Cold War Steve

Christopher Spencer started making digital collages on his smartphone on the way to work and posting them on Twitter under the pseudonym Cold War Steve. They rapidly became wildly popular. His bleakly satirical pictures of rotting caravans, pompous and ineffectual politicians, and down-at-heel street scenes struck a chord with many.

He freely appropriates classic paintings, news pictures and memorabilia. His work echoes Hogarth, Escher and Hockney.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of his work is his utter disregard of boundaries. Kim Jong Un, Cilla Black and Roger Daltrey will all be inserted into the background of a Dutch masterpiece from the 18th century. He is opinionated, partisan and very funny.

Whilst he has moved on from the smartphone on the bus, he illustrates that genuinely innovative art can be created under any circumstances. He is also commendably generous with his work. He sprang to fame by posting his work on Twitter. He has now created a downloadable exhibition which can be printed up and displayed in your own locality.

This generosity echoes Takuma Nakahira’s Circulation show at the 1971 Paris Biennale. He created the content of the show whilst the show was in progress, then gave all the pictures away at the end.

Spencer makes a living from his art by selling limited edition prints to collectors and other goods from his websites. However, it’s likely that he is only able to make that living by initially being generous with his work and allowing it to be freely distributed. This Freemium marketing strategy has been a key component of the success of many digital enterprises over the last 20 years. Giveaway a basic product, then charge for the premium version. The low costs of digital distribution make this possible.

Spencer shows that this distribution model can work for artists as well. Being generous is a path to recognition.