When I woke up on Friday, the 24th of June, to a changed world, I did what most of us did—I went to social media. But I was waiting, waiting for one man in particular to communicate his thoughts on the decision with the rest of the world: Romanian artist Dan
Perjovschi, who has been drawing on walls, sidewalks, windows, and any material he can find for decades. For the last several years, this includes his Facebook wall as well. His drawings are simple, to the point, with a sharp wit that conveys the sentiment of the moment visually and graphically better than words alone ever could.
Dan Perjovschi came of age as an artist in the 1980s, in communist Romania. He developed as an artist in an environment where he had to find ways to negotiate restrictions and create the work he wanted to. One way to do this was to create art that was only for his closest friends and colleagues, in the privacy of his own home, and one of his early works was just that: an installation and performance in his apartment entitled Red Apples, which was a surprise for his wife, Lia Perjovschi, who is also an artist. To surprise her, he found a large quantity of white paper, covered the room of their apartment with it, and drew all over it, with texts and drawings about their lives. The two lived in the apartment, with the drawings, which developed over time, for several days.
Since the fall of communism, the artist has covered numerous museum walls and gallery spaces with drawings related to various social and political events, including the art market and the state of the museum itself. More recently, he has been posting his drawings on social medial, especially in response to headline news. For example, when Russia swiftly annexed Crimea, he illustrated the situation by writing the word “CRIMEA” with the ‘A’ having fallen off, to reveal the word “CRIME,” poignantly conveying what many were thinking about Russia’s actions. That same year, following the Sochi Olympics and the eruption of war in Ukraine, adding one letter to the country’s name illuminated one of the main issues that led to war—the division between those in Ukraine leaning toward Europe, and those against: EUKRAINE. A simple alteration to the Olympic torch, labeled “Sochi,” reveals the flames burning in Maidan Square in Kiev. More recently, the modest addition of two letters to the word ISIS revealed the “CR ISIS” the world now faces, and a jumble of letters, artfully joined together to form names of cities, as if they were pieces in a Scrabble game, illustrates graphically the slew of terror attacks that have taken place in recent years.
All images (above) by Dan Perjovschi.
Dan posted drawings throughout the day on the 24th, starting with “BYE BYE CONTINENTAL BREAKFAST”—the bold, handwritten marker lines bringing to light the impact this major political decision would have on everyday lives, as individuals thought about the way in which travel to the continent might change. Adding two arrows above an agglomeration of the letters E U K brought home the different directions in which the two entities appear to be moving. And a dialogue bubble over the word EUROCUP, with the phrase: “ENGLAND, WALES, N. IRELAND OUT!” again makes reference to the everyday aspects of our lives that will be affected, and also points to the fact that Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU.
The artist turns words into images, and his clever arrangement of letters and graphics gets right to the heart of the message. Those viewing his drawings respond viscerally, as if the meaning is instantly conveyed in the flash of an eye.
But Dan wasn’t the only artist to create in response to the events of June 23. Several of my Facebook friends are artists from both Scotland and abroad, and they, too, shared their feelings on the referendum result visually. Illustrator and jewellery designer Small Stories by Gabrielle Reith posted a beautiful drawing entitled Catch a Falling Star that expressed the sadness that many of us are feeling, as does Katie M. Guthrie’s awe fuck. Katie usually creates large, brightly coloured murals, and I have never seen her create a work so full of sadness. And Latvian artist Maris Bisofs, also known for his clever cartoons and political commentary, created a work that he says was inspired by some British tourists he saw while sitting outside Latvia’s newly renovated National Museum, which has a glass ceiling that one can walk across outside, in the neighboring park. Quoting his Facebook post: “I was sitting by the National Museum of Art, enjoying the newly renovated park and watching the passersby. Then came 6 Englishmen. They walked across the glass floor and then, from one of the 6 drunk men, came the IDEA. He pulled down his pants and pressed his butt against it, showing it to the visitors who were at the Polis exhibition below. Knowing how our police would react I didn’t call them.”
When social media exploded with comments and reactions from across the globe following the results of Brexit, I think it was because people across the UK—across the world, really—were reaching out in order to feel together in a time of separation, to feel part of a community when one was beginning to crumble. All of these artworks speak to the heart of the matter—that human need to be together, to belong, to feel safe, and to the fear that uncertainty brings. When most of us were struggling to articulate what we felt on Friday, these artworks eloquently expressed those sentiments for us. Among Dan’s most shared message that day: “My GREAT (Britain) friends no referendum will separate us,” with “Britain” written in smaller letters. Indeed, while borders and political decisions might separate and divide us, art manages to unite and break through borders, and these artworks by Scottish, Latvian and Romanian artists are a perfect example of that.
It was with two strokes of a pen, two simple lines, that British voters changed the face of Europe, and with just a few more, these artists created insightful comments on it.