Primary colors: Britain chooses artist to chronicle election

AP News
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Posted: Apr 26, 2015 5:35 AM
Primary colors: Britain chooses artist to chronicle election

LONDON (AP) — In this era of Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and selfies, Britain's Parliament has taken a step back to the 1700s, choosing an artist armed with pencil and paper to offer insight into the general election campaign.

With a commission from the House of Commons, Adam Dant is crisscrossing the country, drawing candidates on the hustings, reporters in scrums and voters at rallies to create a rolling snapshot of this year's election campaign, sketched at speed with a black Chinagraph pencil. Primary colors will be added later.

Dant, who has also focused his skills on the financial crisis and Scotland's independence referendum, calls these "reportage drawings."

"It does something you can't achieve with an iPhone and snapping," he said while pausing for a sandwich at Portcullis House, where members of Parliament have their offices. "It removes the extraneous and captures something more eternal about these fleeting moments."

Lawmakers have commissioned artists to record each of the last four general elections, with their works becoming part of the Parliamentary Art Collection, which includes more than 7,100 pieces that illustrate the history of the legislature and elections over the past 600 years. Dant is known for monumental narrative ink drawings and his work is displayed in the collections of Tate Britain and MOMA New York. He will receive 17,000 pounds ($25,000) for his efforts surrounding the May 7 election for seats in Parliament.

Art can deliver something journalism cannot, says photographer Simon Roberts, the artist commissioned to chronicle the last election. Roberts chose to watch events unfold from the roof of his motorhome, a view unfamiliar to most people on the ground — and separate from the close up eye-level view of news photographers.

"Today's elections are heavily controlled and orchestrated media events where each party campaign is geared to exclude the unexpected, random encounter and instead present a choreographed scene on behalf of the U.K. press," Roberts said in an e-mail. "It is, therefore, the role of the artist to present a different perspective, unhindered as they are by 24-hour rolling news deadlines or political allegiances of commissioning editors."

Dant, who studied graphic design in Liverpool and printmaking at the Royal College of Art, says that he will hone in on individual people to capture the sweep and fervor of the crowd, in contrast to journalists who tend to focus on political leaders and their positions.

The 47-year-old from Cambridge is often compared to William Hogarth, whose finely detailed drawings poked fun at the customs of the 18th century.

But Dant sees himself in the tradition of Pieter Bruegel, the 16th century Dutch painter known for capturing the day-to-day lives of peasants, and the caricatures of French illustrator and engraver Paul Gustave Dore. He plans to use Daniel Defoe's tour of Great Britain, published between 1724 and 1727, as a guide for his travels during the election.

Gill Saunders, senior curator of prints at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, said Dant also falls into the tradition of war artists who go into battle to document the experiences of individuals— rather than the sweep of military strategy or the bigger picture of the battlefield.

"It's things that we at home can identify with, finding little details of human behavior and human expression," she said. "It's a focus on these people as human beings as opposed to automatons."

In a nod to the modern world, Parliament plans to share Dant's day-to-day sketches with the public via social media on http://electionartist2015.com . At the end of campaign, he will deliver a 3-and ½-meter (11-foot-6-inch) by 2-and- ½-meter (8-foot-2-inch) drawing encompassing the entire election.

"It's going to be cinematic," he said with an impish smile.

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Simon Roberts' photos on 2010 election will be on display at the Photofusion Gallery in London from April 9 to May 22.