The King and The President 2020

Artist: Christopher Radcliffe

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Year: 2015

COLLECTION: Heavens Above

In each of these deep and complex artworks, I’ve tried to engage with my long-standing interest in narratives surrounding the subject of death and mortality. The Heavens Above collection is dominated by the idea of an after life or the existence of a heaven and a hell. In a diverse group of collages, using mixed media and digital collage, I’ve tried to suggest what a scene in heaven or hell might look like. The figures in the images are all satires of famous and familiar characters that I’ve plucked out of history and the title of the collection invokes the expression of surprise, humour, contempt or even outrage, as I imagine I would be outraged by laughter if I died and the first thing I saw was Elvis sat talking to Abraham Lincoln…”Heaven’s above, there’s Elvis talking to Lincoln!"

I’ve collected archival material from old journals and magazines since 1989. Initially I was attracted to the magazines because of the old advertisements and articles that interested me…especially 1970s cigarette ads. But as I began looking through them, I noticed that the pop art collages and illustrations themselves had such a language of their own – so surreal – that kind of referred to a parallel universe or a sort of lost forbidden world. Then I realised that I also longed to produce my own stories and narratives. I wanted to put something surreal into my images, like the characters of the old ads and collages, or create a guide book for my own forbidden world.

On each print, I’ve modified advertisements or old masters, using a range of interventions as a way of commenting on stereotyping and the anxieties surrounding the formation of religious beliefs and identity. These interventions tend to exaggerate, highlight or celebrate the features of the subjects and include the addition of props, imposing elaborate elements to define the narrative or covering faces with rays of heavenly light.

Heavens Above particularly refers to the conversations I would hear between my mother and my grandmother about death. This usually took place while we were watching a religious film at Easter. Along with my aunty Sheila and grandma Morris, all four women would discuss death and what happens when we all rise up to the heavens. By the age of ten, I was convinced that there was an escalator to heaven and a one way elevator to hell. The birthplace and religion of a young artist can play a major part in what we’re led to believe. And the region which we grow up in can also effect how we think. Fortunately I had a few old sailors in the family to balance out my point of view and I soon realised that neither atheists or the pope really know what happens when we die or where our spirits go to. So I hope that both parties can take great pleasure in the artworks, appreciate the satire in the narratives and continue to disagree on the subject, long into the next life or the early hours of the morning.