Home Historical art Contemporary British Painting Thrives in the Kingfisher’s Wing

Contemporary British Painting Thrives in the Kingfisher’s Wing

Installation view of The Kingfisher’s Wing at GRIMM. Courtesy of GRIMM, Amsterdam and New York; photographed by OnWhiteWall.com.

A new group exhibition at the GRIMM gallery shows how strong British painting is today. The title of the exhibition, The kingfisher’s wingis taken from norton burntpoem by TS Eliot from 1936 which later became the first of a quartet and examined man’s relationship to time, the divine and the universe. norton burnt emphasized the importance of living in the present, while acknowledging the remnants of the past that persist in the present and endlessly spin into the future.

“…After the kingfisher’s wing

Answered light to light, and is silent, the light is still

at the still point of the spinning world.

Curator Tom Morton uses Eliot’s emphasis on stillness to frame the exhibition. The works in the exhibition position art, in particular the paintings, as a kind of “fixed point” that reflects much more than the present moment. The paintings inherently encapsulate a craft moment. Time is literally frozen in the layers of paint used to build each surface. Morton presents a rich selection of paintings that exist in their own history with stylistic and allegorical meanings that may indeed reflect the past, present, and an imagined future.

british painting tim stoner
Tim Stoner, Edge of Town (Santa Barbara), 2009-22, oil on linen. Courtesy of the artist and GRIMM, Amsterdam and New York.

The works in the exhibition share common parameters: they are paintings and were made by artists who have close ties to Britain – all are British but not all were born there. Beyond these characteristics, the works on view embrace figuration and abstraction. Most are colorful, many are remarkably large. Artists range from established figures like William Monk and Mary Ramsden to up-and-coming names like Christian Quin Newell and Gabriella Boyd, the latter of whom just joined the GRIMM roster this spring.

Two notable pieces are monumental and abstract works by Tim Stoner. In Edge of town (Santa Barbara), muted browns and pinks cover the surface of the linen canvas, blending and overlapping in a dense landscape of shapes that meet bright purple and blue bands along the top. Bold black lines delineate geometric shapes, forming an abstract landscape, identified in the title as Santa Barbara. The work was immediately reminiscent of recent paintings by George Condo, including works from his November 2020 exhibition, internal riot, at Hauser & Wirth in Chelsea.

British painting Matthew Krishanu
Installation view of The Kingfisher’s Wing with paintings by Matthew Krishanu. Courtesy of GRIMM, Amsterdam and New York; photographed by OnWhiteWall.com

Similarly evoking other great artists, Matthew Krishanu red roof and water (2022). Tribute to abstract artist Richard Diebenkorn ocean park series, Krishanu’s work has a large square of blue acrylic paint along the bottom, which is topped with bands of faded gray blending with green. A bold red roof and a band of bright yellow rectangles emerge just below the top edge of the canvas. As if to give representative form to Diebenkorn’s abstract buildings, Krishanu’s composition bears a strong similarity to the color palette of Ocean Park no. 79 (1975). Religious symbols like crosses and suggestions of chapels also lurk in Krishanu’s canvases.

Francesca Mollett British Painting
Installation view of the Kingfisher Wing with paintings by Francesca Mollett. Courtesy of GRIMM, Amsterdam and New York; photographed by OnWhiteWall.com

Krishanu’s work hangs in the back room of the gallery between two additional works by the artist, along with the aforementioned abstract paintings by Stoner and several other notable works by Francesca Mollett, Mary Ramsden and William Monk. This is where the show really shines. Mollett’s gestural abstract paintings blend beautifully with those of Stoner. The two artists fill their canvases with bands of relatively muted colors, almost washed out in places. Yet their works are remarkably distinct. Mollett’s layered surfaces make his paintings appear almost like collages. Frantic lines draw the eye, inviting the viewer to closely inspect every little detail. These dense, abstract lines give way to flecks of color, as if a top layer has been peeled off. Sometimes resembling Cecily Brown, others reminiscent of Mark Bradford, Mollett’s style is inevitably hers.

Mary Ramsden
Mary Ramsden, Everything else is hypothesis and dream, 2022, oil on linen. Courtesy of the artist and GRIMM, Amsterdam and New York.

Ramsden features equally powerful works, including All the rest is only hypothesis and dream. First appearing as an abstract triptych, the work unfolds into a dreamlike interior scene on closer inspection. Again we see nods to art history and the long tradition of painting, especially domestic interiors. With a Matisse-like flatness, Ramsden’s triptych has a storybook quality. Indeed, a quick glance might even recall the classic children’s book good night moonwritten by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd.

The subtle references to other artists are like ghosts of past works creeping up beneath the surfaces. That’s not to say they’re derivative or contrived, but rather that they evoke a sense of deja vu that causes the viewer to pause briefly in their tracks. These references could easily go unnoticed by a visitor unfamiliar with the history of painting, which is the precise beauty of art itself. Stripped of any historical context or knowledge, the works in the exhibition still elicit a sense of curiosity and excitement. This is perhaps the exact message that Morton seeks to convey – although very literally immutable and unchanging visual representations of the present, the paintings are layered with and within history and will inevitably evolve into the future.

The kingfisher’s wing offers a masterclass in curation. Although the intended purpose with Eliot’s poem may seem elusive, the very impact and nature that Morton aims to convey is achieved whether the viewer is aware of it or not. The works do not need to be “read” in order to relate them to time or the legacy of painting. They are receptacles for the past, the present and the future by their very existence. In the end, with or without the nuances added by Eliot’s poem, viewers find themselves in the presence of a visually stunning display of unforgettable paintings.

The kingfisher’s wing is on view through August 19 at GRIMM, 54 White Street, New York, NY 10013.

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Annabel Keenan

Writer, Cultbytes Annabel Keenan is a New York-based writer and arts consultant. As a writer, she focuses on contemporary art, market reports and sustainability. His writing has appeared in The Art Newspaper and Artillery Magazine, among others. Keenan has worked in several major museums and galleries around the world, including the Broad Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Gemini GEL print studio. As an advisor, Keenan specializes in prints and multiples, and aims to make the art collecting process more accessible. She holds a BA in Art History and Italian from Emory University and an MA in Decorative Arts, Design History and Material Culture from the Bard Graduate Center. l igram l email l