In 2009 the YBA artist Marcus Harvey painted one of the few contemporary depictions of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. It was rendered in a similar style as his best known work “Myra” (1995) a black-and-white portrait of the child killer, which was composed of children’s hand prints. “Maggie” was also a black-and-white portrait composed by casting vegetables, dildos, masks, skulls and hands in plaster and attaching to the canvas to render the portrait. The painting is comprised of over 15,000 casts of sculptural objects. A Tony Blair mask makes an appearance on the artwork as does other references to British history and identity. The painting took over 1,000 hours to complete, costing around £40,000-£50,000 and weighs over a ton.
It was ambiguous and intended to be so. The painting created the 3D effect of a relief. “There is nothing sinister in this dialogue, though; simply that both these portraits are iconic images seen repeatedly in the media. Children’s’ hands are what we might see behind the image of Myra Hindley in the paper. Beyond femininity and being a grocer’s daughter, though, it is hard to see where the artistic decisions of “Maggie” are meant to lead”. Very few truly contemporary portraits of Thatcher exist. Of the many rendered most are formal and conservative.
“As a young socialist who had witnessed how Thatcher’s policies had helped destroy small businesses, such as the advertising company run by his father. He despised the wholesale privatisation of services he regarded as essential to the wellbeing of the country, such as the railways. And he couldn’t stand the Thatcherite notion that there was no such thing as society;” Harvey told the Guardian in 2009.
Harvey came to prominence in the ‘Sensation’ exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London (1997). His new relief, Maggie, seeks to be no less powerful or provocative, acting as the centrepiece of ‘White Riot’, a title taken from the 1977 debut single by punk band The Clash – released two years before Margaret Thatcher became the first female British Prime Minister. Harvey’s large-scale black and white portrait is based on a famous photograph of Thatcher taken at the launch of the 1987 Tory Party election manifesto. It is composed of over 15,000 plaster-cast objects ranging from vegetables to sex toys; these individual elements refer both directly and indirectly to aspects of the former Prime Minister’s perceived media profile, evident femininity and background as a grocer’s daughter from Grantham. Maggie can therefore be read both as the portrait of an individual and as a map of British history, identity and change, both prior to and during the height of Thatcher’s period in power. Harvey further remarks that ‘Thatcher’s image has a magnetic, dark, complicated sexual allure that’s hard for me to define – it’s not exactly feminine and it does come with a pungent whiff of testosterone’.
Marcus Harvey was born in Leeds in 1963 and he lives and works in London. Since his first exhibition at White Cube, Duke Street (1994) he has had solo exhibitions at Galleria Marabini, Milan (2008), Galleria Marabini Bologna, (2005 and 2007), Galleria Mimmo Scognamiglio, Naples (2005) and Mary Boone Gallery, New York (2002). Group Exhibitions include ‘You Dig the Tunnel, I’ll Hide the Soil’, White Cube Hoxton Square (2008) and ‘In the darkest hour there may be light: Works from Damien Hirst’s murderme collection’, Serpentine Gallery, London (2006). In 2004, Harvey co-founded and continues to edit the magazine ‘Turps Banana’ which produces two issues a year. It is a publication devoted to painting and is written by painters.
Flash – Renowned painting magazine Turps Banana will be selling a limited edition of Marcus Harvey’s infamous and celebrated 2009 work ‘Maggie’ at the Vauxhall Art Car Boot Fair 2013. Probably the most innovative contemporary depiction of Margaret Thatcher, only 40 limited edition prints will be available at the Fair on 9th June 2013 at the Old Truman Brewery. The Digital Pigment Print, approx. 100cm high, will be available for a special price of £500 on the day (normally £750). More info to follow on ACBF 2013