Performance Publishing

I was embarrassed by the cover of a DVD I borrowed recently from my local library.  The DVD cover design was totally different from the one I had seen online, giving the friends I was with the impression I had just hired a Rom Com starring George Clooney, when the cover I had seen online had promised alienation, satire and punchy dialogue. See for yourself:

Library Rental Cover

Library Rental Cover

cover viewed online

The latter turned out to be the case when I watched the film. So I wondered, was the rental copy given a different design to target a different kind of audience? One more afraid of commitment, perhaps, just like the jet-set central character Ryan Bingham? No, what the Library has unwittingly uncovered is not just an alternate cover; it is the cover of the film playing inside Ryan Bingham’s head while we watch his life unwind.

Bingham feels at home on long-haul travel, preferring its flux, isolation and homogeneity to intimate relationships. He experiments with teasing his polythene wrapped life open a little and falling in love with fellow high-flyer Alex Goran, the woman drinking with him on the rental cover. They assume the roles of screwball comedy lovers, a story Bingham writes, directs and stars in himself. The rental copy is the cover he chooses for his own version of the film, where they meet, sass each other into bed, and reacquaint themselves with the homely lives they have rejected. Bingham expects prodigal childhood nostalgia and the synchronised ticking of their biological clocks to deliver them to the church on time. They will have their wedding cake and eat it. But the director, Jason Reitman, has other ideas.

Reitman exposes the vacuity of Bingham’s life, everyone except Bingham can see it coming, and by the time he meets ‘god’ (airline mascot Maynard Finch) he already knows his life’s work has been a poor investment. A Neitzschean cycle of eternal return thrusts him back above the clouds, yet a long way short of heaven. Assuming the role of a Bodhisattva, if you like, he turns back from Nirvana to help his novice, Natalie Keener, escape the hell of long-haul travel herself. (Dear reader, does any other blog use obscure Buddhist references to avoid film spoilers?) Perhaps Reitman dropped the ball here by not including a scene where Bingham ignores the safety advice found in the leaflet and attaches the oxygen mask to Natalie’s face first? But anyway, you can see why Reitman chose the cover he did for his film, where the bankable Clooney is reduced to an inch-high silhouette facing away from us, a one-man black hole, a shadow to be scraped from the interior of a cut-price reactor. Glass panes reflect his compartmentalised life. A floor, polished, is ready to slip him up.

Devolution Union Flag

September 16th, 2014 | Posted by David in Fine Art Prints - (0 Comments)
Union (screenprint)Henningham Family Press

Union (screenprint)
Henningham Family Press

An Unknown Soldier: An Exhibition by Henningham Family Press

An Unknown Soldier: An Exhibition by Henningham Family Press

Tuesday 4th November 2014 – Sunday 4th January 2015
Opening Event 7th November 7.30pm (booking essential)

Open Daily Tuesday – Sunday 11am – 8pm

Poetry Library
Level 5
Royal Festival Hall
London SE1 8XX

We are very honoured to announce that the Saison Poetry Library, which is the major British library for modern and contemporary poetry, has invited us to stage a solo exhibition of all our work from An Unknown Soldier to date. This will be part of the Southbank Centre‘s programme of First World War Centenary events. This will be a mini-retrospective of dozens of prints and books made between 2011 and 2014, some on display for the first time.

First World War casualties can now be identified with saliva gleaned from postage stamps on their letters home. This DNA technology unintentionally transforms the memorial to the Unknown Soldier in Westminster Abbey forever. In his anonymity he had stood for those lost to the destructive power of industrialised war. In our poem An Unknown Soldier we reconstruct him as a body of text, interrupted by trench-like letter forms, and ask: Has the Unknown Soldier, in the DNA age, become a symbol for our failure to learn from the past?

There will be a FREE Opening Event on Friday 7th November, 7.30pm at which we will be reading an extract from An Unknown Soldier with the assistance of James Wilkes and Erica Jarnes. We will also be giving out a small, free limited edition print. Booking is essential by email to:

specialedition [at] poetrylibrary [dot] org [dot] uk


The exhibition will include the four screenprint editions from our SGM Lifewords commission. The original 43 million Active Service John’s Gospels came off the same presses that printed recruitment propaganda, yet Father God and Fatherland presented contradictory visions of peace, both contending for the allegiance of soldiers in the form of printed words.

