THE art of horror is not only for Halloween, protests York gallery owner Craig Humble as he opens a timely exhibition of shock-horror works by the controversial artist known as WeFail.
Hogarthian cartoon collages by WeFail, alias Martin Hughes, from Manchester, chime with the gallery name as Art Of Protest settles into its new home at 11, Walmgate.
In May, WeFail’s “Blood on their hands for PPE failures” collages of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove and Health Secretary Matt Hancock, each clapping for the NHS, made the pages of the Daily Mail Online.
Why? After being posted on Facebook, they subsequently appeared on the Havant Labour page with trenchant comments about the Government “completely mismanaging” the Coronavirus crisis.
“Disgusting”, “Disgraceful”, came the Conservative outcry, and Havant Labour subsequently removed the post and apologised fully.
The paintings had been premiered on WeFail’s social media and website , and in response to the reaction to the Labour Facebook post, WeFail posted: “‘Disgraceful art’, what’s really disgraceful is having the highest death rate in Europe, by choice.” “Never apologise for my art”, tweeted WeFail, whose website says he “paints monsters”.
In the window of Art Of Protest is the artist’s statement, WeFail On The Covid-19 Crisis, as he explains: This Is Why I Paint.
Its closing paragraphs read: “At the most crucial time when lives could have been saved, this Government did nothing, in fact on the advice of ghouls like ‘too bad’ Cummings they actively sought to spread the virus and gain the mythical herd immunity.
“Thousands have died needlessly. But it’s pointless debating this, they see what they want to see and when this has passed they will try to rewrite the history books.”
Welcoming WeFail’s works to Art Of Protest, Craig says: “Political satire has a long history in the UK: WeFail’s work is in the tradition of James Gillray and William Hogarth via its satirical attack on those in power but stylistically is nearer the horrors of Francis Bacon, Otto Dix and Francisco Goya. For this reason, it seems an ideal exhibition for the Halloween weekend.
“Art Of Protest Gallery prides itself on art that makes a viewer look. WeFail soars above this bar. As the first gallery to dare to exhibit original work by WeFail, we’re proud to share this cutting edge of contemporary political satire.”
A digital catalogue is available of WeFail’s hand-finished collages by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org to provide the opportunity to be “one of the few to own this portentous series of original works”, with the artist making works individually to order.
Art Of Protest has re-located from 16, Little Stonegate after nearly four years, following what Craig calls “a fraught series of unfortunate coincidences and Covid-themed interventions” that led him to declare he was the subject of a “Catch-22 eviction”.
Putting a sense of injustice to one side, the rent he had set aside for staying at Little Stonegate has enabled him to move to Walmgate instead. “There’s a strong relationship with the landlord who owns the building,” says Craig.
“The neighbours have been welcoming and vehicle access to the gallery has made a noticeable difference to the overall experience for collectors.”
WeFail’s exhibition will run until the third week of November, to be followed by a solo show by Dan Cimmermann, opening on the last weekend of November.
“Cimmermann has created a show built on portraiture from the 12th to 16th centuries but melded with the stags and hens that occupy the streets of York today,” says Craig.
“Dan is one of the northern artists whose work is predominantly exhibited in London and Japan but the Art of Protest Gallery likes to champion him a bit nearer his roots in Middlesbrough and where he works in his day job as Art Master of Pocklington School.”