‘Mod­ern Hog­a­rth’ Cold­war Steve goes pub­lic with sur­real vi­sions

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Nazia Parveen

Con­sid­ered by some a “mod­ern Hog­a­rth” and bet­ter known as Cold­war Steve by his le­gion of on­line fans, Christo­pher Spencer’s sur­real vi­sions of Brexit Bri­tain have been show­cased in pub­lic for the first time on a Liver­pool bill­board.

Two years ago Spencer was an un­known artist. He didn’t get into uni­ver­sity and had been floun­der­ing be­tween jobs. He had a break­down and at­tempted sui­cide. But this re­sulted in Cold­war Steve – a darkly comic Twit­ter pro­file ded­i­cated to ab­sur­dist pho­tomon­tages.

“I started sketch­ing as soon as I popped out of the womb … but this is some­thing I could never have ex­pected in my wildest dreams,” he told the Guardian at the un­veil­ing of his first pub­lic com­mis­sion – a 16ft bill­board in Wil­liamson Square, Liver­pool.

In­spired by the third panel of Hierony­mus Bosch’s Gar­den of Earthly De­lights, the piece, en­ti­tled the Fourth Es­tate, is a large-scale por­trait of the UK news land­scape.

His works fea­ture lead­ers such as Don­ald Trump and Theresa May grap­pling for space against mun­dane back­drops with low-level celebri­ties in­clud­ing the ever-present fig­ure of EastEn­ders ac­tor Steve McFad­den.

The idea be­hind the bill­board, he said, is that “peo­ple will sit and eat their sarnies in front of it” and at­tempt to iden­tify the char­ac­ters.

Cow­ell shows off his tanned torso as he is thrust for­ward by a lizard on a leash. Paul Dacre, the for­mer ed­i­tor of the Daily Mail, scur­ries in the back­ground with a sin­gle striped plas­tic bag, while Jeremy Cor­byn hangs on a lamp­post des­per­ately try­ing to es­cape. The scene is set in Spencer’s birth­place – a pit that runs un­der Birm­ing­ham’s in­fa­mous spaghetti junc­tion.

“It is a bear pit,” says Spencer, 43. “A cir­cle of hell in which all the odi­ous char­ac­ters roam. And then, of course, there is Steve [McFad­den], watch­ing on with all the ex­is­ten­tial angst of the ev­ery­day man.”

With this first pub­lic art dis­play Spencer finds him­self in good com­pany – the work was com­mis­sioned by the Rapid Re­sponse Unit, an ex­per­i­men­tal project in Liver­pool fus­ing artists with news and cur­rent af­fairs. Their other com­mis­sions have in­cluded Turner Prize holder Lubaina Himid, Lily Cole and Da­mon Al­barn.

Spencer de­scribes him­self as the nor­mal son of a teacher and driv­ing in­struc­tor. He has ac­cu­mu­lated 111,000 fol­low­ers; ac­tor and di­rec­tor Kathy Burke has called @Cold­war_ Steve “one of the fun­ni­est ac­counts on Twit­ter”, while writer Jon Sav­age de­scribed him as a “mod­ern Hog­a­rth or Gill­ray”.

But Spencer has set his sights not on world star­dom but a rather more hum­ble am­bi­tion: to earn enough from his art to buy his first home and help his wife re­tire early.

Two years ago Spencer, who suf­fers from clin­i­cal de­pres­sion, hit a cri­sis point and at­tempted sui­cide.

But it was fol­low­ing a stint in hos­pi­tal and a break from work that he cre­ated his first mon­tages.

“I de­cided to chan­nel ev­ery­thing into art. At first my wife didn’t re­ally get it. I was on my phone all the time. In be­tween bathing the kids I’d be com­pos­ing a new piece and she’d just be like ‘will you get off your fuck­ing phone!”

“But slowly I be­gan to get more of a fol­low­ing and now this.”

The only critic he wishes to win over is also his harsh­est – his 13-yearold daugh­ter.

“She is painfully em­bar­rassed by it all. I’m of­ten re­minded that Justin Bieber has sig­nif­i­cantly more fol­low­ers. I’m fine with it though, it keeps me grounded and she prob­a­bly gets her mis­an­thropy and cyn­i­cism from me.”

‘It is a bear pit. A cir­cle of hell in which all the odi­ous char­ac­ters roam. And then there is Steve McFad­den’ Christo­pher Spencer Artist

PHO­TO­GRAPH: JOEL GOOD­MAN

Cold­war Steve’s first pub­lic com­mis­sion, The Fourth Es­tate, went on dis­play in Liver­pool

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