Details on Poetry Library website
Details on Southbank Centre website

An Unknown Soldier Project Page
An Unknown Soldier Blog Thread

The Erroneous Disposition of the People Project

The Erroneous Disposition of the People Project

After their kind invitation to be the profiled press onstage last year at Conway Hall, we have booked a table at Free Verse 2014. This year we will also be doing a reading, ably assisted by James Wilkes (Palgrave Macmillan, HFP, Penned In The Margins, Veer)

We will perform a version of ‘An Unknown Soldier’ arranged for multiple voices. This will be preceded by our poems from ‘The Erroneous Disposition of the People’, inspired by the Table of Contents in Sir Thomas Browne’s Pseudodoxia Epidemica.

Reading: 10.30am – 11am
Garden Cafe outside in Red Lion Square

Saturday 6th September
Conway Hall
Red Lion Square


Details Here

The Library at UCL have added An Unknown Soldier to their superb Special Collection. There will be lots more news about this project to come this year. You can read about this artwork here


An Unknown Soldier - screenprints

An Unknown Soldier – screenprints


The Active Service Gospel recently received its official launch at the prestigious Guards Museum at Wellington Barracks, just opposite Buckingham Palace. Our four screenprint editions were dotted around the museum on display.

Fascinating and moving speeches were made in which we heard about many of the exciting projects that are already committed to using the replica gospels in this centenary year, especially among the young to promote a passion for peace. We also said a few words about why the project grabbed our attention and how we approached it.

We were a little stunned to hear about all the people who will be receiving these little books, and that the 120,000 already available may well just be the start. To receive some of these little books for free, or with a donation, you can go here.

A question we get asked a LOT is when the fantastic unreleased songs Half-handed Cloud played with us at our Monday School show in London 2012 will be released. Well, they are all on his brand new LP entitled ‘Flying Scroll Flight Control’ and Asthmatic Kitty have declared both the CD and transparent recycled plastic bottle vinyl versions ‘clear for take-off’ on 10th June. It is an awesome and expansive album, and you can pre-order Flying Scroll Flight Control now at Asthmatic Kitty. You can also revisit the aforementioned Monday School show here.

Three more works from An Unknown Soldier have been acquired by the Saison Poetry Library at the Royal Festival Hall. We are doubly  thrilled by their addition to this important collection because it feels like their spiritual home. You can read more about these pieces through the project page for An Unknown Soldier here.


Grand Eagle (capitals and columns)

Grand Eagle (capitals and columns)

Crown Poster(widows and orphans)

Crown Poster
(widows and orphans)

An Unknown Soldierdeluxe edition

An Unknown Soldier
deluxe edition


SGM filmed this interview with David about the four prints we made with them for the WW1 Active Service Gospel replica.

The Active Service Gospel Replica

We are very pleased to announce the publication of the ‘Active Service Gospel’, a replica of a John’s Gospel that was given to troops, and sometimes their families, during the First World War. SGM Lifewords (at the time called Scripture Gift Mission) commissioned us to create the original artwork for their commemorative project. They didn’t want to make a straight facsimile of the original, but rather a replica with a few considered changes in the spirit of the original, which would give the recipient today more of an insight into what it would have felt like to receive one a hundred years ago.

Active Service Gospel Replica

Our commission was to make four pieces of art that would be reproduced as colour plates. These screenprint editions import the legacy of the First World War into a document that lived in the trenches. The tragedy of WW1 is absent from its pages because it unfolded around them. We found the SGM story as interesting as it is moving. Their tradition of offering gospels without any social agenda attached, to anyone who wants or needs one, allowed them to mass produce words of comfort and encouragement without partiality, during a war where words had already been slain by mass-produced propaganda. A staggering 42 million Active Service Gospels were made, a testament to the demand. Some were accepted gladly, others with derision, and some with derision that became devotion. The trenches were a place where some lost faith and others found it. The story of the Active Service Gospel is a little-known history, and we are delighted to help in remembering it.

'Night Watch'

‘Night Watch’

'Cody Kite'

‘Cody Kite’



'Embarkation on a Dazzle Ship'

‘Embarkation on a Dazzle Ship’

SGM also asked us to reference the Modernist artwork of the time, exploring the tension between Vorticist individualism and Futurist machine-worship. In the context of a machine war, the latter is obviously less appropriate (and less British – only Nevinson was a close disciple of the Italian movement). This was an age when Artists turned Camoufleur. Painters like Wadsworth, under Wilkinson’s lead, created vast Modernist artworks in the form of Dazzle Ships. Nash wanted to “burn their lousy souls” with desolate reportage paintings like ‘We are making a new world’. Even a regiment of Artist Rifles exchanged the gallery for the shooting-gallery and signed-up.

