Why The Queen Is The Last Royal Icon

George Condo’s 2006 painting, Dreams and Nightmares of the Queen, is grotesquely cartoonish, and doesn’t really bear any resemblance to the monarch – it was dubbed The Cabbage Patch Queen for resembling those hideous squashy 1980s toys – but the set hair and robes mean we’d guess who it was even without the title. This is the Queen as an artist’s plaything.

More recently, street artists including Banksy and Pegasus have cop-opted her image. In an unusually apolitical and un-critical stencil mural in Bristol in 2012, Banksy mashed Ma’am up with fellow icon David Bowie via a Ziggy Stardust-style lightning-bolt makeover. Meanwhile Pegasus cast her as a pin-up girl, coyly posing in front of a pastelised Union Jack (is it notable it’s in the colours of the Trans pride flag?) on a north London pub door in 2015. Yet, like many appropriations of the Queen, there’s a big dollop of affection in such high-camp reinventions. And these depictions are perhaps less about the Queen herself, than they are about celebrating a certain irreverent sense of Britishness.

There’s both cheek and affection in Alison Jackson’s photographs and films of Royal lookalikes too – titillating the viewer by seeming to suggest that Mrs Windsor enjoys a flutter at the betting office, takes selfies with the grandkids, and has a sing-along at the piano. There’s a cosy humour in the suggestion that she’s just like us, after all – something her official portraits have certainly never achieved, or possibly even attempted.

Even more mischievous – or cruelly provocative; take your pick – is Kim Dong Yoo’s enormous 2007 portrait. What looks like a blurred or pixelated image of the Queen is revealed, on closer examination, to be made up of hundreds of tiny hand-painted images of… Princess Diana. Its title? Elizabeth vs Diana.

This mention of Diana might lead us on to the other thing that makes the Queen a pure visual icon: the fact that she is probably the last in the line of Royal icons. Diana would be the only other Royal that got close, her image adored and venerated, still the subject of exhibitions just about her appearance – but her death was too tragic to really allow her face to be used in as light-hearted a way as the Queen’s sometimes is.  

As for the rest of them… we know too much about Charles, William, Kate and other Royals for them to take on the Queen’s mantel in this respect. She might have retained her unknowability and her dignity in an era of over-share – but her family members are like reality TV stars, their every move documented and analysed. We think we know them, their personalities and flaws. Elizabeth II will surely be the last Royal ever to be so well-known, yet so little-known.

Source entertainment