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Meet Cold War Steve aka Christopher Spencer
Cold War Steve, also known as Christopher Spencer, is an artist from Birmingham, England, and you won’t find another style quite like his. He specialises in surreal, satirical, and hilarious collages, filled with the pride of Birmingham's landmarks and personalities. With so much passion and creativity packed into each print, you'll be finding new details to love for years to come.
What was the idea behind Benny’s Babbies?
It's fair to say that most of my art is pretty grim. Up until Benny's, the only 'positive' piece I'd ever done was my commission for the National Gallery of Scotland (Modern) in 2019 (Harold the Ghost of Lost Futures). There was no specific brief, but they did send me a photograph of where my completed work would be displayed. Just like Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG), the buildings of The Scottish National are astonishingly beautiful; the thought of hanging one of my usual dystopian hellscapes - featuring the recurring wrecking-crew of Gove, Rees-Mogg, Johnson et al - in such a setting didn't feel right.
It was such an honour to have been given the opportunity to work with BMAG; a place I've been visiting since very early childhood. From the outset I wanted to create something positive and something that celebrated the wonderfully diverse cultural contribution that the city has made. It was a painstaking process of research, image sourcing and execution, but by far the most enjoyable piece I'd ever worked on.
What has been the reaction to Benny’s Babbies?
I've been blown away by the amount of love displayed towards Benny's Babbies! I've received lovely messages from many of the individuals I'd included in the collage; and hundreds of others from proud Brummies around the world! I'd started work on the collage in November 2019, when we were blissfully unaware of a novel coronavirus that was about to be discovered in China. The resulting pandemic obviously had a catastrophic impact upon all aspects of our lives; with galleries and cultural sites and venues being hit particularly hard. Despite people not being able to see the two meter-wide Benny's Babbies in person (hanging in room 23 of BMAG), I was very grateful that we could release it virtually. The positivity of Benny's, I feel, resonated even more during a bleak period in our country's history.
How do you make your artworks?
I spend hours 'sketching' ideas out on an ipad; chopping and changing hundreds of images and backgrounds. When I'm happy with how it looks, I'll go about acquiring rights/permission for all the high resolution images needed for the final composition (which I complete on Photoshop).
Do you have a favourite artwork at BMAG? What is it?
The Stonebreaker by Henry Wallis. It was my mom's favourite and I've fond memories of standing in front of it with her, wondering about the plight of the collapsed man. It's a desperately sad painting; Wallis's commentary on the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 (one of the results of which was the able-bodied poor being forced into manual labour - leading to many being literally worked to death).
Do you have a favourite writer and/or artist? Who?
I don't really have one favourite artist. I've always loved Dutch and Flemish renaissance painting, in particular Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Hieronymus Bosch. I am also hugely inspired by Dada photomontage artists such as Raoul Hausmann, Hannah Höch and John Heartfield.
What is your favourite band from Birmingham?
What would you love to do next?
And finally, a tourist arrives in Birmingham for the first time ever, where do you take them?
Obviously I'd take them to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery! And then probably to the Chinese Quarter, to visit the site of the much missed Mr Egg (and get something to eat at one of the amazing Chinese/Korean/Japanese/Vietnamese restaurants whilst we're there).