Peter Kennard • "Unofficial War Artist"
An exhibition of works at the Imperial War Museum
Peter Kennard is acknowledged as being the country’s leading ‘photo-montagist’ and is known for his work as a “political artist“ - covering issues of conflict and political event. Kennard studied painting at the Slade and then at the RCA (1976-79). He is currently a "Senior Research Reader - Art and the Public Domain" in the RCA's School of Photography.
Initially a ‘painter’ Kennard shifted from the ‘traditional’ flat technique of painting for a more instant means of image making - photo montage and architectural printing methods. Techniques that gives urgency to the occasion as well as appropriating contemporary ‘visual media’ propaganda that purposefully manipulates public opinion.
It is no accident that Kennard’s work follows a visual style synonymous with John Heartfield and other influential political artists who resisted and were critical of the Weimar Republic, the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. However, Kennard weaves into his images both painterly and sculptural approaches. His works stand alone, are grouped or are presented as installations within which the viewer can participate. He has also used performance techniques to carry the message forward - either himself as the ‘carrier’ or collaborating with others. Many of his works were commissioned for issue based campaigns. Significant output in the 1970s - 80s was for CND whereby a number of works became “iconic” - notably his take on the painter Constable’s ‘Haywain’ - which transforms an idyllic English rural landscape into one which makes reference to the hidden terrors of a nearby US Military Base. His works appeared on posters, back drops, post cards and tea shirts whereby “fine art” was de-fined and removed itself from the YBA Art Marketeer ethos of Thatchers Britain of the 1980s. Other works were commissioned by magazines and national Newspapers. Many of these magazines are no longer published and others such as The “Guardian”, which published full page spreads of his images, have in the past couple of decades suffered decline in readership. After 3 decades of the corrosive politics of Thatcher’ism and “New Labour” there are less and less publications which would give space to images such as produced by Kennard or articles critical of the predominating bourgeois status quo of middle ground capitalism.
The simplicity of the title of the exhibition ‘Peter Kennard “unoffical war artist”‘ is not that of the Museum hand washing it’s association with a ‘rogue artist’ it is a breath of fresh air that the Imperial War Museum continues to hang onto its well established policies of not glorifying war and conflict but rather that of pursuing open minded critique.
This inspiring exhibition is essential to visit - Hopefully it will help clear away the gung’ho nationalist propaganda which capitalist war and conflict has a tendency to generate.
See AND Journal of Art & Art Education Archive pdfs • http://www.and.org.uk/journal/people/peter_kennard.php