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Cold War Steve

Political satire collage

Cold War Steve is the nom de plume of Christopher Spencer, a British collage artist and satirist. He is the creator of the Twitter feed @Coldwar_Steve. His work typically depicts a grim, dystopian location in England populated by British media figures, celebrities, and politicians, usually with EastEnders actor Steve McFadden (in character as Phil Mitchell) looking on in disgust.[1] His work has been described as having “captured the mood of Brexit Britain” and has been likened to that of earlier British political satirists Hogarth and Gillray.[2] As of October 2020, his Twitter account has over 280,000 followers.[3]

Cold War Steve aka Christopher Spencer is an artist from Birmingham, England who specialises in surreal, satirical and hilarious collages originally made on his phone and iPad. 

Since 2016 Cold War Steve’s Twitter account has been a lifeline to many in these dark times with his following increasing by the day. Three solo exhibitions, two books with Thames & Hudson, commissions for the National Galleries of Scotland, Whitworth in Manchester, Birmingham Museum and Gallery, a giant billboard installation at Glastonbury Festival and an international TIME magazine cover have all followed.

In 2020 his jigsaw Hellscape was shortlisted for the Design Museum’s Design of the Year Award and his latest book A Prat’s Progress nominated for the The Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation PrizeCold War Steve also shot a feature length documentary about his work – Cold War Steve Meets The Outside World was released in October on Sky Arts. 

Early life[edit]

Spencer was born in Birmingham in 1975. He went to art college at Nuneaton in Warwickshire where his fellow students included film director Gareth Edwards.[4] He then failed to get into three different universities and subsequently spent the next twenty years working a series of mundane jobs in factories and the public sector. Recovering after an attempted suicide, Spencer concentrated on his art creating the montages on his phone, often while travelling to work on the bus.[4]

Work[edit]

McFadden’s Cold War (the original title of the page) first appeared on Twitter in March 2016. As the title suggested, the work initially concentrated on the Cold War era, inserting Steve McFadden into photographs from the period often featuring Ronald Reagan or Mikhail Gorbachev. The EU referendum in June 2016 was a watershed in his career and led to his work taking on a more surreal tone. Speaking in December 2018 he said “rather than dealing with it as I’ve done in the past – which would have been drink or drugs or whatever – I channelled it more into my art. I incorporated other characters, so it’s slowly become more satirical and political.”[5] The work expanded to include politicians such as Theresa MayDonald TrumpKim Jong-un in incongruous settings such as a run-down British working men’s club or a derelict flytipping site alongside British celebrities such as Noel EdmondsCliff RichardDanny Dyer or Cilla Black. Steve McFadden is the one constant in his montages.[4]

He held his first exhibition A Brief History of the World (1953–2018) at The Social in London between October and December, 2018.[6] The show was attended by comedian Al Murray and Guardian cartoonist Martin Rowson.[7]

In November 2018 his first public work, The Fourth Estate, commissioned by RRU News, was unveiled in Williamson Square in Liverpool.[8] The work measuring 16 feet (4.9 m) is inspired by the third panel of Hieronymus Bosch‘s The Garden of Earthly Delights.[4] Other large scale outdoor artwork followed at Glastonbury 2019 (a collaboration with Led By Donkeys) and a piece for the National Galleries of Scotland ‘Harold, The Ghost of Lost Futures’ as part of their ‘Cut and Paste’ exhibition. The show also featured work by Matisse, Peter Blake, Joan Miró, Hannah Höch and John Heartfield.

In 2019 Cold War Steve published two books with Thames & Hudson.[9][better source needed] The Festival of Brexit in March followed by A Prat’s Progress in October. A pamphlet of the early work titled McFadden’s Cold War also appeared via Rough Trade Books.

Cold War Steve released several limited artworks and Hellscape Jigsaw at the end of 2019.[citation needed] In October 2020, Hellscape Jigsaw was nominated for the Design Museum ‘s Beazley Designs of the Year prize.[10]

Works have appeared in The Guardian[11] and the Big Issue[12] He has also designed the front cover for the June 17, 2019 issue of Time.[13]

Publications[edit]

Exhibitions[edit]

  • A Brief History of the World (1953–2018), The Social, London, 15 October 2018 – 31 December 2018[6]
  • A Brief History of the World (1953–2018), Trades Club, Hebden Bridge, 17 January – 17 February 2019
  • Cruel Britannia – Cold War Steve and Jason Williamson (Sleaford Mods), Disgraceland, Middlesbrough, 8 March 2019 – 16 March 2019
  • You, Me & Cold War Steve – The International Exhibition of the People, various locations worldwide, 1 May 2020 – 1 April 2020