Coldwar Steve: ‘Brexit is devastating. I channel my desperation into images’

The creator of this week's cover, Chris Spencer AKA Coldwar Steve, explains how his Twitter images have come to define the state of the nation

It started in early 2016 before the vote. The very early ones were just Phil Mitchell in Cold War scenarios. People say ‘Why isn’t it Phil Mitchell’s Cold War?’ but that would just sound crap. I think there’s something about McFadden that just works better. I’d messed around with different parodies, but then I put him above the Kremlin on a May Day parade next to Brezhnev, and I though it looked cool and funny, so I decided to do a site for it.

I had no idea it was going to take off as much as it did. Then I was running out of Cold War scenes and there was only so far the joke was going, having Phil Mitchell with Reagan and Gorbachev, so I started to introduce others, but then there was a backlash from some followers who wanted it to be kept pure.

I started to evolve it more, introduce more people, and then Brexit happened. There was that first horrific moment when the votes came in from Sunderland and it became apparent what was going to happen. I was devastated. Since then I’ve channelled that desperation into the images rather than ranting about it on Twitter. I want to do something that’s making a point but I hope is quite funny.

If someone’s the news I’ll put them I, like when Morrissey comes out with something ridiculous, or Roger Daltrey. A lot of the hardy perennials we use like Nick Knowles, Alan Brazil, Gregg Wallace, they’re a kind of crap British celebrity, with all due respect to them. It just adds to it. It helps, along with the settings and locations, to bring people like Jacob Rees-Mogg or Donald Trump down from their lofty status.

Throughout all the pieces there are subplots that weave their way through and one is the bromance between him Steve McFadden.

It’s rare Kim Jong-un is not in one. Throughout all the pieces there are subplots that weave their way through and one is the bromance between him Steve McFadden. You’ll see on some they’re stood together and laughing and then in another Kim Jong-un’s with someone else and McFadden’s looking dejected on the other side. Danny Dyer is always chasing David Cameron as he has probably been the only one to call him out, he called him a twat. No one had had the balls to do that before on any platform really. Once that happened, that’s when the pursuit started. He’s never got him yet and I dunno if he will, because that would just kill that right off. He’s come close.

Sam Allardyce is always at the head of the Fray Bentos race, tucking into his pies. Fray Bentos is adequate food stockpiling, crap British insipidness that we’re gonna get back post-Brexit! My dad said “You do realise we used to have Fray Bentos all the time, one pie.” I was like, “Yeah, I know!” the joke at the time there was one piece of meat, and my mum would have it. Now I use that joke in the artwork.

I want nothing more for Brexit to collapse and we revoke Article 50, but then at the same time what effect is that going to have for me! But not all of my pieces are about Brexit, although obviously the book is. I’m going to be venturing into different things. At the end of the day, the idiots are still going to be in the positions that they are, so there will always be something. Chris Grayling’s never going to get the sack no matter how inept he is. As for Theresa May… before I post anything I keep checking the news quickly because anything could have happened with any of them. It’s staggering.

 Nick Knowles blocked me, he had a bit of a hissy fit, but other than that they seem to have been quite pleased I think.

I haven’t heard directly from anyone who’s in the pictures. Nick Knowles blocked me, he had a bit of a hissy fit, but other than that they seem to have been quite pleased I think. Les Dennis was thrilled. He was in an old Seventies Soviet plane with Trump and Danny Dyer, who’s got a huge parsnip. He tweeted to pic and said “How cool is this?” McFadden must know but he hasn’t said anything. He’s not used in the same way as someone like Rees-Mogg. He’s used with reverence. I’ve said often he’s the everyman with existential angst, looking on or walking away. He’s that constant, he’s not used in an unflattering way as I would use, say, Rupert Murdoch.

He was always my number one choice. I don’t even know why it started, I just did it and it took off. I did a few more in its early days, like Art Garfunkel’s Miners’ Strike, Michael Le Vell’s Gorillas, Richard Stilgoe and his Brutalist Water Towers – that actually got quite popular. All similar sort of themes. But McFadden’s Cold War I stuck to it and evolved it.

I used to just post without even thinking, but now I do feel the pressure to a certain extent. I take longer now, don’t do as many – they’re more considered. I am anxious that it might just suddenly stop. The feedback I get I love, a lot of the people that comment feel the same. They say yes, it’s horrible, it’s scary and everything, but it’s quite a nice relief to laugh at these idiots even though it’s awful. It highlights how absurd it is, by making them more ridiculous.

On the bespoke Big Issue cover:

Aesthetically, a lot of mine are indoor, grimy, hovel-type places and I wanted something that was perhaps a bit brighter for a front cover. But the abandoned caravan is something that I use quite a lot, especially with it falling in the river. It’s obviously a metaphor for Brexit. It’s a pretty obvious one, but it’s got Chris Grayling bumbling his way out of there and the usual suspect poking their heads up. Boris Johnson is running off the other way with his tatty flag.

Rees-Mogg is just refusing to take responsibility for anything,

Farage is amphibian anyway, so it’s ideal that he’s part in water. Angela Merkel is looking at her watch wondering what the fuck they’ve been all doing, this is as far as you’ve got in three years. Rees-Mogg is just refusing to take responsibility for anything, just wandering off into the woods. Nick Knowles is just soaking all up, oozing his charisma.

Favourite image from the book:

The Bank Holiday pie-rolling is the first epic one. So expansive, it took a lot longer than ones I used to do. It was just before my first exhibition at the Social [in 2018]. That image had pride of place. It just seemed to be the one where all the others had led to. Big Sam chasing the Fray Bentos… I also like the simple, stripped-back ones like Noel Edmonds in the woods, it’s a favourite among purists. Or Gerry Francis looking through the window of a plane.

Favourite image that’s not in the book:

My favourites are all the ones I’ve done most recently. The Roger Daltrey one has proved really popular. I needed a pic of him onstage of him spinning his mic that way he insists doing, and then I found the perfect shot. And Neil Warnock! It just seemed to work.

Cold War Steve presents… The Festival of Brexit is out now (Thames & Hudson, £12.95). See more images at @Coldwar_Steve

Read the full article in this week's Big Issue.
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