In his front room in west London, Kaya Mar is surrounded by dozens upon dozens of paintings of naked politicians he's done over the past half-decade. "Painting is like sex," he says, next to a huge portrait of a bare-breasted Alex Salmond in a saltire kilt, "but at my age it’s a substitute for sex, because you can’t do it."
Mar started his satirical project in 2010, driven initially by his anger at the coalition government. The chances are that you've seen one of his paintings: His bizarre work, ranging from George Osborne leaping from a coffin holding a carrot to Nigel Farage bathing nude in a frothing pint of English ale, has been published worldwide and attracted comment from everyone in politics – all the way up to David Cameron.
To the bafflement of politicians and journalists, in 2011 he started to exhibit his work on the streets outside of parliament, Downing Street, and at big political events where he knew the targets of his paintings would see them.
One painting of Cameron, Ed Miliband, and a tiny Nick Clegg banding together to behead the freedom of the press – represented by a pen – was spotted by the prime minister outside Downing Street.
"I was at Downing Street and [Cameron] came round the corner and I show him my painting," says Mar, who was brought up in Spain and speaks in slightly broken English.
"He say, 'That’s not my mouth!', and I say, 'Sorry prime minister, I will change.'
"I didn't change it."
As soon as you meet him, it's clear Mar lives to create mischief. He says he targets anyone he feels deserves it, regardless of their political persuasion. He used to be "a Labour", but gave up on the party because its MPs didn't laugh at his paintings.
"The Conservatives, they love and they laugh at the pictures about them," he says, standing next to a painting of Iain Duncan Smith eating a baby. "Labour, they cannot stand. They will not laugh at it, and if a person is without humour I don’t think they are a complete person to be able to rule a country."
He is particularly scathing of current Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn, who, along with fellow Labour MP Diane Abbott, accused Mar of being sexist because of a painting of Angela Merkel as a ringmaster forcing national animals to jump through a ring of fire while she holds a whip and wears blue and yellow underpants.
"Jeremy Corbyn and Dianne Abbott say, in front of everybody, I was sexist," he says. "You’ve got to argue with that – political correctness, I’m an artist so of course I’m not bloody politically correct. That put me off the Labour. [Photography agencies] asked me to do a picture for the leadership [election] and I don’t know what to do, but they will all be pygmies."
Mar has worked as an artist for four decades; he started as an animator, before becoming a landscape artist, then a portrait artist. He was persuaded to go into political satire by the late Labour MP Tony Benn, who commissioned Mar to paint a portrait of him.
He says he is "fascinated" by politicians because they are usually entirely unremarkable people pretending to be powerful, which is why he's taken the decision to depict politicians in the nude.
"Politics is all about power, but most of them are impotent," says Mar. "They're impotent people trying to become Casanova. They’re ordinary and 90% of them failed in their life before they reached politics. Politics was a last resort. When I paint them naked, all of my pictures are naked if you see, I paint them as impotent. The king without clothes."
The prime example of the "impotent" politician, Mar says, is former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, who is often portrayed as a tiny clown, shielding Cameron's genitals as a "fig leaf". In one painting, Clegg is handing Cameron nails to "crucify" the NHS while pretending he isn't looking, and in another he is a lonely monkey.
"Clegg is a clown," says Mar. "It's so funny, he was given this title – deputy prime minister – to keep him happy, so I gave him a little axe to keep him happy. All the five years, he was a fig leaf. Nothing else. Did he do anything? I can’t remember."
Mar's favourite politician is Alex Salmond, and he believes a parliament of “55 Alex Salmonds would be much better than the one of 650 MPs we have now”. He has two paintings of the former first minister; one of Salmond nude holding a petrol pump, and one of him as King Kong scaling Big Ben – it was painted in the height of the hysteria surrounding the SNP “calling the tune” for a Miliband Labour government.
Mar claims that both New Labour spin doctor Alistair Campbell and BBC journalist Andrew Neil offered to buy the Salmond/King Kong caricature but couldn't meet Mar's asking price, and that Salmond has gone out of his way to avoid being photographed next to it.
"[Photography agencies] asked me to go to a house next to the Treasury," says Mar. "The New Statesman arranged an evening with Alex Salmond and I went there with the picture. His advisers told him, 'Do not come here,' and they took him to the back door. He had to change his way in and out!"
He claims that only two types of people give him a hard time over his paintings: humourless Labour supporters – who he said nearly “bashed him up” when he displayed a painting of Ed Miliband and his empty manifesto outside the 2014 Labour conference – and royalists, who have been repeatedly infuriated by his paintings of the Queen, Kate Middleton, and baby Prince George.
"They said I should be hanged," says Mar. "You know, people just worship them. [Royalists] are the type of people who, if you’re a Manchester United fan and you say something about their footballers, they will kill you for it because they don’t have anything. All they have is their football team. For some people, to see something about royalty, it’s like a crime against everything they believe. They’re fanatics, so I don’t care."
Mar was born in Turkey, brought up in Spain, and lived in Italy and France before moving to the UK in the '70s. He believes having "no nationality" frees up his art as it allows him to be more subjective than other satirists in the UK, who are raised to have respect for the royal family and, he says, usually have a steadfast political leaning.
"I am the only satirist left," he says. "It used to be a British tradition and they have very brilliant artists in England, but they cannot do [satire]. They are like a tribe. They’re either for Labour or for the Tories or for the Scottish. That inhibits you to do what you want to do. If you are neutral, you just go for it. They can paint the Queen much better than I can, but her majesty is untouchable for them. I am free."
Mar doesn't make a lot of money. When he got married he told his wife they would get a house in Scotland, where they honeymooned, when he was rich. But he accepts: "I will never get that house."
He compares selling his work to giving up children for adoption. He often gives his work away for free if he thinks it is going to a good home, but he has charged "thousands" for his paintings in the past when he feels people don't understand his work and "just want a picture".
"It’s a hard life," says Mar in his messy studio, "but, if I was born again, I’d do it again. It’s given me something to do in this life and every day is a different thing. My painting is like going a walk, every day I see different scenery. I never want to be rich, and I will keep doing this until I die."
Jamie Ross is a Scotland reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Edinburgh.
Contact Jamie Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Matt Tucker is the UK Picture Editor for BuzzFeed and is based in London.
Contact Matthew Tucker at email@example.com.
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