Images Under Arrest: Kingsley Ifill At LN-CC

If you've seen a shirt reading ALL GALLERIES ARE BASTARDS then you're already aware of Kingsley Ifill's work. Allan Gardner dives into his current show at LN-CC, Dalston

Bouquet, Kingsley Ifill’s new solo show has been a very difficult exhibition to review. I’ve attempted to write this review every day since the opening and got nowhere. I’ve tried writing to music, tried writing in silence, tried writing with earplugs in, tried writing in stages, tried writing to a plan and free-form-word-spewing my thoughts about the show. Nothing, so far, has felt right.

This is by no means a slight on Ifill, in fact I loved the show. It was comfortably one of my favourites of the year and one of very few to actually fill me with a palpable sense of energy. This coming from a show formally consisting entirely (although not exactly, there were zines and screen printed clothes and more) of pigment on canvas, I would consider an immense achievement.

Ifill is based out of Herne Bay, Kent. Working across painting, printmaking, photography, bookmaking and more (he’s responsible for the ‘ALL GALLERIES ARE BASTARDS’ shirts that you might have seen popping up) he produces stark, arresting images at a prolific rate. Go and talk to an “emerging” artist working in London and they’ll probably be able to tell you that they know his work from Instagram. This isn’t to say that the artist is some kind of social media baiting marketer; to the contrary his internet presence is reserved. The reason that I believe people remember his work is simple – he is a producer of arresting images.

The paintings feel violent, they feel aggressive. They feel like relics of something having happened, they feel like memories and moments and experiences amalgamated and replicated, not analysed. If Ifill is sat in his studio contemplating the readings of his own work, it doesn’t need to be expressed here. His style of making comes out as a production. It’s the absorption of aesthetics, of interaction and experience and the act of turning this into something else.

I find these works difficult to write about, in spite of the fact that I very much want to. I find them difficult because they are difficult. They are communicative and have a sense of energy, a sense of urgency. These are dialogues which are missing from contemporary art, the act of a human being interacting with material from a personal perspective and the result being something that stirs complex reactions in the viewer. The works convey a sense of freedom, not just in their making but in their communicative properties, the feeling that their could be one hundred versions of these paintings strewn across the studio and these are just the ones selected.

There’s a film showing as part of the exhibition (shot by Jack Whitefield). It has some loose narrative arcs and studio footage but I don’t really want to describe that here. The reason I mention it is the way that it presents the artist and his work. It gives this context of separation. It seems to try to make it absolutely clear that this art was made by a person. It was not made as a result of rigorous academic research, or by a shadowy figure, a romantic opium addled artist subsisting on the goodwill of a stable of patrons. These paintings were made by a complete human being, not an idea of one.

That seems obvious to say. Of course all (most?) art is made by human beings, but I’m trying to convey the abundant personality of these works. They don’t overshare, they actually give absolutely nothing away about who made them. Without this video you would have had no idea the artist was even in the room. The works just feel personal. They feel like they’ve been worked on – in the most basic sense of the word – and grown through it.

This video also presents Ifill as someone living and working outside of the art world. Defining his position within contemporary art is difficult. LN-CC has a gallery (a nice gallery, as well) but it’s not strictly a gallery. It’s a high end boutique, a bookshop, a club. It’s a space utilising culture as its product. Whether that presents an attractive prospect or not, it is an interesting one. Ifill appears to drop in and out of showing work as he pleases, with an upcoming solo show in Copenhagen, maybe this will become more of a regular occurrence. I hope so.

It has been important to me that I write about Bouquet for the simple reason that I found it to be exciting. The work has a sense of freedom, of action. It’s not didactic and it isn’t trying to be. It’s human in a way which feels unfashionable and entirely necessary. If Ifill is trying to comment on anything, it’s not clear and I don’t think it needs to be. It’s enough that there is evidence of an artist working and showing freely, presenting work which is not entirely safe, which takes risks. It functions as an antidote to homogenised making, to homogenised thinking.

In my opinion, Bouquet actually presents a solution to what a lot of contemporary artists are dealing with. It turns these feelings of anxiety, of being overwhelmed, of being corralled by institutional constructs into artefacts of reaction, able to be reproduced and reenacted but never exactly repeated. They present an exhibition of a human interacting with material, with ideas and perceiving surroundings in a way that is only their own – and doing so with a sense of freedom sorely missing from contemporary art today.

Kingsley Ifill, Bouquet is at LN-CC, London, until 21 December

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