Billy Childish at Lehmann Maupin

Billy Childish: Flowers, nudes and birch trees: New Paintings 2015

September 10 – October 31, 2015

Lehmann Maupin Gallery
536 W 22nd Street

“I come from a long line of … painters, alcoholics and sociopaths.” – Billy Childish

There is a wonderful exhibition in Chelsea that you need to go and see. It is not political, experimental, conceptual or voices shouting looped statements at the walls.… It is an exhibition of the classical kind: oil and charcoal portraits, landscapes and still lives on stretched linen.

I saw the gallery press release in my inbox two or three times before the show opened, and while I wasn’t impressed by the artwork in the email I decided to go and see the exhibition anyway, because too often the image on your screen doesn’t communicate the full intention of the artist, the scale of the work or the emotional response it creates when you come to meet it for the first time. Which means you need to make a personal visit to the gallery and see the work face to face.

Billy Childish Self Portrait with Tie. Oil and Charcoal on linen

Billy Childish Self Portrait with Tie. Oil and Charcoal on linen

Every painting in the exhibition vibrates with color, expression, and emotion. His self-portraits bring to mind sensitivities, techniques and palettes you would expect to see in van Gogh, Klimt, Schiele, or Munch’s post-impressionist and expressionist paintings rather than in a contemporary conversation.

Egon Schiele - Reclining Woman with Green Stockings (Adele Harms)

Egon Schiele – Reclining Woman with Green Stockings (Adele Harms)

Wether it’s his portraits, or still lives (his Sunflowers permeate with the same movement and passion as van Gogh’s), or even his landscapes, each work displays the same dynamic, weighted and confidant brush work, the same complexity of thought, the same unveiled emotional clarity, and sensuality, (think Klimt’s Danae).

Billy Childish, Nude Reclining, Detail, oil and charcoal on linen, 2015

Billy Childish, Nude Reclining, Detail, oil and charcoal on linen, 2015

I suggest that you first look at his portraits. Drink them in, soak them up, examine every line, curve, every color combination, every brush mark and only then move on to the landscapes. You simply can’t fully appreciate them if you don’t absorb the nudes first. The forest scenes, as beautiful as they are, won’t have the same impact and you won’t see what you need to see in them without first experiencing the intensity of his portraits. And it is through his portraits that you will see the postimpressionist and expressionist influences I mentioned above.

Billy Childish, Birch tree forrest

In fact, after you see the Birches, go back to the portraits and then come back to the trees. This rinse and repeat cycle is essential to seeing the full range of his detail.

Billy Childish, Juju 2015 oil and charcoal on linenEach painting is “framed” by a free-hand line that creates a border around the painting. The border contains the composition letting your eye focus on one situation at a time. And even though the palette is restricted it feels superbly complete.

From the gallery: “[Billy] Childish’s influences range from artists whose work he admires, including Vincent van Gogh, Kurt Schwitters, Edvard Munch, Mikhail Larionov, and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. Many of these artists worked outside of specific movements or groups, or were held in high regard during their own lifetimes, but later came to be cited as influences to subsequent generations.”

This article © galleryIntell. Photographs of the paintings by Kristina Nazarevskaia. Artwork © Billy Childish