After Delacroix: “Liberty Leading the People”
The original painted as a celebration of the July revolution of 1830 in France, the essence of which was the replacement of hereditary right by the principle of popular sovereignty.
In 1990, I had a solo show at the Black Bull Gallery, a large, well appointed space above a pub on the Fulham Road in Chelsea. This show comprised about 45 collages constructed of small torn fragments of paper which at viewing distance mixed optically in the manner of mosaics. One of the works was a small copy of Eugene Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People”. This work was subsequently lost and its whereabouts are now unknown.
I revisited Delacroix’s captivating work in 2007 with a version measuring 62x77cm
There was something vaguely dissatisfying about this copy. The beauty of the original is the layering of the central figures in illusionistic space, from the dead revolutionary and soldier in the foreground, to the symbolic figure of Liberty above and behind her fellow comrades.
I decided upon a further version which would emphasise this layering, by isolating the main figures in physical space in separate planes. These would be spaced in the manner of a pop-up book or theatre set mock-up. I wasn’t sure of the type of housing I would use for the piece before I began..
My favoured material of choice for collage work is high quality, glossy full coloured printed matter to be found in lavish lifestyle magazines of which Elle, Cosmopolitan and Vanity Fair are examples.
I am not a subsciber to any of these; they do not fit my template for living. however, I have been supplied a steady stream of such material from students and friends. The magazines were initially simply a material resource; now their content has become an important thematic component of the artworks.
This version was decidedly not merely a transcription of a favourite painting, but something of a call to arms [or rather, arts] against conspicuous consumption; an artistic toppling of the topmost pinnacles of western luxury capital. My aim was to recycle their always profligate and perennially bland imagery and convert it to some alternative and contrary view of the world.
There is something rather satisfying in deconstructing the cliched imagery of bland conspicuous consumption and turning its shallow message of surface attractiveness upon itself. Any project in which I can replace the background smoke of cordite and gunpowder with offerings from Faberge, Chanel #5 and Givenchy is enough to ignite my interest.
My protagonists trample across ruins formed of photoshoots located in Paris, Barcelona, Prague; places which resonate in the shared memory of our political conscience.Designer and antique furniture which once provided background for fashion plates have been ripped out of context and affixed beside shattered mirrors from Versailles and jewellery by Cartier. The stonework and architectural details were piled up from a variety of country estates which have thus far evaded their fair share of capital gains taxes.
Liberty is clothed by Burberry, Dior and Gucci; her tricolour is stitched together from studio backdrops and wedding extravaganzas.Her comrades are outfitted by Prada, YSL and Hugo Boss [ironically, the producers of that little black number, the Nazi SS uniform].
The corpses in the foreground comprise fragments from posturing supermodels; their preposterous vogueings brought to an end against the barricades.
National Geographic offered up some glimpses of the real world. Images of street fighting in the Middle East were applied with little modification.
the suitcase itself is of late 1950’s vintage. Cheap and cheerful,it never witnessed a revolution; it commuted as far as several boarding houses in Bridlington and provided carriage on two trips to Oostende, before being phased out of active service to accommodate my father’s accumulation of football programmes in the attic. Its unprepossessing appearance suggested a mental picture of a travelling salesman offering up revolution on the suburban doorstep, rather than the toilet brushes and kitchenware such a case might carry during the 1960’s…
The collage layers were hinged using book cloth and strung together to rise with the lifting of the suitcase lid. A portable, pop-up revolution…
The Portable Revolution can be viewed at:
“SMILE” Square Pegs exhibition the Cric Studio Gallery, Crickhowell 4th-9th September 2017 10-5pm daily. Admission free