Review by


Darren Cullen and one of his works Mr Happy Debt.

Artwork and Activists

Industry Friday on 28th October was given by political cartoonist and illustrator. A satirist and provocateur his work confronts the perceived norms of society and the effect of corporative advertising and media play and the insidious take on what passes in its marketing. This theme is exposed in his chosen subjects such as payday loans and army recruitment being a favourite topic for examination and parody. He pulls no punch’s and portrays his prey with relish and biting and unrelenting wit.

Born in Leeds in 1983. As a child Darren would avidly read Argos catalogues and the like for things that one could attain in his life, but as a adolescent he became disillusioned with consumerism that had as a child had betrayed him by the ever constant need for wanting more. That also you didn’t get.

He studied Visual Communication at Glasgow School of Art but his illustration was soon noticed and his head of department requested him to leave the course as he found his work uncommercial and offensive. Most notably the speciality of penises attacking the Twin Towers of New York. A case it would seem of the tutor’s own prejudices getting in the better of his intellectual judgement. After this artistic altercation he was taken in to the Fine Arts department. Where he was allowed a free rein so to speak and he pursed the theme of ‘The empty promises of consumerism and its effect on children’. And so in his final year at Glasgow school of 2005 somehow ending up on the ‘Environment Art Course’ (This being a separate course again from Fine Arts, and not explained) and as part of that departments public art project which was in conjunction with his degree show. He had to display a public billboard seeking permission and then hiring the space. He chose for his topic the over exposed and arch marketing villain ‘Santa Claus’. A point of interest that it was April when the Olde Git is taking his long and well appreciated sonjure away from the public eye. So putting up his anti and perhaps alternative take on the Christmas marketing phenomenon of the red suited weirdo. So a local company was contacted and a billboard booked, but the day before posting The Scottish Sun either read the press release or got wind somehow of the event and harangued the company about did they realise that Cullen denying the existence of Santa Claus. The Company spooked by this pulled the billboard happening. Luckily Cullen contacted a rival firm all to willing to get one over on the other company. Post went up and so did the story The Scottish Sun accusing Cullen of being a ‘Grinch’ another story book character this time from Dr Suess’s 1957 yarn about ‘He who Stole Christmas’ Also The Guardian running an article about it with the angle of ‘an artwork that attacked the commercialisation of Christmas’. and all of this in mid April. Perhaps on second thoughts Cullen should have had a go at that even more mysterious being the ‘Easter Bunny’.


Santa in all his evil ways is watching you

In all of this discourse he did quite rightfully point out that the bloke Claus is an absolutely horrible suspect of a character. In Real or fictitious guise. On leaving Glasgow School had became a member of a band going by the name of ‘Shitdisco’ not holding back he went out on the road and started ‘a career in drinking’ his description. After some five years on the road and with a catalogue of ditties such as I know Kung Fu, Disco Blood, Reactor Party and 72 Virgins. All are to found on Youtube and worth a further listen (I might advise this at the weekend when time is a little more available).

So after this cultural deveation Cullen would return to his old artistic haunts of exposing and pillaring the exponents of the infection of consumerism amongst other allied subjects. The exploiters of young minds were the first for his visual and intellectual lampoon.

Cullen saw the terrible requirements of the system that collides with the innocence of childhood and noted the grim inevitability of toy cash registers and other intrusive devices of the retail market made into children’s play things. Seeing toy rifles, ironing boards and babys babies he was of the opinion that children’s minds were being colonised.


He must know Santa!

Well who would have believed it, this was really news to myself. I have never seen anything like this and when I tried to access the ‘Speedy Cash’ web site Facebook informed me they had blocked me from a malicious act. So I’ll just take Darren’s word for it. And to quote him. ‘The Horror of Pay Day Loans for Kids, You just can’t make this up.’

Taking this mantra Cullen set up a spoof and some might say bogus pay day loan outlet targeted towards the younger end of the grinding relative poverty market. Giving the happy title of ‘Pocket Money Loans’ with images of smiley and excited children and with a designed inhouse logo man all lovely and contemptuous sort happy debt coin man character. Cullen set up shop in North London in a abandoned building society outlet and started trading in laughs and offering mock 5,000 percent loans for instant debt.


A Happy cum cuddly frontage

Also having some friendly accomplices from Strike Magazine who named themselves the SPG ‘Special Patrol Group’ and travelled around London in High visibility jackets and brazenly placed Cullen’s phoney adverts in them. Setting up a ‘Pocket Money Loans’ web site with a Facebook page and a Twitter account added to the veneer of a real company. All of this giving vent to the publics emotions. The serious point behind the venture was Curren’s loathing of credit companies and their ability the prey on the vulnerable and the working class with unbelievable company names such as Bright House and Tooth Fairey Finance and other examples of subtle coercion of sweets on the counter, children’s play area and even a free teddy bear when a loan is taken out. It seems the nightmare goes on and on. Curren says that some of these malignant honey or perhaps they should termed goodies traps have since been reigned in.

With Pocket Money Loans Successful two week run in North London. Cullen Then took the show on a sort tour to two month stint at the spoof holiday attraction Dismaland 2015 at Weston Super Mare. Where the loan shop seemed to the ordinary Dismaland punter to be some sort of gift shop Cullen managed to sell his assorted paraphernalia and make a decent profit to help setting up his studio cum workspace. 2016 Pocket Money Loans was back on tour again at Glastonbury Festival and then on to the Roskilde Festival in Denmark where Cullen said the children weren’t taking and knew to was a jolly con.


Pocket Money Loans on tour and causing a scene at the Roskilde Festival, Denmark, 2016

The Pocket Money Loans person interestingly was fitted with a recording of a five old girl offering pocket money loans to the unsuspecting onlooker (I think he should put that one to a ‘HOUSE’ beat it would go down like lightening in the clubs). He should try that on the 2017 tour perhaps? The tour finishing with a short Saturday gig in Newcastle shopping Centre in early October.

Other Projects and Works

Cullen is active in pursing other projects along with his brillantly vicious drawings and send up cartoons. I think he should take his portfolio along to The Guardian newspaper as the state of the political cartoonist there (with the exception of Steve Bell) is mightily wanting for a bit of wit. He has also produced some satirical toys such as; ‘War Gore’ a blood spewing M16 type gun, ‘Babys First Baby’ a pregnant baby for a never ending supply of other baby toys I suppose to introduce the young to eternal drudgery. A character going by the name of ‘Thomas the Tank and Friends’ which is a Reverend Wilbert Awdry’s (1911 -1996) celebrated ‘Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends’ Which actually has a lot of potential. The faces could be redesigned to elevate any copyright issues with the Awdry estate and the Thomas the Tank Engine brand


Thomas the Tank ready for any death and killing adventure

Thomas the Tank doesn’t need the Thomas smokebox door face as the face could modelled on to the tanks body work that would also give him and his matey purveyors of death heir own specific appeal. Also the branding could be done in a sort of ‘Lidls’ styley to get away from any corpright issues in the courts.


They look a fun time bunch. I like ‘Buddy! He looks like a poor misunderstood psychopath who just needs to express himself a little bit.

Cullen back in 2012 run (Oh! There is a unintentional pun,) a scam / promotion to sell the mysterious Olympic flame which travelled Christ like through the country. Peeving the odd motorist with shut roads with a load of somehow delirously happy and exubriant sports persons and hangers on getting high (I wish) on this flaming experience.

Any how here is the flaming Bollocks!