The United Kingdom is home to distinguished artists of every type imaginable, and that has been the case for centuries. Music, visual art, and theatre have flourished in British culture and will continue to do so. Below are some examples of artists from the United Kingdom that, chances are, you have either heard of or know from their work:
Banksy is a visual artist that stands out among the rest due to his anti-capitalist rhetoric and masterfully accomplished anonymity, while simultaneously gaining a global audience and becoming a household name.
As a famous UK artist, he has been an inspiration to street artists, graffiti artists, and other artists such as Derek Hood, due to his widespread acclaim that was attained simply through the quantity and quality of his work out on the London streets.
His street art is known for focusing on the irony of aspects of society—the government and capitalism—specifically from a point of view that turns what we think we know on its head. After his rise to fame, he opened up a satirical theme park of art installations called Dismal Land, a sinister twist on Disney Land, which garnered even more attention as his work escalated at a rate that could no longer be ignored.
He even had a documentary made about his work, in which he featured with a voice disguiser and dark lighting so as to maintain his secret identity, called Exit Through the Gift Shop. That introduction into mainstream media helped amplify his voice from the local streets of London to an international scale, and forever immortalised his street art into something greater.
The Beatles, while musicians as opposed to visual artists, are one of the first examples to come to mind when you think about famous British artists. They were some of the first ever to reach the level of global fame that they did, inspiring countless musicians, rock or otherwise, ever since their formation.
The band began in Liverpool but did worldwide tours in the United States, western Europe, and parts of Asia.
Even today, many bands, even if they are not necessarily British, are compared to The Beatles because of their world-shifting fame. Many argue that The Beatles set the standard for rock ’n’ roll music, and whether that is agreed upon or not, they certainly did great things for the United Kingdom’s place in the global art scene.
In the 1960’s when pop art was taking over the scene, David Hockney was a frontrunner of its establishment. He studied at the highly acclaimed Royal College of Art, and his work has been featured at London’s Royal Court Theatre and New York City’s Metropolitan Opera.
The subjects of his artwork vary greatly (examples being still-life landscape paintings and portraits of friends), and his mediums even more so—paintings, printmaking, and digital drawings, to name a few. His affinity for drawing on computer programs sets him apart from many other traditional painters, as he was eager to utilise new technology for the sake of furthering his art.
Another famous UK artist of the 1960’s is Bridget Riley, a painter and one of the leading artists of “op art,” or art dealing with optical illusions. Throughout the 1930’s, she was born and raised in London. She was heavily influenced by the works of Jackson Pollock, the American artist popularised for his drip-style painting methods, and adopted a signature black and white style for her own art until the mid-1960’s when she started experimenting with colour.
In the 1960’s, Riley’s work was exhibited in New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, and one of her paintings was even the cover for the show’s magazine. She has also been featured at the Serpentine Gallery, the National Gallery in London, and the David Gwirner Gallery among many others.
Lucian Freud was a British painter and draftsman—not unlike the up and coming UK artist Derek Hood—and was the son of a Jewish architect who fled Germany in the 1930s’ rise of Nazism. In his artistic career, he was initially greatly impacted by Surrealism (which could relate to his being the grandson of, you guessed it, Sigmund Freud), but like any artist, this developed into an interest in many more styles. He later explored German Expressionism as well, and delved into portraits of people, animals, and plant life.
He had numerous solo exhibitions featured in prestigious museums, including but not limited to; New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art, Edinburgh’s Scottish National Gallery, and Venice’s Museo Correr.
In a style all his own, Chris Ofili is another famous UK artist who first gained traction through his use of elephant dung in his paintings. He was awarded the Turner Prize, making him a highly renowned artist at a very young age. He draws inspiration from history and various cultures, and utilises colour uniquely in his art. His art is also very reflective of the Black experience, as Chris Ofili is a Black artist himself.
His art, while always respectfully constructed, has gained some controversy due to the juxtaposition between the imagery he chooses and the elephant dung he uses. His painting, The Holy Virgin Mary, gained such controversy as he combined elephant faeces as an art material and vaginal images, which led to protests and even a lawsuit after its exhibition.
His work has been featured in exhibitions such as Brilliant! New Art from London at the Walker Art Centre, the Arts Club of Chicago, the New Museum in New York, and many more.
Throughout the United Kingdom, artists have countless predecessors to look up to as they grow, and the culture that reigns over the country will continue to foster the love of art for even more centuries to come. As long as art of every variety has a platform to flourish, artists within and outside of the United Kingdom will see it as an inclusive and welcoming space to advance their work.