The political maps on Adam Dant’s nose are deliciously vulgar and deserve a ‘Partygate’ update

Sometimes, when covering the 2015 UK general election for the Guardian, I came upon a somewhat nondescript figure with a brown hat, standing very quietly in a corner, sketching in a small bound book. Anyone who looked roughly over their shoulder would have seen sketches as delightfully detailed and witty as a Hogarth, as deviously satirical as a Martin Parr photograph. It was Adam Dant, the Official Election Artist, and a copy of the drawing, now in the House of Commons Art Collection, is included in this very entertaining book.

Dant studied at the Royal College of Art and then at the Faculty of Fine Arts, MS University, Baroda, India. Here, in large format and after a short introduction, “The Art of Politics and the Politics of Art: My Life as a ‘Political Artist'”, are brought together many examples of his characteristic style: somewhere between fine art, polemical and barbed fun, turning complex political and social history into deceptively charming maps and diagrams. His subjects range from invaders of Britain, including the brilliant green parakeets that fly over the parks from my office, to Cockney Rhyming America: a map that “renames every state in the United States according to the bizarre and obscure slang of east London costermongers” – where we travel north from “Solar Plexus” (Texas) to “Floating Voter” ( North Dakota).

Slyly satirical

Although many of his predecessors over the centuries were banished, imprisoned or prosecuted to teach them manners, Dant’s style is crude and delightfully vulgar rather than wild: Big Apple slang in New York tawk includes “hip flippers”, “dusty butt”, “bodini”, “juicer” and “sporno”. Brexit calls for a farewell to the continent—Leaving Europe: some anecdotes—in ten autobiographical cigarette packs, and his priceless Critic’s Perpetual Consumption Calendar offers 365 excuses (or, as he describes them, “occasions, events, characters + individuals, common, royal + aristocratic, toast-worthy”) for a quick drink with appropriate beverages: absinthe for Edouard Manet on April 29, gin for the discovery of Mary Celeste on December 4th. His snail-shaped map of Parisian slang includes a pissoir adorned with useful synonyms for “penis” and an assorted set of whippersnappers: “tourists using the ‘esc-ARGOT Parisienne'”, he insists, “will be assured of a warm welcome from their ‘Parisite’ interlocutors”.

Dant’s politics are rarely made explicit, though he is unlikely to be up there on the arms of the cross with the Sunday Time and Channel 4 hammering nails into its crucified former Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn (The Ministry + Passion of JC). He is clearly for the raggy and the random, for the accents and the slang, for the scruffy street life and a bit of urban grime, for the diversity in his most multicolored patchwork. The slick and the sloppy collide in his work, most dramatically in his tsunami of gentrification rolling down Redchurch Street in London’s East End, with yuppies, celebrities and a sprawling slew of drunken estate agents replacing shopkeepers in street, the little shops and the faded apartments, and his own workshop.

Dant’s ink drawing, Leaving Europereflects on Brexit through ten packs of autobiographical cigarettes

© Adam Dant

I’m sure there are politicians and millionaires – or both – who don’t find Dant’s work remotely entertaining, including the living who are named in his paradise of Sleaze—A Map of Political Scandals, which he really needs to update to include, among other things, “Partygate”. His work during the 2015 general election turned into The government stable, a monumental drawing that imagined all the detritus of the countryside—posters, lecterns, discarded eggs, and photo-opportunity props—gathered together in a sprawling Piranesian store. People of then-Prime Minister David Cameron hated Dant seeing that the leader’s rolled shirt sleeves were actually ironed into their sharp folds by an underling and, uniquely in the career of the artist, the Liberal Democrats actually banned him from drawing while their future former leader Nick Clegg ate curry in a Balti house in Cardiff. May Dant’s keen eye, brain and pen flourish long.

Adam Dant, Political maps of Adam Dant, Batsford, 128pp, £30 (hb), published June 30

• Maev Kennedy is a freelance journalist specializing in the arts and archeology, and a regular contributor to The arts journal

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