The London-based artist’s playful and witty illustrations shine an honest light on British culture
I don’t know much about football but I know Reuben Dangoor. The viral Instagram artist first shot to fame in 2015 for his rococo interpretations of UK grime artists as landed gentry. You’ve probably seen them: D Double E as a military officer, Skepta straddling a horse with a British flag in hand, and (wait for it) Stormzy chilling in an ornate British manor in front of a framed portrait of Wiley and an unboxed pair of adidas trainers, naturally.
His light-hearted drawings of England’s squad during last year’s World Cup, which went viral, shone a positive light on the sport, which has widely been associated with rowdy hoards of men and hooliganism. The 30-year-old’s zany illustrations scream England: one image sees Harry Kane atop a white van, flanked by lions and national flags, while in another, he’s making it rain – not money, but Greggs sausage rolls.
As it turns out, sausage rolls are a running theme in Dangoor’s political illustrations too. A digital reinterpretation of Piers Morgan’s Twitter spat with British institution Greggs (fittingly) swaps the ham-faced bigot in place of actual (read: maybe) meat. Another standout pic memorialises politician Diane Abbott’s iconic M&S mojito moment earlier this year, drawn in the style of Kim Kardashian’s equally internet-breaking 2016 Paper Magazine front cover.
With a sharp wit and quick uptake that puts many political illustrators to shame, Dangoor is a creative force to be reckoned with. And with brand new work set to preview at Glastonbury this week, and a recent installation at Instagram’s Express Yourself event in London earlier this month, we speak to the artist himself on grime, politics and being British.
To kick things off, how did you get into art?
Reuben Dangoor: I think I’ve always been into it, even when I was really young at school. You always have one kid who is really good at football and one kid is drawn to music. I’ve just always been the art kid, I don’t know why. I even went back to my parents not long ago and in their loft I found a ton of drawing from when I was really, really small so I don’t really know the key thing that got me into it, I just feel like I always had an impulse to draw. Both my parents are very much into their artwork and they took me to lots of galleries when I was little, so I’ve been exposed to it from a young age.
Your 2015 work depicts grime artists in such an aristocratic way. What interested you about that topic and why?
Reuben Dangoor: Grime was in a really different place than it is now. It was just about to make a resurface. I’ve always been a massive fan in general and it comes from being a fan. I was aware that there were a lot of new people getting into it and I wanted to introduce them to my era of the genre. There were a lot of younger people getting into the music and they weren’t as aware of people like D Double E and Wiley, they were more focused on Stormzy or Skepta, so for me it was just celebrating the evolution of it and it just felt like the most appropriate way because they were forefathers of the genre and made sense in my head to celebrate in a quite British way.
Grime is British born music and style of the paintings show that, the fire place and the stately home make you think of stereotypical England, like Downton Abbey. I just thought that they were weirdly as British as each other. All the kinds of people that we normally celebrated through portrait back in the day were influential, there’s lots of information about the subject of the portrait inside the painting themselves and as a fan, I tapped into that.
What was really cool was that you had people who might not necessarily have been into that style of art and may not go to galleries but they were the ones who were looking at this and they were the experts on what was going on in the images because they were fans of grime. It just amused me I guess.
You designed the set for Stormzy’s tour, how was that?
Reuben Dangoor: Thats was pretty mad, it was after I’d done his portrait and his team just got in touch. This was his first ever tour so it wasn’t quite the same scale of where he is now but I was working with the to basically make that portrait into a 3D version of it. So the living room of a stately home or manor house but still with the portrait of Wiley in the back drop, he had referenced one of his novels – it felt like a nice tie in with the older legend of Wiley and the new legend of Stormzy. It was an interesting thing because I’m very much used to seeing my artwork in 2D and seeing it transform into 3D was a really cool experience.
There is a lot of talk about politics within grime music, do you consider your work political?
Reuben Dangoor: I think art in general is very hard to not be politically charged, for me a lot of what I do work on is stuff that I am interested in or reacting to, politics is definitely one of the things that I’m interested in trying to keep up with and respond to. Yeah, I don’t respond to it as obversely political as others but definitely there are strains within my artwork that are political.
Your art is quite fun and satirical. Do you think it’s important to make fun of some of these issues within politics?
Reuben Dangoor: I think politics at the moment is a little depressing. I think lots of people are a little fatigued by the current state of UK politics and it does turn people off from engaging with it. For me, it’s important to make fun of it all as it can feel a bit empowering when more often than not the political situation makes me feel pretty powerless.
It also feels very British. Do you think it would translate well to other countries and cultures?
Reuben Dangoor: I think the sport stuff is really relatable wherever people are as it’s so global. But I’ve grown up within British culture, and it’s what I know and understand. But yeah, some of the more niche bits of cultural reference, nods to obscure television shows and the more minor politicians must get lost in translation for sure.
Why have you chosen Instagram as your platform? How can Instagram work with artists to help improve the platform for them?
Reuben Dangoor: For me, it makes a lot of sense. There isn’t really any other platform that you can share work as quickly and the way you can tag it easily with people you want to see it and people who are involved. I just think it’s the simplest and most accessible platform for artwork so it just makes a lot of sense. You’re able to do everything on your phone and just uploading is quick especially because a lot of the work that I do is in response to something the work will be created very close to an event weather thats someone winning an award or someone winning an election so the idea is to respond as quickly as possible. It’s just the easiest medium to do that and have the most impact. I’ve never had any problems with Instagram and I assume I won’t in the future. For what I use Instagram for, I think it’s alright, the mechanics. I know there are problems with the algorithms but I feel like I’m quite lucky with it.
And last question – who is your favourite grime artist?
Reuben Dangoor: Oh that’s really hard. I think D Double E is one of my favourite grime artists, there’s a lot of them I like very much but I’ve always thought he was one of the most interesting and for live performances he’s the guy. But there are tons of new grime that is really really good, but yeah always him.