Cold War Steve has been acclaimed as the 'Brexit Bruegel' and 'a modern-day Hogarth'. His Twitter feed of satirical photo collages has become a cult phenomenon and is now available in book form. We sat down for a chat with the man behind 'Cold War Steve Presents…The Festival of Brexit'.
How would you describe Cold War Steve Presents… The Festival of Brexit?
These are very troubling times and whereas in the past, this would have had an adverse impact upon my mental stability, I now channel these anxieties into Cold War Steve compositions. It is still deeply distressing to see what is happening to our country, but I hope owners of my book can get a modicum of relief, in laughing at the absurd idiots who are responsible for all of this.
What inspired you to start McFadden’s Cold War?
McFadden’s Cold War actually started out as a coping strategy. I’ve struggled with depression most of my adult life and in January 2016 I suffered a complete breakdown and tried to take my own life. After a period of time in hospital, I decided to channel my energies into something creative. I’d messed about with a few ‘parody’ sites previously (one about Noel Edmonds’ hair and another featured Paul Gambaccini with his omnipresent obituaries). Putting Steve McFadden into historical Cold War scenes was just something that came from nowhere really, but I really loved the incongruity of them – and thought, from an artistic point of view, that they made great compositions.
How do you create the Cold War compositions?
I usually start by purchasing a high resolution background and then introduce my cast members. I try and have a narrative between them and a number of subplots. Current events will guide me through the process.
What’s it been like seeing something you created on your commute to work grow into an actual book?
It’s incredible. I was on the bus into work on Boxing Day last year and saw my composition, which had been commissioned by the Guardian. I wanted to hold it aloft to the other passengers – but as the only other passenger on this festive commute was a hooded figure smoking weed on the backseat, I didn’t bother. I entered my forties in 2015 and resigned myself to the fact it was probably never going to happen. The way it has taken off and the amount of love and support, from so many people along the way, has completely blown me away. I couldn’t have wished for a better publisher than T&H – they have shown such faith in me and the finished book is just beautiful. It also smells amazing!
The compositions are caption-less, and often contextualised by the headlines, do you feel you and your audience have an unspoken bond?
My audience are as fundamental to the Cold War Steve project as the actual compositions themselves. Their comments are so hilarious and insightful and I have personally gained so much confidence from all their lovely words. It definitely feels like we are one big club of likeminded people, who have been with me as it’s evolved. I don’t need to caption anything as they will know exactly why, for instance Danny Dier is in perpetual pursuit of David Cameron, or Michael Gove is getting pelted with tinned pies and Capri-Sun. The less apparent pieces are open for interpretation and the comments section is always a brilliant sounding board of mirth and incredulity.
Do you have any favourite compositions?
I like the epic Bosch/Bruegel inspired ones – I really enjoy creating those – but sometimes a stripped-back acoustic number is funnier (‘Noel Edmonds in the woods diptych’ and ‘Kim Jong-un announcing the death of Rod Hull’ are particular favourites).
Is there a story behind the Fray Bentos?
I started to introduced tinned pies into my work, following the announcement of then Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, that there will be “adequate food” after our departure from the EU. Fray Bentos pies, Vesta Curry, Ye Olde Oak tinned ham, are all perfect foodstuffs for stockpiling – they are also brands which hark back to a glorious Pre ethnically diverse Britain, of insipid food and insipid high streets.
What next in the world of Cold War Steve?
I’d love to do more exhibitions, prints and books – and conscious of not putting all my tinned pies in one Brexit basket, I have plans to conquer the USA and bring down Donald Trump.
Cold War Steve Presents… The Festival of Brexit is the first book from the subversive genius described by the Financial Times as ‘Apocalyptic but side-splitting.’
Interview by Mubarak Elmubarak