23 May 2020

Cold War Steve takes on the Pre-Raphaelites for latest Birmingham Collages

Satirical collage artist Cold War Steve, Christopher Spencer, has revealed two new collages online which feature characters from notable Pre-Raphaelite works in Birmingham’s museum collection.

The new artworks are part of the project with Birmingham Museums Trust, which saw the artist reveal Benny’s Babbies, a hugely detailed collage celebrating Birmingham and its people, online in April. View  Cold War Steve vs The PRB on The Social website.

The two collages use Cold War Steve’s humorous style to place characters from the work of Pre-Raphaelite artists, such as Henry Wallis and John Everett Millais, into unlikely scenes, with the aim of bringing them to new audiences.

The first sees the actor Steve McFadden, who regularly appears in Cold War Steve’s satirical scenes, on the top deck of a Birmingham bus surrounded by Pre-Raphaelite figures. He is looking forlorn, being comforted by Hope from Hope Comforting Love in Bondage by Sidney Harold Meteyard. Behind them is The Blind Girl (with her little sister) by John Everett Millais, while the figure lying on the seat at the front is Chatterton from The Death of Chatterton by Henry Wallis.

The couple at the front are from The Last of England by Ford Madox Brown, usually seen on a boat about to head off to Australia, not a bus. And in the back is the two women from Travelling Companions by Augustus Leopold Egg – which was recently crowned winner of Birmingham Museums Trust’s Twitter World Cup poll of most popular artworks.

‘Photomontage isn’t art PRB’ is written in the condensation on the window. ‘PRB’ is shorthand for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, as if the artist is imagining their reaction could they respond from the past or the reaction of Pre-Raphaelite fans today.

The second piece uses John Byam Liston Shaw’s Boer War (1990-1901), Last Summer Things Were Greener as the backdrop to a surreal scene which includes Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Dominic Cummings.

Pre-Raphaelite art historian, Kirsty Stonell Walker, has written an accompanying comment piece about the collages and the relevance of the Pre-Raphaelites today. 

Christopher Spencer, aka Cold War Steve, said: “Oh I’m sure that the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood would be very dismissive of my creations! Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery has one of the finest collections of Pre-Raphaelite paintings in the world. Having unlimited access to them in this way in a free download library and to be able to ‘Cold War Steve’ them was very rewarding. 

“I feel that photomontage is art. It can be a powerful protest piece or an uplifting celebration. With every image I create, be it a detailed, heavily populated collage that’s taken several hours, or a quickly produced Twitter piece, I always want it to look like a stand-alone composition/artwork in its own right.”

Birmingham Museums Trust commissioned Cold War Steve to produce work inspired by the Trust’s digital image database, which hosts thousands of out-of-copyright images from the city’s collection which can be downloaded and used creatively for free.

The three Cold War Steve works were due to be revealed at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (BMAG), but due to the temporary closure of the gallery, they have launched online first. All three colleges will go on display when BMAG is able to re-open.

The project, called Cut, Copy, Remix, in partnership with Cold War Steve and Black Hole Club, aimed to support emerging digital artists to use the images to inspire brilliant and bizarre new work.

Following an open call out for artists, the Birmingham Museums team also commissioned Mixed Milk, a Birmingham artist called Martin McNally, to make a film, 'Excerpt', about the works in the collection. Black Hole Club, an artist's development programme based at Vivid Projects that supports artists in the West Midlands, have also commissioned artists Rosa Francesca and Alis Oldfield to create developmental digital art responding to the digital collection and its data.

Linda Spurdle, Head of Digital at Birmingham Museums Trust said: “Since the project launched in April, we have had a fantastic response. Benny’s Babbies really celebrated Birmingham and its people at a time when many people are feeling disconnected, and the new Pre-Raphaelite inspired pieces will bring these artworks to a whole new audience. We can’t wait until we can display them at the gallery.”

You can pre-order a poster of Benny’s Babbies  from our online shop  for £15. Sales go towards supporting Birmingham Museums, and the valuable work the team does with local communities, while the doors to the nine museum sites are temporarily closed. Find out more about how to support Birmingham Museums at www.birminghammuseums.org.uk/support-us.

Birmingham Museums is a charity (no. 1147014). For every week we are closed we are losing £100,000 income. Please donate to support our valuable work with local communities. Your help now will mean we can continue to support the people of Birmingham through this difficult time and beyond.

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