British painter John Kirby tackles the complexities of gender,
sexuality and race through arresting and unnerving portraiture.
Whilst many of his works are sublimated self-portraits, others nod
to religious and cultural iconography, or act as coded memories of
his own family. Kirby's surrealist style has drawn comparisons to
Magritte, Hopper and Balthus.
Flowers Gallery is pleased to announce an exhibition of new work
by this celebrated painter, 5th September -
4th October at our Cork Street Gallery. Play
Time includes a series of figures interacting with toys or in
solitary poses reminiscent of forced childhood portraits. The
doll-like expression of these youthful figures recalls Victorian
family photography, endowing the subjects with an eerie stillness
which is unsettling for the viewer.
All sense of a youthful spirit and of the enjoyment of play is
superseded by the darker anxieties of childhood. The normally
unselfconscious exuberance of infancy is replaced by the reality of
growing up, a period in which we must all come to terms with a
confusing, frightening and alien world. These difficult internal
conflicts are conveyed in the stiff body language and empty facial
expressions of the artist's figures, nodding to Kirby's fascination
with the paradoxes of the human condition.
As is typical of Kirby's style, the majority of the artist's
solitary figures are set against sparse backgrounds, evoking a
sense of loneliness and melancholy. These isolated hybrid
child-adults and transgendered, doll-like figures, point out the
flaws in our rose-tinted view of youth, and suggest that the child
inside us may not be such a carefree spirit after all.
John Kirby has spent his artistic career stripping away the
defences behind which adults have learned to hide. His paintings
describe, allegorically, the suffering of people squeezed into the
straightjackets of religious, sexual and social norms. This new
exhibition continues to explore these themes through menacing and
hauntingly beautiful work.
Born in Liverpool in 1949, Kirby was raised Catholic and served
as an alter boy before spending a stint as a shipping clerk. He
then travelled to Calcutta to work in a children's home run by
Mother Teresa. Upon returning to England, Kirby settled in London
where he found employment first as a social worker and then as a
probation officer. It was not until the 1980s, when he was already
in his thirties, that Kirby decided to attend art school-enrolling
first at Central Saint Martin's School of Art and then at the Royal
Academy of Arts. John Kirby has been exhibited internationally and
his works are held in several public collections including the Tate
Gallery, London, the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and the
private collection of David Hockney.