BILLY CHILDISH Edge of the Forest

Lehman Maupin Hong Kong, 27 March - 3 May 2014


Billy Childish’s Edge of the Forest at Lehman Maupin reinstates the instinctive as opposed to the overtly intellectual relationship between the work and the viewer.  Produced in 2013, these intensely personal paintings recalibrate the experience of looking, drawing the viewer into a world of slow, simple pleasures.

United by Childish’s colour palette of turquoise, fuchsia, ochre and deep purple and using broad sweeping strokes, the paintings are executed on a monumental scale, the exposed oatmeal grey of the linen canvas becoming a baseline for the work.  The series comprises self-portraits, family portraits and bucolic scenes viewed from the artist’s home in Kent, (known to the British as the “Garden of England”) including The Serenity of Stillness, lyrically depicting a bank of trees reflected in the waters of a river.  In the eponymous Edge of the Forest, the gaunt and quizzical figure of the artist can be seen emerging from the protective camouflage of a low tree branch.   In others, despite the intimacy depicted between mother and child and father and daughter, the close familial relationships remain impenetrable.  In Amongst Cactus, father and daughter stand surrounded by a riot of cacti and fuchsia-bearded trees, the father’s heavy Depression-era silhouette contrasting with the daughter’s bare feet.  Reticent and wary, the girl stands some distance behind her father who addresses the viewer with the formality reserved for a guest.  In Girl with a Stick, dressed for winter, resplendent in astrakhan hat and fedora, they appear to have been interrupted from their walk amongst the naked trees, pausing politely and self-consciously for the viewer.

Edge of the Forest somehow manages to bypass the default settings that have come to mediate our experiences of contemporary art, resolutely evoking an age of innocence that has since been lost.   Visceral and intuitive, the works defy categorization, making any attempt to critique them on ideological, polemical or other such grounds seem heavy handed and perhaps a little churlish.

Davina Lee © 2014

This review was first published in the online edition of Artforum, April 2014