The Quietus | Features | Crafts / Work


Installation view, Jeremy Deller, ‘Warning Graphic Content’, The Modern Institute, Aird’s Lane, Glasgow, 2021. Photo: Patrick Jameson

Where have I seen this before? Walking around our big cities, walking around most of the urban world these days, involves almost second-by-second exposure to a multitude of messages on the walls, an almost infinite number of posters and graffiti, flyers and posters. stickers. Cities are littered with reading material displayed on doors, streetlights, old telephone booths, letterboxes, food piers, whatever furnishes our streets. Street art: largely mundane, largely boring. But then there are some interventions that really hook: raw messages that stop you dead. Make you think: who invented this? Many are by Jeremy Deller, one of the modern masters: he demands attention to his pithy lines.

In April of this year, I saw one of his most successful examples on a trip to Glasgow. Near a busy bus stop was a message in huge blue letters on a white background: “Cronyism is English for Corruption”. It ringed true – the way we saw the deliberate dilution of meaning, meanness, by the use of a seemingly benign term like ‘buddy’ or ‘joke’. But it was the word “English” that really shocked people.

Reading this slogan near the Glasgow shopping center, reading this in Scotland, definitely paid off. The post could not help but suggest, given its location, that the political elite of England (in reference to recent allegations of cash for peerages) are more specifically associated with venality. And in the current context of an unstable Union, such a declaration could not avoid appearing inflammatory. Deller’s adage was also a short and precise reminder to locals that it was the majority English vote that forced a Brexit-reluctant Scotland; the Scots were 62% in favor of Remain. And in the COVID era as well, Deller’s poster recalled that ‘cronyism’ is the phrase often used around allegations of profit and conflicts of interest in relation to PPE contracts.

Deller has been making posters for almost thirty years now and his instincts are very current. His is healthy for us; his methods are reminiscent of the classic strategies of the Situationist International. He uses their tactic of diversion and frequently deflects the soft clichés used by politicians. He then adds his own caustic twist – as with Theresa May’s “Strong and Stable My Ass” made at election time in 2017. Again, you would see him on the walls of London as you wander around, your dreamy oblivion abruptly interrupted by Deller’s reality.

Installation view, Jeremy Deller, ‘Warning Graphic Content’, The Modern Institute, Aird’s Lane, Glasgow, 2021. Photo: Patrick Jameson

His texts launch premonitory calls demanding that we wake up. Even in recent days, another of his works has taken on a more poignant charge: “Thank God For Immigrants”. We remember Dr Waheed Arian, a former Afghan asylum seeker and now a hard-pressed A + E doctor who works for the NHS. Along with immigration, there is Deller’s obsession with Stonehenge. I remember an edit he did a few years ago (in 2013, I think) for the Glasgow International Art Festival, an image of megaliths at sunset. And he brought up the old building in Glasgow again when I was there earlier this year. On a wall in Aird’s Lane, not far from the Clyde, there was a sign that read: “Stonehenge built by immigrants”. This has been placed on a red brick wall with white and yellow text on a green background, the font in imitation of British road signs.

Do I have a personal favorite? I would go for the one that says “Tax avoidance kills”. Why? Because my old man was a tax inspector who broke that maxim while growing up. Schools, sewers, public transport, NHS, child benefits, unemployment benefits, student loans, roads, the streets – you had to pay for everything. And if you were into tax evasion – if you were banking, like crooks do, in the Cayman Islands or the British Virgin Islands – that meant the Exchequer had less to play with, which meant less caring for them. needy. And this led to deaths: tax evasion kills.

As you tour the London Underground you will also discover examples of Deller’s work. As part of the capital’s Art on the Underground commission series, he combined an old image of Gandhi with the subversive slogan (subversive given that his readers were mostly rushed commuters from A to B): “There is more in life than increasing your speed ‘. Sadly, Deller recently saw another disruptive work rejected by the Underground, an eco-friendly proposal. Its map cover image features a line drawing of a bicycle done in the coloring and circuit diagram style preferred by Harry Beck, the original map designer. Deller’s guide was not to be used.

Installation view, Jeremy Deller, ‘Warning Graphic Content’, The Modern Institute, Aird’s Lane, Glasgow, 2021. Photo: Patrick Jameson

Another route of exposure to Deller’s aphorisms came from personal encounters with the art world itself and his own subversion of art fairs and the like. Deller has been scrupulous in making cheap limited editions available, affordable art. In October of this year, at the Frieze show in London, I saw a door totally covered in some of its stickers. Those who remained in memory read: “I love Patrick Caulfield” and “Welcome to the Shitshow”, this against a background of Union Jack. Then there was “Farage in Prison” on an orange dot and “I Blame Zuck” in Facebook style lettering. All of these were randomly found on the doorway, a display that could be viewed but also had the firm intention of stopping the viewer.

I missed my chance to pick up a copy of “The History of the World” in 1997, Deller’s mind map connecting the Acid House and the Throbbing Gristle and 808 State bands, when it was on sale at Habitat. He has also produced limited editions with the Studio Voltaire association; again, I was far too late to get one. Likewise, there was his “Roxy Music” seen in 2010 at the Whitechapel Gallery. This was an appropriate poster of the band at the start of their Eno prime, a very folded, shabby affair, with the band looking a bit scruffy and cranky: faded glam embodied.

Deller’s posters often reflect his Catholic musical taste. He likes some of my personal favorites like with his post “I miss the world of Twist” and another image has their singer, the late, tall, Tony Ogden in one of his action poses called “He’s a Bow. -en-ciel “, a reference to the band’s cover of the Rolling Stones classic. Other posters featured or referenced figures such as The Who, Madchester, Neil Young, The Kinks, Can, the Manic Street Preachers, and Brian Epstein. An alternative canon, some would say: one that elevates artists who have gone a little further than most. People like Ogden and Joe Meek, Ian Curtis and Richey Edwards, Keith Moon and Brian Epstein. There is a morleyesque air of sacrifice: these men died for you.

An exhibition of Jeremy Deller’s posters, Warning Graphic Content, is at the Modern Institute, Glasgow, until February 22


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