KES RICHARDSON: SPOILER

Nick Maroussas, April 2019

I’m looking forward to meeting Kes Richardson. I’ve been a bit of a fan ever since I saw his Fair Game show back in 2016 at FOLD Gallery. Unfortunately, I’m a rubbish fan and to my discredit I’ve missed a number of group exhibitions he’s been in since, such as Painting & Structure at Kennington Residency, Do Re Mi Fa So La Te at Griffin Gallery and Recreational Grounds IV at the underground car-park space in Walworth. When I learn that he’s having a solo exhibition named Spoiler at Ridgeway Road, a small gallery situated in a railway arch in South London, I grab my chance of redemption.

I’ve heard some pretty tasty stories about Loughborough Junction so I’m doing my best impression of not looking lost while trying to decipher the numbering of the buildings when I spy Richardson, perfectly framed by a slim door hatch into arch #513. Squeezing myself through this makeshift aperture unveils three of his largest pieces to date, each measuring 300 by 250cm, although each leans into this asymmetrical space differently, distorting their comparative sizes.

“I knew I wanted to work big and take advantage of the ceiling height here,” Richardson tells me, looking up at the corrugated roof. Making these vast paintings on the floor of his studio was challenging; photographing what lay beneath his feet helped him to get an overview on the laptop. “I like to test myself by doing something I haven’t done before,” he says, which also explains the generous use of black and midnight blue on show in Owl and Cosmic Slop, respectively. “I’m generally known for leaving a lot of white ground and using primary colours in my pieces, so with these I wanted to do the opposite.” A layer of darkness sits atop his usual playful colours; big slabs of expanding black blotting out the colour aberration of the red, green and blue trying to escape beneath. It must have been added last; a final act of sabotage to take us, but perhaps more importantly himself, by surprise. Windmill, stood proudly to our left with its acid greens left intact, serving to highlight the ‘before and after’, further dramatising the colour eclipse across the room.

Kes Richardson in front of Windmill, 2019. 

Photography: Nick Maroussas. 

“I think I take a perverse pleasure in making something that some people won’t like,” Richardson explains. “If it ever gets too pretty, then I know something needs to change.” The cheerful spontaneity of his Fair Game show comes to mind. He strikes me as a convivial figure at FOLD, indeed in the wider art scene; I wonder whether this insurgency comes naturally to him. Several times, he mentions the artist Howard Dyke, who co-directs the gallery with Dominic Kennedy, and I can tell he’s clearly a big influence. He tells me a story about a show they were in together back in 2013 at ASC Gallery: “During the artist's guided tour, Howard dragged one of his huge paintings off the wall, sawed it in half and folded it into a crumpled heap in the corner. I think during his last solo show he was constantly changing the works once they were hung; taking parts off some, adding paint and collage to others. I think it adds a real vitality to the work and his physical, non-precious approach to painting has definitely rubbed off on me over the years. I’m not sure how a curator would feel about it, mind!”

There’s evidence of this non-precious approach in front of me. Various debris has attached itself to Richardson’s PVC surfaces, accidentally caught up in the process; a staple here, a thin strip of tape there, plus a selection of paint-splattered or dirty footprints. He’s just as untroubled by the probability that this detritus will detach itself in the not too distant future. I’m shocked when he calmly tells me that he went to the studio the night before the private view, became dissatisfied with Owl and Cosmic Slop and repainted them both.

Owl, 2019 (detail). 

Photography: Nick Maroussas. 

Owl, 2019. 

300 x 250 cm, acrylic on PVC

Photography: Nick Maroussas. 

I’ve noted certain similarities in our childhoods. We’re actually the same age, 43, and both grew up in the countryside passionate about Hip-Hop music; a powerful experience for a white middle-class boy at the time, particularly living outside London - Cornwall in Richardson’s case. I suggest his enjoyment in not wanting to appeal to everyone, a rejection of the ‘mainstream’, stems from this early experience with Hip-Hop. Around the late ‘80s, it was very much an underground music; if you lived outside of London you had to work quite hard to find the records. Richardson laughs, “It was a bit like being in a club, wasn’t it? When I was 11, I had a rap group called KDM with two friends. We made a den in the woods out of the most incredible blankets of moss and named it ‘The Bristol Hotel’ after an LL Cool J track. I had ideas that the whole of London looked like the cover of ‘Paul's Boutique’.”

Not that he was desperate to escape from the South-West, happily attending art college nearby in Bath. It was actually an ex-girlfriend who told him he needed to be in London if he wanted to be a painter. She wanted to get into film so they moved to Brixton and instantly loved it, despite collecting his own selection of South London scare stories. He met his Swedish fiancée, Jennie, in the Tate Gallery bookshop, nearly 20 years ago. She was studying art at St. Martins. “We remained friends but we only got together in 2013,” he says. The couple now have a two-year-old son, Oskar, who I meet during a brief gallery visit with his grandma, once he’s introduced himself to the horses from the Ebony Horse Club outside. I ask Richardson if he’s found another source of inspiration in his son’s art. “He’s not quite old enough yet but I’m sure I will; that awkward quality kids’ drawings have, like it’s been done by someone else’s hand.” It’s that unpredictability that Richardson searches for in his own work, “when space collapses and slips, when pictorial decisions are surprising.” He sees the same qualities in Rose Wylie’s work: “I'm always surprised by the decisions and devices she employs in her paintings.”

Owl (left) and Cosmic Slop (right) 2019. 

each 300 x 250 cm, acrylic on PVC

Photography: Nick Maroussas. 

Richardson first visited Wylie back in 2014, with fellow artists Harry Pye and Dominic Kennedy, while developing an idea for a show; a “fan-boy pilgrimage”, as he puts it. Artists were invited to respond to Van Gogh's destroyed painting On The Road To Tarascon. “We hoped to show these transcriptions with as many of the amazing versions Francis Bacon made,” he says. “Rose made a bunch of fantastic paintings for the show and was its strongest advocate, but unfortunately the exhibition never found a home. We even sent a proposal to the Tate board. Funny that there's now a Van Gogh in Britain show at Tate Britain and the Bacon transcriptions are included.” He’s not bitter for long; “I think Rose is one of the most vital painters working at the moment and it's so great she's getting the recognition she deserves.”

We’ve talked fairly non-stop since I arrived. It’s been more like a studio visit than my usual gallery experiences and I gave up taking notes after five minutes; Richardson kindly filling in a few gaps in my memory later by email. Much like his art, he’s engaging company. As I bid farewell and retreat through the door hatch, I imagine these looming pictures lying dormant when deprived of Richardson’s chatty presence, only bursting into drooling life, like a pack of shaggy Newfoundlands, when he eventually returns. He’s exhibiting large works again soon, in a group exhibition at Thames-Side Studios Gallery, so maybe I’ll be a true fan and go and put that theory to the test.

 

The exhibition continues Saturdays 13th and 20th April 1-5pm or by appointment.

Ridgeway Road

513 Arches

London SW9 7EX

 

Next up for Richardson are group shows Carousel and Notes on Painting II at Koppel Project Central, The Inhuman/difficult transition at Thames-Side Studios, and an as yet unnamed exhibition at Karst in Plymouth.

Kes Richardson

kesrichardson.com

Fold Gallery

foldgallery.com

© 2019 by Assemblage Magazine.

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