Michael Kidner: Love is a Virus from Outer Space Mark Rothko Art Centre, Daugavpils
Studio portrait of Michael Kidner
16 November 2021 - 20 January 2022

Michael Kidner: Love is a Virus from Outer Space
Mark Rothko Art Centre, Daugavpils

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Overview

Introduction by Matthew Flowers

I was first introduced to Michael Kidner in London as a teenager in the late 1960s. My father was a keen follower, friend and collector of the British Constructivists and Michael Kidner had a close affinity with many of the artists in the group: Mary and Kenneth Martin, Anthony Hill, John Ernest, and Victor Pasmore. I remember visiting Michael's magnificent house in Hampstead filled with his stunning paintings and hanging out with his son Simon, who tragically died in a motor bike accident at the age of 19. Though my business relationship with him was in the last part of his life, his work influenced my own concepts of abstraction and resonated from a young age.

I am are delighted that this major retrospective exhibition Love is a Virus from Outer Space, featuring paintings spanning Kidner's entire career, from the 1950s to just a few years before his death in 2009, will be shown in Latvia for the first time at the Mark Rothko Art Centre. Daugavpils-born Mark Rothko's colour-field abstractions had a defining effect on Kidner's practice in his early career, an influence that is evident throughout the paintings on display in this exhibition, most directly in Kidner's 1956 homage to the artist, but also in the paintings created in subsequent years when Kidner had begun to see colour as "pure sensation."

Kidner believed that the colour within a painting had the intrinsic power to evoke an emotional response in the viewer: "Unless you read a painting as a feeling then you don't get anything at all."  This belief began what became a career-long preoccupation with unique and dynamic colour combinations and extensive investigations into the science of linear perspective, and how we optically process colour and light. This would later be labelled Op Art, short for Optical Art, of which Kidner is widely considered to be the British pioneer.

Installation view
Installation view
Installation view

Much of Kidner’s most celebrated work is based around optical effects and systemic structures, each work featuring meticulously mapped out lines, waves and intersections, executed with hard edges and precisely mixed saturated colour. The dizzying patterns he created at once feel ordered and chaotic as the eye dances to focus. Kidner would often say that these works could reveal vital truths about human life and the underlying order of the universe. 

Prior to his career as an artist, Kidner studied History and Anthropology at Cambridge. Although his practice was predominantly driven by order and rationality, symbolising his view that reason would solve personal and social issues, he recognised that human nature was often unruly and irrational. By inviting indeterminate and chance elements into his methods when creating his mature work, he created paintings that expressed the fluctuating order of the natural world. This link between the principles of science and mathematics to anthropology and morality is vital when considering the work of Michael Kidner. Never seeing himself as a scientist or mathematician, Kidner embraced fundamental mysteries, approaching his subject matters with endless curiously and the sensibility of a truly creative and exceptional artist. This defiant curiosity continued throughout his entire career, which spanned over half a century, and despite progressive Cerebella Ataxia, which left him unable to walk, Kidner continued to work in his studio until a month before his death at the age of 92.

Installation view
Installation view
Michael Kidner, Love is a Virus from Outer Space, 2001

Michael Kidner

Love is a Virus from Outer Space, 2001
Acrylic on board
244 x 366 cm
96 x 144 in

Kidner had significant gallery and museum exhibitions throughout the UK and Europe, including a particularly memorable exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery in London in 1984. I started formally working with him in 2003, having previously included him in two major surveys of British abstract painting, with the exhibition Love Is a Virus from Outer Space, followed by several exhibitions until his death in 2009, including a major retrospective no goals in a quicksand in 2007. Michael would be so proud to see his work at the Rothko Centre, and I am indebted to curator Farida Zaletilo’s vision in bringing his work to Daugavpils, where the audience will no doubt find their own ways to contextualize his paintings.

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