Max Wigram Gallery is pleased to present new work by British artist Richard Wathen.
Wathen’s seemingly innocent and literal way of painting appears to hark back to a concept of the ideal. His works draw inspiration from a variety of art historical periods, mixed with disguised, self-fashioned autobiographic references. Although obvious at first, it is impossible to put one’s finger on any specific stylistic source. This, and the uncertain appearance and placement of his figures and animals in their surrounding space, create a distinct sense of unease.
The paintings adopt a wide view on the nature of individuality: they begin as self-portraits that take on the features of a host of faces from Wathen’s memory, which the artist intentionally distorts, mis-sizing anatomic details such as an eye or a hand, and portraying grey-haired pre-adolescents or lithe androgynous figures. In doing so he plays with viewers’ initial expectations of his work, but he also redefines his subjects’ personhood, in the same way physiognomies of the Renaissance interpreted facial structure as indicative of a persons’ character. Communicating both familiarity and incongruence through the simplest details, Wathen’s paintings have an ineffable appeal and fascination. His meticulous and weightless handling of paint appears to take up the brush in defence of traditional English portraiture but in reality anchors him firmly in contemporary culture through modern tonality, engagingly familiar but teasingly elusive figures, sinister yet idyllic landscapes and other unexpected elements.