The Themes Behind the Prints

We began work with life-models and period uniform obtained from a costumier to make portraits of four individuals, each faced with the strains of war, moments when they would have experienced doubt or fear. We collaborated with actors, mainly, in these sessions.

We had two central themes we were meditating on. The first being that, on an international level, the war was about self-aggrandisement and vainglory, but this did not prevent the men who had enlisted performing acts of genuine humility and love, the kind of sacrifices they would have found examples of in the pages of these little gospels. St John contrasts Jesus the Christ, who serves and brings peace, with Caesar the Tyrant who’s Pax Romana is obtained through oppression of neighbouring states in warfare. It was after the First World War that Jesus’ statement “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (found in John 15:13) became current in Remembrance. When we began this project we had long considered this usage inappropriate. However, we came to realise that for powerless infantry to be able to redeem their active service by doing acts of service to each other, and sometimes even their ‘enemies’, was a powerful comfort for many of them. The way we approached all this in the prints was to employ camouflage and symbols of Pro Patria as a symbol of deception. Flat geometric planes, pleats and patterns surround and enfold the figures so that only their faces and hands testify to a human presence and will.

The second theme, or perhaps it was more of a ‘consideration’, was that the Church of England, and some other Christian groups, had been wrongly supportive of the First World War and contributed to the call-up. This is a shameful episode that confused Imperialism with Mission and searched for Just War instead of fostering Peace. This error of judgement contributed to a decline in British ecclesiastical art, perhaps the only remission being the rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral after World War Two and the artworks and music commissioned for it, all of which find a degree of authenticity in repentance and mourning for humanity as a whole. Most of the brilliant British artists and writers of the 1920s were Secular Humanists or Catholics who celebrated the Internationalist aspect of their Church. We wanted to join in with the spirit of Coventry in representing ecclesiastical themes in a contemporary way. Therefore, in our Nightwatchman, Aviator, Pal and Sailor you will find a nod to the hermit tempted in the wilderness, an annunciation, three disciples and a holy jester.

The Four Prints



‘Night Watch’
Henningham Family Press
edition 90
16cm x 25cm

'Cody Kite'

‘Cody Kite’
Henningham Family Press
edition 17
48cm x 74cm


Henningham Family Press
edition 30
35cm x 51cm

'Embarkation on a Dazzle Ship'

‘Embarkation on a Dazzle Ship’
Henningham Family Press
edition 20
61cm x 94cm

A soldier on Night Watch is a frequent metaphor for enduring suffering and waiting for enlightenment. He is a man aware of his own weakness waiting for vindication. The moon and stars here stand for the light that the darkness cannot overcome. We were interested to find that the trenches were an extension of the human body and, like a grave stretching off into infinity, took the length of a foot, shin and arm for their makeshift construction.

Cody Kites were brought to the British Military by Wild West showman Samuel Cody, who reached the end of his life in Aldershot where the embryonic RAF (Royal Flying Corps) trained. A chain of kites lifted an officer high into the air where he could sight artillery and gather intelligence of enemy movements. The thin cables, like those often painted in gold on depictions of the annunciation, and rapid upward movement imply a religious experience. But the apparatus levitating him is man-made and looks more demonic than angelic, hinting at the particular hubris of this age and conflict.

Our depiction of a pals regiment sees a very young man meeting two friends as they embark on what they believe will be an adventure and a ‘rite of passage’ together. Their hats, that resemble halos and are circled with a thin gold band, ultimately obscure their identities, hinting that they will lose their lives and he will lose his two pals. The building he is exiting, Navarino Mansions in Hackney, is a social housing project built in the Arts and Crafts style – an architecture that collapses the ideal of a Merrie English monastery into a housing block. We have heightened this sense of overbearing Pro Patria by rationalising it into the colours of a Union Jack. This is intended to contrast with the instinct to serve and save promoted by the verse – contrasting Father God with Fatherland.

The sailor embarking on a dazzle ship is surrounded by the disorienting effect of camouflage, which in all these pictures stands for deception. Note how the same blue circles look different in tone when surrounded by white or black. The sailor has been brought here by words promoting conflict, and is now examining more words that are trying to lay claim to him. The form of his uniform extends the influence of the camouflage onto his own body, but his unkempt appearance shows that his own identity is fighting back. He signed up once, will he sign up again? This picture is about the threshold of faith.

All four screenprints are available to buy
email us here to express an interest

Active Service Gospel replica available here
10 copies for suggested donation of £6
(or free thanks to supporters of SGM)

or copy and paste this link if you can’t see the item: