Michael Landy – The Essex Way 03.05.22

Bank holiday trip to Firstsite Colchester to see Michael Landy’s The Essex Way. It’s been 4 years since my last visit for the group show “Play it Again: The Art of Remaking” in 2018, and Firstsite has since been awarded Art Fund Museum of the Year 2021.

British artist Michael Landy is interested in the recent history of Essex, and how how the county has been stereotyped by the media over the past thirty years. One such stereotype is that of the ‘Essex Man’, a term coined by historian and journalist Simon Heffer (himself hailing from Essex) in a 1990 Sunday Telegraph article entitled ‘Mrs. Thatcher’s Bruiser’. The article described a new type of Conservative party voter, one that is ‘young, industrious, mildly brutish and culturally barren.’

Essex Man (after Collet) is a supersized cut out reproduction of Edward Collet’s illustration which acompanied Heffer’s Sunday Telegraph article. ‘Essex Man’ is portrayed as thick-necked, clutching a can of lager and in an expensive yet ill-fitting suit. Just out of frame is his Ford Escort XR2 car, his recently purchased council house and Sky satellite dish. Under the illustration was printed the caption ‘He expects to win, whether he is the best man or not’.

In addition, the gallery’s 140m curved wall features a large scale collage of drawings and references gathered from Landy’s walks throughout Essex with Southend-based artist Elsa James, writer and broadcaster Gillian Darley, and Professor Pam Cox, Head of the Department of Sociology, University of Essex. The collage began as part of Landy’s earlier exhibition “Welcome to Essex” and invited visitors to explore, celebrate and question the recent history of Essex and its contemporary portrayal in popular culture.

Julian Opie - Imagine you are driving are yellow car, 2004