Peter Kennard 'Unofficial War Artist' Exhibition Review

Peter Kennard, a Londoner born in February 1949, with his artistic career starting in 1968. Abandoning painting he began photomontages with the aim to get the weirdest possible social and political impact. Over his career spanning almost 50 years his art has become synonymous with political activism. seen in gallery exhibitions, on streets as posters and in newspapers, magazines and books, with his most recent exhibition being at the Imperial War Museum, celebrating the release of his new book 'Unofficial War Artist'.


When entering this exhibition you are greeted by six large paintings. This series is called 'Decoration' painted in 2003-2004, these pieces were created in reaction to the US-led occupation of Iraq, with the intention of drawing attention to the human cost of the war. I liked the way these pieces were executed, with the torn flags as the ribbon of the war medals and then with the heads replacing the medal its self, these give off a very powerful message.


Continuing into the next room, you walk into the STOP series, beginning in 1968, while he was still a student in London at Slade School of Art the series marked Kennard's political awakening and set the foundations for the rest of his career. The series is a mixture of images from the Parisian student riots, the 'Prague Spring' and the Vietnam War, from newspaper and magazines at that time.

We then come to the Newspaper series from 1994. Created by using photocopies of Kennard's own hands onto the financial pages of newspaper and then working into them using materials such as charcoal. The pieces give of the message of the creator being angry and frustrated by things he himself an not do anything about, and that he is trying to draw attention to the fact that the message is wrong and shouldn't be. In the same room there is also the Reading Room series (1997).

This series was inspired by childhood memories of Paddington Library, which was also created using the same methods and techniques as the Newspaper series.


You then enter a room called the Boardroom where Kennard created a new artwork in 2015 especially for the exhibition at the Imperial War Museum. This piece was to show his personal reflection on a turbulent half-century of conflict from the 60s to the present day, which he has witnessed.


Finally we come to the Face series, created in 2002-03 using oil paint. The eerie paintings are close up of faces emerging from the darkness, some of them you really have to look hard to make out the faces but at the same time they are vivid people staring at you, almost giving you a scared feeling yourself. They were created to show Kennard's change in outlook. Although his political views remained the same, the ways in which he expressed them had changed. He tried to capture the anonymous faces being voiceless and marginalised in a fragmented world, to give this feel he painted the faces without mouths. This also made some of them feel as if they were screaming as loud as they can but with no mouth to be heard.

Peter Kennard: Unofficial War Artist - Imperial War Museum, London (until 30th May 2016)
Images taken by Hugh van der Lande