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Thursday, 16 June 2011

Chris Kenny at England & Co Gallery

It is tricky writing about your own father’s work, to avoid bias and try to be objective. My dad has his studio at the bottom of our garden, and so I am always very aware of the presence of his work, but rarely do I get to see pieces before they are exhibited in their finished state.

A few days ago, friends, family and art enthusiasts gathered at England & Co Gallery on Westbourne Grove for the private view of Chris Kenny’s most recent work. It is always intriguing to watch an artist’s work evolve, and this show illustrates Kenny’s progression perhaps more than ever before.

He studied Art History at the prestigious Courtauld Institute, and started his creative career very much as a painter, with a symbolic interest in chairs and trees, and patterns and symmetry in natural things. His work began to move into more museological territory and soon he was carefully constructing boxes of precisely selected and arranged things. Seemingly random items that Kenny recognised a special quality in, artifacts to which Kenny attached labels according to his imaginative associations.

In the current show pieces of this kind predominate, stunning clean white boxes house swarms of cut out faces from photographs, or phrases from books, or segments of maps - things plucked from their familiar environment and made into something new. A collection of dissections, sentences with lost meanings and portraits of forgotten people are given a new lease of life in Kenny’s unusual creations. Clean measured pictures that are mesmerising aesthetically but also hold so many strands of meaning. The story boxes are a perfect example of this, odd phrases are assembled in a brilliantly funny order to form a short narrative, every time you look you can discover something new, visual or intellectual. And that’s the point, you can take away from it what you like, a new perspective, a funny anecdote, a quote full of wisdom, or just the pleasure of looking at something so still and beautiful.

Interestingly, Kenny begins to hark back to his painting days with a group of new works, of cut bright paper, out of which a statement is cut. They are still carefully considered but have a more painterly quality, a striking balance of colour and design. They are gloriously refreshing, and would add a touch of wacky beauty to any room. Declarations read “Hazard” or “Are You Awake?” - they are stylish, and, dare I say it, even a little bit pop-arty.

And then there are the sheds, adorable little buildings constructed from found wood, each with its own character and charm. Again letters are cut out, incisions reveal a quote “Nulla in Mundo Pax” (There is no peace in this world), but it seems there is peace in the refuge of these tiny shelters. They sit neat in line across the back wall of the gallery, immaculately hung - an unforgettable presence in the exhibition.

This collection of Chris Kenny’s works is more daring, and more thrilling than has been seen previously. With Kenny’s unique pieces increasingly being shipped off to be exhibited internationally, this is a rare opportunity to see his newest collection in its full glory. A display that will simultaneously sooth and scream at you.

Exhibition continues until 9 July, see more information here.

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