ONE LOUDER | FEATURE
A truism: powerful art often emerges from an international-scale crisis, tragedy or disaster. Equally: making this observation risks the response that anyone even thinking about this is irresponsible, decadent and fiddling while Rome burns. Still, so long as you’re not a complete tool who’s actively welcoming the threat of fascism and mounting racial tension because someone might make a banging rap album about it, it should be considered a legitimate topic of discussion.
In a more perfect world, ‘powerful’ art would change minds and shift public opinion by dint of its sheer beauty and elegance, but in practise an artist’s best tactic is often to be crude, ribald and attention-seeking. Iwan Bala, a Welsh artist whose art is more often than not about Wales itself, unveiled an exhibition in Penarth last month which was all of those things, and got in the local paper as a result.
A series of responses to the EU referendum and US election results of 2016, rendered in Bala’s trusty charcoal-and-pastel style, they include depictions of Boris Johnson doing a guff and Donald Trump as a gun-toting sheriff, flanked by a dwarf-sized Putin in underpants [pictured]. As I say, not highbrow stuff, but sometimes you want your jabs to be as blunt as possible; moreover, the artist is probably familiar with 18th-century political cartoons, which were replete with tits, bums and bodily functions and which these pieces resemble.
Penarth Tory councillor Anthony Ernest helpfully stepped in to publicise the show, describing it as pornographic and calling for its closure. The gallery in question quite rightly ignored his request, which was wrapped in a ‘think of the CHILDREN!’ figleaf but also betrayed him as a man who, even while basking in a political landscape where his ‘side’ are indisputably, nightmarishly ‘winning’, still wishes to silence even the smallest pushback against this.
This has, after all, been a year whose definitive piece of visual art is arguably The Forgotten Man, a painting by run-of-the-mill dauber Jon McNaughton in which Barack Obama treads on the US constitution as Founding Fathers gasp in horror, Bill Clinton applauds smugly and a purportedly average American citizen with crap shoes – the forgotten man himself – sits despondently on a bench. Despite being laughably corny and ahistorical, it’s gone from being an internet joke to an item of right-wing iconography, one briefly rumoured to be destined for Trump’s White House (this was denied by the painting’s current owner, conservative radio jock Sean Hannity).
Although a pissed Irishman complimented my shoes yesterday evening, proving they are good, sometimes it’s hard not to feel like that forgotten man. His profile is a little like mine – white, male and edging towards middle age – which awards him (me) some innate privilege in Trump’s (May’s), or anyone else’s, America (Britain), but not enough to cement financial stability or even a job in the event of a recession. Indeed, if McNaughton truly believes that this new regime will see a mass recollection of those forgotten under Obama, he could be in for some grave disappointment – although there will probably still be a market for naff, reactionary paintings aimed at Republicans.
Going into 2017, I too will be fine thanks to a coping mechanism which I typed at about 05.30 GMT on 9 Nov and emailed to myself. “It is time to stop harbouring dreams of being one of those people who analyses polls, data and consumes the testimony of internationally read experts, and join the people who just predict the worst case scenario in any event without any deeper insight. They are invariably proved right.” Happy new year!
FOREIGN BEGGARS (Sin City, Swansea, Fri 2 Dec), AKIL THE MC (Meze Lounge, Newport, Sat 3; Gwdihw, Cardiff, Tue 6); GUTTERSNIPE, KAZEHITO SEKI, OBLONG and SUNSHINE (Undertone, Sun 4); SIGIRIYA (Mozarts, Swansea, Sat 10), SCRAP BRAIN, SCORE and VAN-ILLA (Undertone, Sun 11), CHAIN OF FLOWERS, TV CRIME and DISJOY (Moon Club, Thurs 15) and TYPESUN (Gwdihw, Sat 28 Jan) collectively represent our only hope.
words NOEL GARDNER