The Living And The Dead – John Kirby Retrospective (Walker Art Gallery)

John Kirby is a Liverpool born artist whose work in predominantly oils has found are large audience outside of Merseyside.  After attending St. Martin’s School of Art and The Royal College of Art, a decision he made in his mid thirties, he has become a successful contemporary painter whose work is extremely popular in London.

This exhibition is the first of his work to grace Liverpool and it has been a long time coming.  His paintings have a similar feel to the works of Liverpool filmmaker Terence Davies who explore similar themes of the relationships between childhood, religion and sexual orientation.

His portraits often examine these themes through explicitly changing the physicality of his sitters with children having the heads of older people as opposed to their own or usually calm Catholic priests having fistfights.

Another aspect of his work given light in this exhibition is his work in sculpture, which look alarming like physical representations of the characters in his paintings only taken apart as if they were shop mannequins. There’s also a in a depth film about Kirby (actually made by the artist) playing repeatedly on a screen, giving answers to some of the more puzzling questions raised by his paintings as well as a personal history and views on Liverpool.

John Kirby’s work is deep, potentially dark and displays the worry of man caged up in his own past.  However there is something joyful about his work that means even the darkest of subjects can be interesting to look at without the feeling of awkwardness overwhelming the viewer at the honesty on display.

The Living and the Dead is on at The Walker Art Gallery until the 15th of April 2011.  Entry is free.

Adam Scovell

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