Controversial British Artists and Painters

To shock, to disgust, to offend or simply to cause a reaction: this is the mantra of the contemporary British artist. Indeed, it is the arguably the philosophy of any artist of the modern era.

Many have transformed this from a simple goal into a real skill. If the truth be told, the most recognisable names in Britain’s artistic sphere are, more often than not, those that have succeeded in causing noses to turn up in disgust, or tuts to escape disapproving mouths.

A huge Damien Hirst statue of a dissected pregnant woman managed to simultaneously divide the opinions of the town of Ilfracombe in Devon. The highly sexualised doodlings of cross-dressing ceramics expert Grayson Perry have been described “obscene”. Meanwhile, dapper chaps Gilbert and George incited the rage of Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe in 2006 with their 21 works entitled “Sonofagod Pictures: Was Jesus Heterosexual?” Said the Tory of the exhibition: “blasphemous in the extreme, as they will find out when finally they stand before the Son of God”.

Despite this, however, a look beyond the obvious and the outrageous will reveal a flock of talented artists who still prioritise technique. Many of these have chipped away at their preferred approach for years and decades in order to master it. While there are too many to name, the following reveals some of those artists whose originality has withstood the test of time.

Steve McQueen

Indeed, not he of The Great Escape fame but rather the British filmmaker and lover of conceptual art.

McQueen is what you might call an unconventional British artist. He was deployed in Iraq in 2003 as an official war artist, which eventually led to one of his most famous works Queen and Country: 150 portraits of fallen military servicemen and women in postage stamp form.

So passionate was he about this work that he lobbied the British Government and Royal Mail to have the portraits printed on real stamps.

David Inshaw

Inshaw’s paintings are as quintessentially English as they are strange. Take for example, the notorious Badminton Game, which depicts two ladies playing a spot of badminton in the expansive acres of a country home. Inshaw, who lives in the West Country, has an attention to detail and a way with texture that makes his works difficult not to recognise or, at the very least, take note of. 


Arguably the most famed British artist of the 21st century, Banksy is know to some as a vandal, and to others as a genius. To the latter group, he might forever be hailed as the pioneer of ‘guerilla art’ or ‘street art’ as we know it.

Not many people know Banksy’s real identity, but he is believed to hail from Bristol, though his work has travelled much further afield. His first painting of a maid on a Chalk Farm wall was initially dismissed as graffiti and whitewashed by the local council. But somehow the maid kept reappearing.

These days, the council wouldn’t dare touch the milk maiden, especially given that people travel from across the globe just to have a photo taken with her! 


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