There is a new official potrait of the Queen to celebrate her becoming the longest ruling British monarch, but the photo by Mary McCartney is not quite as striking as the informal potrait a London street artist has made.
Pegasus truly adores the Queen – and not all that platonically. In his dream painting on a bar door in Islington, an young picture of the Queen’s face is transposed on to a long legged body. Her bum is exposed as she poses in high heels. The hot monarch is standing before a union flag with the word HISTORY scribbled across it.
Has Pegasus been disrespectful? Of course not. Utterly tasteless as it may be, his tribute to Her Majesty is not only passionately patriotic and rampantly royalist, it is an insight into the continuing success of the British monarchy as a popular institution that binds a modern democracy together.
The Queen’s uniquely long reign encompasses the entire rise of modern popular culture. When she was crowned, the kids were getting out their skiffle boards. Swinging London, psychedelia, pop art and punk all happened on her watch. In 1965 she met the Beatles to award them all MBEs – a sign of cultural revolution at the time that has since become practically routine for creative innovators. From Peter Blake’s love of British folk ephemera and portrayal of Her Majesty to the flagwaving of 90s Britpop, the monarchy has found itself benignly reflected in pop culture and by pop art that embraces patriotic iconography.
It is in the popular imagination that Queen Elizabeth II truly lives. The alternative royal image in pop art – be it punk or pin-up – shows that. In celebrating the Queen in the style of Jamie Reid and Andy Warhol, Pegasus reminds us how deeply the monarchy is entwined with British pop culture. The Queen has become part of this country’s post-imperial self-invention. From Beatles with MBEs to a monarch stripped bare by her artists, even, there is a deep love affair between popular culture and the crown. A British Republic? At this point it seems about as likely as the Queen really taking off her clothes in the street.