As an artist using Photoshop to make political points, I really should hate Cold War Steve, whose pictures are seen here.
I would spend ages working on a Photoshopped image, post it on social media and the first comment would be: “It’s very Cold War Steve.” It didn’t matter that I started before him, that I was ‘technically’ better than him – as far as the public were concerned CWS was the king of Photoshop.
I should hate him but I don’t. Firstly, because he’s so good. He’s created a visual language through which he can comment on anything. It doesn’t matter that the shadows are wrong or the perspective is out, if you see Matt Hancock getting a Fray Bentos pie off Harold Shipman while Big Sam Allardyce looks on jealously, you know exactly what story he’s trying to tell.
And secondly, he’s so damn nice. For a start, he started replying to people accusing me of ripping him off and telling them not to.
Chris (his real name – another reason I should hate him!) Spencer started the project in March 2016 – just before Brexit – with a simple premise: Photoshop Steve McFadden (Phil Mitchell from EastEnders) into Cold War era photographs – walking by as Reagan visited Moscow, drinking heavily as Breshnev takes a phone call… and so on. He built up a momentum and a following. There were no captions, the pieces were just delivered as found. Bring to it whatever you wished.
The images’ supporting cast grew and grew. Regular characters would come in and out – Dave from Slade, the late Cilla Black. Like a weirdly highbrow Where’s Wally, people would spot their favourites. The Cold War settings were replaced by equally drab tableaux from the ’70s, ’80s and even classical art. Brexit really transformed his work – or, at least, the appreciation of it. In the chaotic years after the referendum, he became a release for all of us who couldn’t believe what was happening. His commentaries became more cutting, more visceral, his characterisations more absurd: Fat topless Boris, Carrie Antoinette, giraffe-like Laurence Fox… Images to haunt your dreams. His Tube scene, with the paparazzi focussing on Diane Abbott drinking a mojito as Boris shags Jennifer Arcuri and Carrie looks on, is one of the best pieces of political cartooning I’ve seen. I asked Chris for a comment for the back of my book of New European cover artwork and he sent back one word: “Adequate”. I really should hate him, shouldn’t I? But I don’t.