Jimmy Cauty: The Art of Smiley Riot Shield Protest- I Am More of a Rough Chip Shop Artist.” (interview)
Iconic counter-culture artist and erstwhile multi-million selling pop star Jimmy Cauty (of KLF infamy) recently launched a limited edition of ‘Smiley Riot Shields’consisting of ‘battle-scarred ex-UK police issue’ shields, spray painted yellow and each one daubed with an acid house smiley.
Selling out all 50 collectors’ items in days, he’s just about to sell 60 more after sourcing more riot shields he’s ‘appropriated’ from persons unknown. Though hand painted, signed and editioned on the back by Jimmy, each shield is simultaneously grubby and marked, so what message is he sending by delivering them visibly ‘battle-scarred’?
“Riot police equipment is aggressive by nature and these shields have clearly been used in action: the message is that the shields have been appropriated by the art department,” says Jimmy.
“I have taken control of them and rendered them harmless by painting a smiley face on them and they now represent nonviolent protest, the opposite of their original purpose.”
“It’s important to know they have been used by the police, it gives them extra provenance,” he continues.
“I go to a lot of trouble to acquire these used shields because that is an important part of the concept. I could buy new shields from China but that would not work for me. Originally the shields are transparent with a black banner across the middle with POLICE in white,” he adds.
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): What inspired the idea of the acid house shields in the first place?
Jimmy Cauty: “They came about more through necessity than design. My step-daughter was at Occupy St Pauls and wanted some shields for protection at the eviction in 2012. I had some riot shields knocking about but they had other stuff written on them to do with an ongoing project I’m working on called active denial systems. For the eviction they needed to be more ”non violent direct action” so I painted over them with a smiley face to hide what was written on them.”
Skrufff: And what prompted you to return to the idea and produce first 50 and now 60 more?
Jimmy Cauty: “I forgot about the shields as I was busy on a couple of other projects, then while I was clearing up my workshop I found one of the originals, the other 2 were lost in action. It was at this point I realised I had accidentally created a must have ‘’counter culture design classic’.”
Skrufff: Where and how did you source the shields?
Jimmy Cauty: I found a good source of ex police shields in the north of England but there is a limited supply then secured another batch which I am working on at the moment, probably to release another limited edition but the supply will dry up pretty soon. It takes time and effort to acquire the right raw materials and depends on how many riots there have been lately.”
Skrufff: What do you hope to achieve with the shields? (What broader message/ idea are you hoping to communicate?): and with your art in general (how much are you- still? – trying to change the world?)
Jimmy Cauty: It’s too late to change the world. If I could achieve an image on the (ITV) News at 10 of a thousand school kids running down Whitehall with smiley riot shields then that would be something worthwhile. . . . I know the reality is different and they will mostly end up on office walls in Shoreditch.
The message lately has been all about projecting forward into a dystopian future and reporting back what I find there, usually it’s messy and involves thousands of police, like in the aftermath dislocation principle, but I think it’s interesting for us to see what could happen in the future if we are not careful.”
Skrufff: Are there any laws governing the carrying of shields in public? for example, if I decide to go sledging with my shield and wander past a policed demo, could I be at risk of arrest/ attack?
Jimmy Cauty: Let’s face it, you are always at risk of arrest or attack by the police, especially while sledging. The shields are ex government surplus and legal to own as long as they don’t say POLICE on them anywhere.”
Skrufff: Have you carried the shields around in public much yourself?
Jimmy Cauty: “No I try to keep a low profile, I do all my rioting from an arm chair.”
Skrufff: What reaction have you had from authorities to your riot related art?
Jimmy Cauty: “I haven’t been charged with any artistic offence and I am still at large so I guess the reaction has been positive.”
Skrufff: How much do you subscribe to Picasso’s famous quote ‘good artists copy, great artists steal’?
Jimmy Cauty: “I like to think ideas are just in general circulation, if you stop an idea at a given point and take ownership of it, that can cause problems, I find its better to use parts of and idea, then pass it on.
The idea of a riot should is just floating around, as is a smiley face, if you can accidentally collide these two things together to make an interesting new meaning then you are in luck. Quite often I will set up a situation where lots of different images are circulating around in a kind if visual soup to see if anything sticks to something else, sometime you get lucky sometimes you don’t.I reckon Picasso sounds a bit big-headed.”
Skrufff: Any plans to put a shield in a fish tank full of formaldehyde? Have you had any art-related dealings/ run-ins with Charles Saatchi?
Jimmy Cauty: “No I have not had any dealings with Charles Saatchi, i don’t really hang out in the fine art Department. I am more of a rough chip shop artist.”
Skrufff: Why do you these days prefer to use ‘art’ as your field instead of music? How much do you think music has lost its power- permanently- to mobilise the masses and create revolutionary change?
Jimmy Cauty: “I saw the Beatles on TV in 1963, I was 7 years old. I wanted to do what they were doing, it took me until 1991 to achieve that goal. Then one day I woke up and had lost the will to make music. Pop Music can only mobilise the masses when the masses are under 30 years old. Yes I was over 30 in 1991 but I had special permission to extend my youth. Making stuff and painting on the other hand doesn’t have an age limitation attached.”
Skrufff: How optimistic (or not) are you about the future for the UK? how do you imagine London in 5- or 10 years time? (same-ish?)
Jimmy Cauty: “I have been waiting since the 60s for flying cars, I am starting to give up on the idea.”
Order details: (General on-line release 7pm Monday 17th February)
SRS 3, SMILEY RIOT SHIELD 3, 67cm Diameter, Limited Edition of 30, £325, SRS 5, SMILEY RIOT SHIELD 5, 60cm Diameter, Limited Edition of 30, £385,
All shields are battle-scarred ex-UK police issue and are legal to own and hang on your wall as a work of art, Available to dispatch within 3 weeks of order, Please email email@example.com for international delivery rates.
PRE-ORDER DETAILS, FOR SISTERS OF PERPETUAL RESISTANCE, & MAILING LIST SUBSCRIBERS ONLY, Phone 0207 928 9996, Monday 17th February, 10am – 6pm, please have your credit card details at the ready, General on-line release 7pm Monday 17th February.
Jonty Skrufff: https://twitter.com/djjontyskrufff