Peter Kennard, we’re told, is the most important photomontage artist in Britain. he’s also one of our leading political artists. Political art is notoriously difficult to pull off. You run the risk of elevating your message at the expense of your imagery.
The advantage of the current show is it’s relatively small, just six rooms covering Kennard’s entire, 50-year career. It hones in on the hits and omits many of the misses. We begin with his series inspired by the Iraq War, Decoration (2003-4). These are paintings of military medals, with a twist: the ribbons above take the form of ripped UK or US flags, the medallions beneath take the form of heads of wounded civilians or hooded captives. His use of imagery against a black background is some what haunting, serving to emphasise the meticulously rendered tears on the Union Jacks and Star-Spangled Banners.
Kennard’s work has appeared on badges, posters, pamphlets and T-shirts, for a variety of political causes. Arguably his most famous photomontage, though, that of a grinning Tony Blair taking a selfie as Iraq explodes behind him, is not included in the exhibition, on grounds of a technicality: it was a collaboration and this is a solo show.
Kennard has come to embrace computer technology, but there’s a certain quaintness to his cut paste collages of the Seventies and Eighties. In today’s era of digital image manipulation, his old scalpel work seems rough and ready: clearly not striving to appear real. I found Kennard’s work controversial in most cases however this being a powerful way of sending the huge message across to us all and that is how we need to face reality and the impact in which the war or other important events have had.
Researching into this exhibition I have been able to see how the artist is able to communicate with an audience so powerfully and how this can be achieved in my own ways. Also looking at work based upon the war it is able to relate to the brief as life after and during the war had to be sustainable.