Coming soon to Hoxton Gallery is Unseen Paintings, 1954-1960, a thrilling survey of works in oil by the late British artist Keith Cunningham.
This will be one those exhibitions where perhaps the story is just as fascinating as the works themselves. Keith Cunningham was one of the most promising artists of the 1950’s, graduating from the Royal College of Art, studying alongside Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff, even being approached by Beaux Arts Gallery and showing work with the prestigious London Group. For all intensive purposes, Cunningham was going to “make it.”
However, in 1967 the artist mysteriously and for reasons unknown to this day, stopped exhibiting completely. Despite this decision not to show his work, Cunningham continued to paint, and upon his death two years ago at age 85, left more than 150 works in oil, as well as many watercolours and drawings behind him.
We spoke with Cunningham’s widow, Bobby Hilson, in anticipation of the Hoxton Gallery exhibition, which will finally put forth to the public a grand selection of the aforementioned never-before-seen works.
It is worth noting that Bobby is an artistic force in her own right – she started the fashion course at Central Saint Martin’s and personally discovered both Alexander McQueen and John Galliano! It was really an honour to be able to speak with her.
ArtAttack: I am always fascinated when two creatives find each other. Can you tell me about how you and Keith met?
Bobby Hilson: At the Royal College of Art Christmas dance in 1950.
AA: What led Keith to stop exhibiting?
BH: He never said – no one knows.
AA: Even though Keith ceased to show his work publicly, he continued to paint for the rest of his life. To me, this seems like proof that he was truly passionate about art. Can you speak on this at all?
BH: He was totally committed and worked all his life, but never painted again in oils after 1960.
AA: Who did Keith allow to see his paintings once he stopped exhibiting?
BH: Only people he liked and only rarely.
AA: Did he ever discuss having a posthumous show of his work, and if not, how did this idea come about?
BH: No, never. I always felt they should be seen and so did others that had seen them, but it was Stephen Rothholz who put the plan into action.
AA: Do you have a favourite painting from the upcoming exhibition?
BH: Yes – and it will have a red sticker on it!
We cannot wait for this exciting exhibition, and are quite certain there will be plenty of red stickers gleaming!
In the words of co-curator Stephen Rothholz: ‘Cunningham was a painter of extraordinary talent, and it has been a hugely rewarding experience helping to put this exhibition together. The great question for me is why, when he appeared to have the world at his feet, when he was being courted by gallerists and acquired by museums and collectors, did he step out of the limelight? Only he could answer that question, but at least this show, the first of many I hope, will allow people to see and enjoy his work.’
– India Irving
Keith Cunningham: Unseen Paintings opens to the public 30 September at Hoxton Gallery; 59 Old Street EC1V 9HX; Admission: FREE