Currency = Art? (Part One)
As a canvas, money is loaded with iconography that provides ample opportunity for subversive humour and is almost inherently political – the very act of drawing on currency is an anti-establishment statement.
In the case of artists who transform money (as opposed to those who cut up and refashion banknotes as collage or sculpture and will feature in part two of this post), the aim is more often laughs than hard-hitting social commentary, often through combining highly recognisable banknote imagery with highly recognisable pop culture touchstones.
Face Hugger by James Charles
James Charles’s banknote art is steeped heavily in pop culture, subjecting the full gamut of dead presidents to the honour/indignity of subtle metamorphosis into a wide array of celebrities and film characters. Here, Abraham Lincoln remains impressively calm as a Xenomorph from the Alien franchise plants an embryo down his throat that may or may not burst out of his chest during the Gettysburg Address.
007 by bunchof5s
Pulp Queen by bunchof5s
An anonymous, mischievous Australian is gleefully defacing five-dollar notes for his WordPress blog, producing a series of hilariously cartoony banknotes that put Queen Elizabeth II in a wide variety of unusual situations and disguises – again, often referencing films. In contrast with James Charles, endearingly little effort is made by the artist to stay within the style of the original banknote, instead revelling in just how much he has mangled our lovable monarch’s visage.
Various by Hanna von Goeler
Hanna von Goeler’s approach is far more personal, using banknotes almost as a visual diary through which she ‘chronicles [her] struggle and relationship with money’. Some pieces feature written details or events from her life, others (like the tattoo image above) are straightforward visual jokes. But what makes her stand out from other currency artists is her use of negative space – turning the border of a banknote into a frame for an image, or removing large sections with white paint until she is left with a different image entirely. In a niche discipline where most proponents are defined by what they add to the image, it’s interesting to see an artist who thinks about what they’re subtracting.
I Will Not Deface Coins by Deadman Jeweler
Robert Morris is a professional jeweller with a sideline in carving hobo nickels – a form of art that became popular in 1913 when the Buffalo nickel was introduced, providing a highly portable and relatively soft canvas for itinerant workers of an artistic bent. Most of Morris’ coins feature jangly skeletons and scantily clad women, but I Will Not Deface Coins is a lovely, self-referential homage to one of the most iconic images in cartoon history.
Untitled by Josh Usmani
Here, a Polish 50 złoty note has passed through the disconcerting filter of a Yuletide acid trip. The usually bored face of Polish communist General Karol Świerczewski – behind its clownish accouterments – now seems possessed by the vacant stare of a serial killer, while a gang of baubles hover threateningly over his left shoulder and a red-hot beach ball drops out of a portal to another dimension. Josh Usmani has produced over 100 notes that look like deleted scenes from the kids’ TV show of your nightmares.