6 November 2015

Art Propaganda

Leytonstone artist Patrick Brill, better known as Bob and Roberta Smith, political activist and pillar of the art establishment, is currently showing at the William Morris Gallery. The exhibition is a lively collection of painted slogans and sign boards, a three-metre wooden figure, and a TV screening of his film “Art is Your Human Right: why can't politics be more fun?” A film which is often inaudible because the gallery has been opened up to the noisy cafe next door, so the soundtrack is drowned out by the clatter of crockery and the buzz of loud conversation. He is an interesting and convincing speaker with a nice line in self-deprecation, but a Sunday afternoon is not the time to listen and appreciate quietly.

Brill is a bit of a joker, a characteristic that extends to his silly outfits as well as his schizophrenic alias. Roberta is actually his sister - he only worked with her briefly, but decided to keep the name, as you do once you hit upon a winning formula. But his art is completely serious, even when he pretends it isn't. He claims to get up in the morning, get depressed about the news, and then sit down to write the first thing that comes into his head on a bit of old floorboard. Google the Leytonstone Centre for Contemporary Art and it turns out to be a shed in his back garden. But I think the silliness is calculated towards saying what he thinks without seeming over-sincere.

In reality, the texts are obviously carefully considered, steering a careful line between trite and pompous - usually successfully. His piece "Dear Pissed Off Voter" hangs in the cafe, and presents some rather good reasons for putting cynicism aside and going out to vote. Perhaps his most famous work, "Letter to Michael Gove", presents a solid argument for the value of art education.

The lettering is fluent freehand signwriting with careful embellishments, colour highlights and drop shadows, with a hint of fairground jolliness but designed for legibility, altogether a pleasure to look at. It makes you wish signwriting hadn't been replaced by the ubiquitous laser printer. But read what it says too.

Pictured, a detail of "Cuts to the Arts" 2012, complete with spelling and apostrophe mistakes.