? Are you using it as a tool to be able to have a voice?
C - We provide support. We want to make people feel that what they’re experiencing is real.
P- It’s about empowerment. We’re revealing the other voices – so we’re giving a sense of empowerment. It’s important that we communicate on every level. Not just to the art world.
C – If you want to shatter a PR illusion it has to be direct. It can’t be subtle because it wouldn’t come close to breaking a myth.
Is that why you wanted to call the show ‘Fuck the Tories?’
C – Yes. Definitely. It needs to be clear. If you’re feeling beleaguered by the current policies in your personal life, even to read the line ‘Fuck the Tories’ gives you a sense of support. The impacts of the cuts are affecting different people in different ways…the fall out is going to be immense.
You’ve mentioned how strongly you feel against the major cuts of public funding and support for the arts. Will this affect how you develop work in future?
P – I think its influencing work that young artists are doing today. Unlike the YBA spending thousands on decadent materials that now look like they’re from another generation, artists are working a lot more down to earth with every day materials and found objects. It represents the situation that artists are in.
All of the current collection is printed onto the Financial Times. How long have you been experimenting with printing on newspaper?
P – 8 years
C – We’ve printed on the Jerusalem Post, the Houston Chronicle, The Times, The Guardian…
P – It’s all representative of the place we’re in. We take the work around the world.
Your work is made for the street, the gallery, the web, newspapers and magazines – why did you choose to exhibit this new collection in a gallery space?
P – If you start making work with a lot of texture, the only real place for it is the gallery, like what we’re doing with Hang-Up. You need a gallery because you need time to see all of the levels. Like with Photo-Op, photomontage is smoother so you can get the image straight out into the world– it’s a lot quicker. So it’s really important we do both.
C – We want people to have a decent amount of time to see the work. With this body of work there’s different derived works with same theme, like with the animation of Cameron’s head – it is very transmittable via phone and the Internet. It’s quick and also stays in its original form wherever it’s passed. It’s the same with photomontage – like Photo Op.
P – We’ve also adapted them to make prints from. So that’s another way of getting them out. It needs to be accessible on all levels.
C – There’s also a banner we made for the anti-cuts demos where Cameron’s face is cut out and the protestors fill the space.
Your work started smooth – with a cleaner looking photomontage, and as the years have gone on it’s become a lot more layered, tactile and almost fragile. Why is this?
C- It’s not actually fragile. It looks fragile, and they physically are, but they can just be rolled up and shipped around. The work doesn’t loose anything from not being honoured with great packaging and transport. So its weird – like human life – you can have the strongest people who are also vulnerable. You can never escape your vulnerability. People put on a mask but its always there – it’s a fact of life. People tend to deny the vulnerable side, which our work doesn’t do.
You’re right though – the work did used to be a lot smoother. The first set of works we made in response to the invasion of Iraq was framed meticulously. The process was visceral, but once it was shown in such a protective way it enhanced the beauty and hid the harsh reality of the photographic content. So we got rougher and rougher.
You approached Hang-Up with this proposal. Why did you want to use us specifically? Is it because of the area?
P – Its’ partly that. I’ve lived there for 30 years. We know Ben and it’s a great area. There’s also an enormous anti-Tories feeling in the area on all levels. It’s a very mixed community.
C - Also because it’s a new gallery, it’s novel and it’s fresh. It’s also a Street Art gallery, which is another aspect of our work. With Street Art it’s part of the norm to be political and make a statement, but with the more traditional art galleries its become almost offensive to be addressing anything that’s current or live.
P- It’s also happening with the Middle East where young artists are putting there work out on the streets and risking their lives to be heard.
C- There’s a massive audience for Street Art. It’s an established thing now, which is great for us. For example, Ben had a small online Street Art business a couple of years ago and now he’s got a gallery - and that’s a gallery we can approach and do something. Where as if we were still in the scene where we had only the traditional art galleries to approach, they are so blocked about what they’re willing to show we would be limited. It’s part of an art history progression. Street Art galleries are much more spontaneous and able to think on their feet.
P – They enable artists to make a living from it. It’s a way of enabling people to keep doing stuff on the street - especially those who didn’t have an arts education.
P –It’s also important that Hang-Up Gallery’s on the high street and it’s got a big window. The window is really important.
C – When we displayed ‘Photo Opp’ in the window of an exhibition on Oxford Street it was ideal for us. It got so much traffic.
Do you think that’s what made the image so popular? Photo Op is such an iconic image.
C – For sure. It was made a year and half before that exhibition and nothing much happened to it. If people don’t know about it then nothing will go anywhere. From that exhibition ‘Photo Op’ has been seen by so many.
P – A lot of people say to me that when they think of Blair, they think of that image. So hopefully it’s become the official image of him. It’s been used all over the world.
C – That’s why it’s so important for us to keep having shows. What’s the point of us making work unless it gets seen?
I want to talk about the collaboration between you both. You’ve been working together for about ten years now?
C – Yes - It was just before the invasion of Iraq. Peter had a studio and I had printing/digital equipment so it went from there. We had the same fury about Iraq as well as the desire to make work about it and then everything spiraled.
When you have two people together it speeds up the process.
P – Yes. You’re part of a society yourself, making work about society.
C – There’s also a desire in society for that work.
Out of all the commissions, exhibitions and projects you’ve done together what has been the most exciting?
C – The whole thing is one total. I’m mostly excited about whatever’s coming next.
P – And in relation to what’s happening, organically. We got into doing this project with Cameron’s face through the pressures of what’s happening in the country.
C– You were saying at one point that we were giving a voice. But actually it’s the activists that give us a place to make works. They provide the space for us to take the works into view – the same as a gallery does. That’s important. It’s the same with the work we made in response to the Iraq war. There was so much activist activity it provided a space.
C – I’m going to try and get us a show in Beirut. A lot of people have been talking about starting new art schools. So that’s something we might think about doing. There’s a lot of problems about art education. There’s also a series of books we’re going to start working on which will be heavily visual, practical and targeted to a young audience.
P – It will be a visual essay about how you respond to political events while they are happening through art. How art can be part of it now, rather than responding to it ten years ago, which is how art traditionally moves. Predominantly it will be about how art can be part of a movement.
C – So its not propaganda, or anything else its just art. It’s current.
Peter, you teach in photography at the RCA. Do get inspired by your students?
P – Of course. That’s the great thing about teaching. You can meet the next generation and see how they work. We try and open them up to other possibilities. It’s been great. It gives me the freedom from the art market.
Do you feel like a lot of them have strong political views?
P – They do but few try and represent it in their work. I never advocate one way or the other because it has to come from you. When people try too hard to be political it doesn’t work.
And finally, What would be the one thing that you want people to come away with after engaging with the new exhibition Blue Murder?
P – One thing I could emphasise is that.…
C - Fuck the Tories! Fuck the Tories! Fuck the Tories!
P – …things that are happening in our society can be represented in some way. Hopefully it will encourage other people to represent the world again. As society is under a lot of pressure, hopefully the exhibition encourages people to do so using the visual image.
C – The whole point of making work for me is to make something that really excites me – a powerful piece of work. That’s the primary important aspect. Because we are politically motivated, if we are excited about the work it will then trigger people be more politically engaged. It’s that combination.
P– People think that if you’re making art about politics, its not proper art. The fact is that when one makes work the aesthetics are just as important as if one was making an abstraction by Mondrian.
C – That’s political in itself.
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