Many years ago, stuck in a traffic jam on the Bath Road bridge, I looked up to see a series of massive slogans expertly pasted onto the advertising hoardings on the billboards. The first on an insurance company advert said:
WHO IS SPARTACUS?
The second said:
ARE YOU SPARTACUS?
The third over a group of ‘Kwik Fit Fitters’ said:
WE ARE SPARTACUS
And finally the last in the row…
YOU ARE SPARTACUS
This was one of my first introductions to the work of the Saint Just Mob, artists and subvertisers extraordinaire who relentlessly détourned the commercial and institutional face of Bristol. Their work was prolific, from anti-war art during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 to re-imaging Bristol’s dubious public statues. Central to the group was Steve Philbey who sadly passed away in August 2022 after suffering an accident and then a serious stroke.
Steve was an outstanding photographer and artist. He was heavily involved in the Bath Arts Workshop after he moved there from London in the 60s. A founder member of the Artists Union (it almost got TUC recognition), he was one of the co-organisers of an exhibition in the 1970s by Bristol artists, held outdoors at what became the Arnolfini. Politically committed and erudite, especially on art history, he never let it get in the way of his sharp sense of humour.
Another member of BRHG wrote:
I first came across Steve in 2004 when I was helping with a small book Bristle: Political Street Expressions in Bristol and the South West 1998-2005. This included a section ‘Subverting south Bristol’ by Graphic Attack, and a load of images of subverted billboards, some very professionally done. Later in south Bristol the Saint-Just Mob appeared, and carried on the work. A few years after, Steve and friends supported the Bristol anarchist bookfair, and ran a practical subvertising street workshop … subvertising a billboard or two. I discovered too that, like me, Steve also earned a few bob sometimes working as a painter and decorator, and we had some laughs over our experiences! More recently I’d find Steve taking photos of protests around Bristol, and he was particularly enthused by the energy and spirit of the Youth Climate Strikers, although they moved so fast neither of us could keep up on foot. Finally, his support for the exposure and toppling of Colston, and the Colston4 defence, along with his art interventions, was most welcome. I know how much he’d have liked to have been well enough to celebrate the Colston 4’s trial victory.
Steve became a member of Bristol Radical History Group in his later life which we regarded as a great compliment, as we admired his work so much. Steve will be sadly missed by many people in many arenas of his life.
Roger Ball & Colin Thomas (07-09-2022)