Illustrator Reuben Dangoor’s quick-witted take on Britishness

As political as he is playful, London-based illustrator Reuben Dangoor isn’t afraid to shine a light on the complexity of what it means to be British today

With an observational outlook and sharp wit to match even the most established political cartoonists, Reuben Dangoor is a name to take note of. The London-based illustrator is known as much for his music-themed collaborations as his striking visual commentaries on social injustices such as the Grenfell Tower fire and the migrant crisis.

Born and raised in Hackney, east London, Dangoor was exposed to creativity from a young age, and his home was constantly full of photos that his dad had taken and prints and paintings made by his mum.

“I’ve always drawn, my folks have got still got drawings from when I was tiny,” says the illustrator. “I used to get the Beano, [which] was divided up into different short stories, and each one would be drawn in a different style. I used to spend hours trying to copy them. I think it also helped me understand that people drew for a living, I remember wanting to be a cartoonist around that time.”

Music has been a big inspiration for Dangoor: he first caught people’s attention with his 2015 painting series Legends of the Scene, which reimagined grime artists including Skepta and Stormzy as 18th century nobility. The paintings were so well received that he was asked to exhibit them as part of Tate Modern’s Tate Lates series.

“It is still a crazy thing to have done,” Dangoor reflects on the project. “The biggest thing was seeing all the younger kids come and see the work, many of them hadn’t been to the Tate before and didn’t think it had much to offer them. Getting a new audience into a space like that was an eye opener, and that experience has definitely shaped all my work since.”

Sport is another huge influence for Dangoor. A committed Arsenal fan, you can regularly see the illustrator’s visual musings on the football club’s progress on his Instagram. His heartwarming illustrations of the England squad during the 2018 World Cup (including a nod to that infamous Gareth Southgate waistcoat) succeeded in capturing the mood of the nation and challenging the negative perceptions that often surround the sport.

There is a common thread that runs through much of Dangoor’s work, largely centring around identity and Britishness. “British identity is so complex and strange,” he says. “It is made up of so many contradictory and contrasting elements and subcultures, all of which are equally British in their own right. It is also ever changing, so it’s a constant source of inspiration. I enjoy the challenge to try and articulate the madness of it all.”

Offering a thought-provoking commentary on the world around him, Dangoor’s work is well suited to the world of Instagram, where he is able to get his viewpoint across in a suitably reactive way.

“I’m not that great with words and I feel I’m able to visually articulate my feelings and opinions on a subject far more successfully. It’s also a great tool for connecting with other artists. I’ve found so much amazing work on there (the kind I wish I had made!) and it really pushes me to try new things,” he says.

More recently, Dangoor has also been expanding his remit. He has started experimenting with animations on his Instagram account, and earlier this year collaborated with adidas on a colourful design for its new Predator football boot.

“The more reactive work was getting done in a couple of hours, and I still do that from time to time, but I’m just being a bit more selective with what I put out,” says Dangoor. “I’m enjoying spending a lot more time on pieces and as a result the new work is much more detailed.”