ACBF: How does it feel to conclude a series of work that’s lasted the best part of a decade?
Heath: Mixed emotions. The majority of my work is reactional to the world around us, so there’s always been an ephemeral quality about it. I was truly surprised, not only by how long it endured (and continues to be popular) but also how it connected with people around the world.
I originally thought its appeal would be isolated to the UK. It continues to sell in all four corners of the globe, and some of my customers live in places I never expected to ship work to.
It feels right to end the collection with the coronation in sight. Ultimately, I’m someone who likes to bring new work to life. I certainly don’t want to be known for only doing one thing.
ACBF: How did you select the particular portrait that you chose to represent ’The Queen’ in your ‘Rich Enough to be Batman' series and how important was the presence of the Crown?
Heath: In the more recent iterations of the collection, I honed the portrait to what I felt were iconic poses from various intervals of the Queen’s reign.
The crown is an important element of the artwork. It brings unexpected humour to the piece. It’s also one of the reasons I don’t think carrying on the collection over to Charles will work. We’ve already seen a glimpse of the new bank notes, in which he doesn’t wear a crown.
ACBF: What, if any, are your thoughts on the fact that the image of Charles III on Royal Mail stamps will not be wearing a crown - is this a little like Batman not wearing his bat mask?
Heath: It certainly feels like that. I guess it’s the emperor’s new clothes. It marks a new era for the royals and their role in society.
ACBF: If you had to have one, would you prefer a Queen or a King to reign over us?
Heath: The Queen. She was the surrogate grandmother to most people in the world.
ACBF: What are your thoughts on the role of art in politics and political art in general - who are your influences and what are your ambitions going forwards?
Heath: I remember going to see an exhibition some years ago at RA on Russian Propaganda. To my disappointment, the exhibition contained very little propaganda artwork - it was rather a collection of still life pieces and portraits painted during the time of a heavy communist rule. It could have been from any period and provided no insight or historical context of the political and social zeitgeist.
The importance for political art for me is just that - to mark the political and social zeitgeist.
A few years ago, I created a collection titled Portrait of Heroes, which was reactionary to Brexit and Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’. I chose 200 year old paintings as my point of reference, and wanted people to recognise that there actually hadn’t been a time in history that was better than the present.
The collection also drew parallels with now, and the human necessity to portray our lives as more extraordinary than they are. I wanted to juxtapose the idea that portraits of nobleman still found in portrait galleries around the world are no different from the way we portray our lives on social media. No one wants to show the other side - the struggle and hardship of life. People think it’s ugly, which is why they don’t share it – when actually it’s the side I’m most interested in.
ACBF: Masks feature in other series of works you’ve produced, do you own any masks and if so, when might you wear them? (you don’t have to answer!)
Heath: Ha. Perhaps disappointing to find out I don’t have a secret mask fetish! It’s more the psychological aspect, as I believe we all wear (invisible) masks in daily life.
If we went on an interview, we’d act a certain way, if we went on a date, we’d act in a different way, equally if any of us had met the Queen we’d certainly act a differently again. For me, I have a parent mask, an artist mask, a friend mask, among others.
ACBF: Since the Coronation does mark Queen Elizabeth II’s final salute symbolically, what are your thoughts on the many representations of Queen Elizabeth II in art over the decades and do you see her as a modern day icon? Do you think that the image of Charles III will ever achieve anything close and will he be able to distance himself from the Spitting Image/big eared caricature type of representation that seems to prevail currently?
Heath: The queen was/is a modern day icon, Warhol (among others), have also used her as the subject of their work. She certainly was a key person in my work. I had considered using portraits of many billionaires as the subject of Rich Enough to be Batman, but none had quite the same appeal as the Queen.
Will Charles have the same appeal? I fear not.
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