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‘It’s trying to show the polarising views over wealth’: Art auction raises thousands for Big Issue sellers

Artist Heath Kane explains why he’s remixed the Queen’s portrait with quotes about extreme wealth.

“People take for granted that there are billionaires, but nobody ever really thinks about the maths of a billion,” says artist Heath Kane.

Kane points out that, to make a billion, you’d need a salary of £20million a year and to work for 200 years. “It’s impossible. So how is it we’ve now got multi-billionaires?”

Such is the level of mega-wealth now that Elon Musk, the world’s richest man, is around 400 times richer than the Queen. It’s hard to know what to do with that kind of money. Musk is buying Twitter – but what would a regular person do?

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That’s the question at the heart of Richer Than, Kane’s new exhibition.

Using the Queen’s face as a starting point, Kane has produced 50 prints featuring messages from celebrities and the public on just what they’d do with that kind of wealth.

The artworks are being auctioned for The Big Issue Foundation, raising money to help vendors and communities. By the time the auction closed, over £15,000 had been raised.

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At the exhibition’s launch venue, an old crown court in south London transformed into event space Roots in the Sky, Kane explains to The Big Issue the work behind the art.

By coincidence, the launch takes place on the Queen’s birthday – April 21 – ahead of an online auction ending on April 29.

“The Queen represents money, she’s on every pound and note. And Batman wasn’t a superhero, he used his wealth to do good,” he says. “So with this one percenter wealth, wouldn’t it be nice if people were rich enough to be Batman?”

Richer Than
The artworks take aim at the widening gap between the rich and the poor. Image: Heath Kane

“The wealthiest have gotten richer over Covid, while the poorest have got poorer. It’s really trying to show the idea of polarising views over wealth.”

In his life before art, Kane was all too aware of the glittering riches. Working as a luxury brand consultant, he marketed mega yachts and mansions to the super-rich.

“For my sins I helped sell some of the most expensive property in London,” Kane says.

“When you’re marketing to billionaires, it makes me quiver a little bit.”

So, he turned his hand to critiquing wealth.

Celebrities lending their thoughts to some of the prints on sale include Fearne Cotton, Keith Lemon alter-ego Leigh Francis, and rapper Kojey Radical.

A print produced from Francis’ words features the Queen’s face daubed in orange, forming a cowl with the distinctive Batman ears.

Around the monarch’s head is Francis’ answer to what he’d do if he was 100 times richer: “I’d do exactly what Bruce Wayne did, but I’d buy the bottom half of the mask ‘cos I’m sure someone would recognise my ginger be-tashed mouth and ask ‘where’s Holly’?”

But it’s the messages from ordinary people which stick in Kane’s mind. Walking round the empty crown court, with the silkscreen and acrylic paint prints hanging next to disused cells, there’s a range on offer.

One reads: “Money can’t buy you happiness but it can help to spread it. Accumulating wealth serves no purpose but to improve your status in your own mind. We are here for such a brief time that spreading that wealth should be a duty.”

Another: “It is not these people’s fault that they are poor.”

These messages stand out. For Kane, there’s one in particular.

“One of the sage comments of all the show is a five-year-old saying: ‘All that glitters isn’t gold, money would change me and not for the better.’ You can see at some stage, how that money taints people,” he says. 

“And then you come through the other side, and see that people are much more accepting.”

The auction represents the end of a cycle for Kane – and so a last chance for fans to get hold of the artworks before he moves on to a new project.

“It’s probably the end of it,” he says. “I was going to rest it last year after Covid, but when the Big Issue came and approached us, I said I wanted to do it on a bigger scale and have more voices. I want this to be the songbird.”

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