ARTIST Paul McGowan has announced a new collaboration with charity War Child - a project he vows to work on for the rest of his life.
The collection has seen former soldier, McGowan dedicate three years of his life to the partnership after his studio was burgled, resulting in the loss of a whole year’s work.
“It was the best thing I’d ever done so I couldn’t give up on it,” says Paul. “It was the thing I was most proud of and I would’ve felt like sh*t if I’d just given up and done something for the money in a big gallery somewhere. My mind wouldn’t have been into it.”
So he set about creating the entire collection from scratch and two years later is preparing to show the world his most cherished work yet. It is also the most harrowing project McGowan has ever worked on.
“It hasn’t been easy to do. The collaboration started with War Child giving me their list of priorities over the coming years - the things they feel are most important to raise awareness of, like child rape, torture and imprisonment.
“I wanted to make the subject matter subtle even though the images are real and they’re hugely disturbing. One of the pieces shows what looks like a woman’s face, but she actually has a little boy’s mouth and a boiled sweet for a tongue. The boy was dead and he was chewing the boiled sweet when he was killed, but the piece itself takes on a cartoony, childlike image.
“Another shows the pregnant stomach of an 11-year-old girl, while a third uses an image of a little boy soldier, sitting on a stool and I’ve also incorporated photographs I was sent of a mass grave full of women and children.
“They’re all really powerful images, but I’ve tried to keep the finished pieces childish, with raw edges - I was wary of trying to polish things too much because it’s such a rough subject matter.”
The campaign has made such an impact on McGowan that he has now vowed to cut his ties with all other charities and dedicate his career to War Child.
And it struck a personal note with McGowan, who himself experienced the strange draw of weapons as a youngster.
“I was in the Parachute Regiment when I was younger. I signed up when I was 15 and was a fully-fledged soldier by 16. I remember being given a weapon and shaking it and thinking it felt like a toy.
“But these children have nothing and it’s the first present they’ve ever been given. I can understand them thinking ‘they love me, they’ve given me something’ and cherishing that gun. I know that feeling, what it’s like to be given a deadly weapon. It empowers you! And now I have children of my own, so I can see it from both sides. That’s why this feels so important to me.”
But, having toiled for free in order to raise as much money as possible for War Child, McGowan is now rallying against the art world, who he feels are only interested in pay cheques rather than helping worthy causes.
“I’ve worked for free and so have the people around me, to ensure that War Child’s message is brought to as many people as possible and as much money is raised for them to carry on their amazing work.
“I’m still looking for a London gallery for the show because everybody keeps contacting me saying ‘we love what you’re doing. We’ll let you show your work here... and we’ll take 50% of the money.
“I’m not having that - I’m not taking 50%, so why should they? I don’t want anyone else jumping on the back of this work and taking all the money, the press and the glory - that’s all being saved for War Child because this is about them and what they do.”
McGowan has ensured that his collection will include artwork that cuts through financial and class divides and is available to all, with prices ranging from just £35 to around £20,000.
“I wanted this to be about engaging with people and spreading the word about War Child. I can’t do that if it’s just a small group of art collectors who can buy my work.
“The only difference in these pieces is size and print runs. They’re all limited edition, signed and exactly the same high quality - the smaller pieces aren’t just cheap versions, they’re pieces that have taken me a long time to create. But they’re affordable - I didn’t feel that in this social climate I could justify only producing huge, expensive pieces of art.”
Paul McGowan’s first show takes place at The Drang Gallery in Padstow, Cornwall from 4-24 October, before moving to the gallery’s Salcombe, Devon premises until November 10th. McGowan will be in attendance in Padstow on October 5th from 3-6pm and Salcombe on October 26th from 3-6pm.
McGowan will then bring his eagerly-awaited Trigger Finger show to London for the first time since his now infamous Bad Ladder show.
Take a look at the video on the right for a little more insight into this amazing and thoughtprovoking campaign.