Like many things in British politics, the job of the official U.K. election artist is a bit make-it-up-as-you-go. Dreamed up by the maverick former sports minister Tony Banks, in the early two-thousands, the post was one of the feel-good innovations of Tony Blair’s first term in office. “It just occurred to me that we have war artists, so why not have an election artist?” Banks said at the time. Each election cycle, an artist joins politicians, pundits, and news photographers on the campaign trail and produces his or her own interpretation of events. The only requirement is that the artists betray no political bias and that, upon completion, the works they create go on display in the Houses of Parliament. The painter Jonathan Yeo, the first artist appointed, in 2001, produced respectful oil portraits of Blair and his rival party leaders. Most recently, in 2015, the illustrator Adam Dant made a fantastical pen-and-ink drawing, “The Government Stable,” which crowded many of the events that he’d witnessed in the course of the campaign onto a single “Where’s Waldo?”-ish canvas more than six feet wide.
This year’s appointee, Cornelia Parker, is the first conceptual artist to take up the role, and the first woman. She is also, by some margin, more famous than previous incumbents. Since hitting the campaign trail, in early May, she has become a news item in her own right, often glimpsed with her own TV crew in tow. “It’s all very meta,” she told me recently.
Parker, who is known for creating quizzical and sometimes surreal installations, explained that she’d been considering the role since the 2015 election. At the time, her other commitments—which included working on a life-size imitation of the house from Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” which was displayed on the roof of the Met Museum in 2016—got in the way. But this year, when the election was called, just after Easter, the parliamentary committee on the arts got back in touch. This time, Parker said yes.