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John Keane captures Blair’s lies and Iraq’s horrors on canvas

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Siân Ruddick reviews John Keane’s anti-war exhibition at London’s Flowers Gallery
Issue 2288
Sign from God 2009 © John Keane, Flowers Galleries, London
Sign from God 2009 © John Keane, Flowers Galleries, London

John Keane is best known as a war artist. In 1991 he was the Imperial War Museum’s official artist during the Gulf War. His criticism of the horrors of war—and particularly of the US’s conduct—outraged the political and military establishment.

Today Keane takes a fascinating and holistic look at the world. His new exhibition, “Scratching the Surface, Joining the Dots” is on at the Flowers Gallery in London. It takes in the “war on terror”, the economic crisis and the revolutions in the Middle East.

The exhibition focuses on the Iraq war—particularly Tony Blair. Keane’s huge canvases scream disdain for Blair. They highlight Blair’s deceit and his appalling use of his religious belief to justify his drive to war.

Several paintings portray Blair at last year’s Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war. His face appears pixellated and obscured.

Anyone who remembers watching Blair give evidence will have their sickening memories brought rushing back to them. Here was a man hiding behind lies and self-satisfaction, refusing to apologise for the murder and destruction he had caused.

Sign from God 2009 (pictured above) draws on Blair’s so-called mission from God to bomb the Middle East to smithereens. The signs behind Blair point to Iraq, Damascus and Attanf on the Iraq-Syria border.

It is hard not to think of Blair’s other targets, and the targets of the ruling class today—most notably the current threats against Iran.

Other paintings directly address the brutality of the Iraq occupation. Hindsight (Rules of Engagement) shows the silhouette of a woman and child walking through a Baghdad housing area. Crosshairs are painted over the top.

The exhibition leaves you with the feeling that in war it is ordinary people who become the targets—and people like Blair who try to conceal the truth.

John Keane’s “Scratching the Surface, Joining the Dots” is on at the Flowers Gallery, London W1S 3LZ, until 11 Feburary. Admission is free. For more details go to

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