In a way, the olden days are very similar to modern times, in that most people who are not rich and white are slowly dying. And nowhere is this more recognized than in all the historical portrait paintings of the 1700s and 1800s that litter every traditional art gallery and open house in Britain.
We’ve all been there. Wandering around an art gallery on a Saturday, either to impress someone or just to make yourself feel a little better about who you are. You’ve left the actual exhibition, the bit you came for, the modern art bit, the bit where you walked through a corridor of dry ice while audio clips of Jeremy Irons reading I Ching play overhead. And you enjoyed it! But now you’ve ended up in the permanent collection. The old shit. The stuff the gallery has for good, because either nobody else wants it or whoever did has died.
It’s old. Really old. The walls are lined with rococo style paintings in garish frames, paintings more British than Stephen Fry watching Downton Abbey with a war hero. The paintings are usually posed scenes, with names like A Gentleman with a Spaniel in the Woods, or quaint little village settings with public schoolboys playing a lively game of cricket on the green in 1743. Or, maybe it’s just a classic portrait of a Duke, smiling out the window, the smile of a man who will force himself upon the farm hand that night, and regret nothing. And you look at their knee high socks, their grey perms, their tricorne caps, and their cheeks reddened by dysentery, and then you glance at your iPhone and your lightweight Nike Roshe trainers and your jeans turned up just so high, and you think “Thank fuck. Thank fuck I have nothing to do with the olden days.”
Well, some guy on Twitter has decided to subvert these traditional British paintings, by re-painting them himself, but with grime stars in them, instead of smirk-laden landed gentry. In his pieces, you’ll find Stormzy resting in his country manor in a two-piece Adidas tracksuit in front of a roaring fire, a painting of Wiley hung on the wall behind him flanked by the flag of Ghana. You’ll find Skepta saddled up on a pristine white horse, Union Jack under his arm, surveying his valley, like a don. They are rather fascinating to look at, aren’t they? Stormzy’s already set his as his Twitter profile photo. But why did the artist ever get the idea? What is he trying to say? I contacted Reuben Dangoor, painter and illustrator, to find out.
Hi Reuben. So how have you painted these and how long did they take?
Reuben: Anywhere between a couple of days to a week. It's a mix of digital and traditional media. I've using been using a tablet recently to save money and mess!
What made you start painting/illustrating grime stars as if they were 1700s Barons and Dukes?
A lot of that sort of imagery is representative of the UK in a historical or stereotypical way. Big country manors, Earls and Dukes, Downton Abbey. I feel like the grime guys are flying the flag for the UK in a totally different way but still 100% homegrown. I just liked the idea that we could hold these guys up in the same sort of regard and present them in the same sort of way.
So, you see characters like Stormzy and Skepta as the Earl of Sandwich and Duke of Cornwall's of today?
Nah they're much more interesting. They weren't just presented with a title, they worked for it.
How long have you been painting?
I've been illustrating things for years but i've only been working on this particular style for about a year. I read a lot books, and copy lots of old techniques.
If you did Wiley, what kind of scene would it be?
There is a Wiley piece coming. You'll have to wait.
Would you ever consider painting some famous Viscounts spitting bars in the 1Xtra booth?
That could be a really nice idea!
You’ve also done a painting of People Just Do Nothing.
I just saw their excellent music vid, and re-imagined it as epic action movie poster. Those guys are so talented, and what they do is so on point.
Can you see this branching out into other genres?
Possibly, the thing that is so appealing about grime and garage is it's so British and therefore there is a lot of fun to be had with all the contrasting traditional British imagery.
Will you be selling them?
Yea they will be for sale, and I’m looking to make a book out of them when they are all done.
Are you a man of many many talents?
I don't know about that, I just like to do lots of stuff.
Don’t be bashful. Aren’t you the guy that wrote and sang “Being a Dickhead's Cool”?
That is true, along with a good friend of mine Raf Riley.
Did it go on to haunt you or spur you on?
A bit of both!