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Pam Glew's Flag Circus

The urban artist's latest London exhibition sees her painting portraits of iconic faces onto national flags

Circus is the latest London show by urban artist Pam Glew. Glew’s work is typified by her portraits of iconic faces painted onto national flags. Circus, despite originating from a more optimistic place than Glew’s previous London show Noir, is a melancholic exploration of the dark hippodrome of show business of some of it’s most compelling characters. Ahead of the opening of Circus, Dazed Digital speaks to Glew about the spectacle of celebrity and the status of urban art.

Dazed Digital: What is the theme that unites the work in Circus?
Pam Glew: The work is all based on the idea of the underbelly or slightly darker side to a performer’s life. The 'circus' refers to the bright lights of show business, which has a slight air of travelling circus about it. The work shows performers looking a little jaded and melancholic. There's a feeling of Pierrot clowns in the show, but painted so that their makeup looks like dripping mascara. I imagine the characters in the show being like circus performers caught in the rain at night.  

DD: It’s certainly a happier title than your previous London show Noir, does that reflect in the work?
Pam Glew:
I envisioned the work looking a lot happier that it turned out. I conceived it to be quite pop, but as I made the work, the portraits became sadder and more sulky. For example; Twiggy and Jackson, they look quite moody and seem to be staring out of the frame at you in quite a critical way as if they are saying 'what are you looking at', so it flips the whole audience/viewer relationship. I like that idea that we are being judged as a viewer. 

DD: How do the people you depict in Circus relate specifically to the circus theme?
Pam Glew:
I think it's more obvious in some than others; like Jackson with the whole 'Neverland' thing, his story is so unreal you couldn't make it up, it seems like a work of fiction. There's a portrait in the show of Edie Sedgwick. The Warhol factory was quite a media circus. Warhol and Edie's friendship was fairly short-lived but overly documented. I like the quote from Warhol that ha was fascinated by Edie and that fascination was "a certain kind of love". Hunter S Thomson, I've painted with Vegas lights, that shows another side of a circus; bright lights, gambling, hallucinogenic drugs, the highs and lows. All the subjects are performers in some way; musicians, film stars, writers and artists.  

DD: Most of the people you depict represent an era between 1960 and the 1980s, what is special about this time for you, and who would you pick as more current representations of popular culture?
Pam Glew:
I think of the 60s as a great time for liberation, change and innovation. I think of that era as being quite celebratory, almost like a rebirth of adventure and culture. I think that optimism is really necessary right now, there's too much doom and gloom in the news, there needs to be a flip to all that is grey. Current representations of pop culture? Well Kate Moss and Debbie Harry are in the show, as they're both iconic. But right now I'd say Lily Allen, Cheryl Cole, Lady Gaga & Florence Welch but nobody knows until the benefit of hindsight.  

DD: Does urban art always have to be political?
Pam Glew:
No, it doesn't have to be, but it has to say something, social comment yes. If something needs saying it tends to come out in art, music and writing. Sometimes social issues are pointed in one genre before others, and urban art certainly should deal with what's going on in the world. Social comment in art needs to be taken with a spoon full of sugar; like a bit of humour -Banksy, candy colours -Micallef or mesmerising pattern -Shepard Fairey. To make it more easily ingested, it needs to be sweeten it up a bit.

Circus, by Pam Glew opens on the 25th of November at Red Bull Studios, 155-171 Tooley Street, London, SE1 2JP