This summer, the projects room of the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag will be the setting for the first museum solo exhibition of the Berlin-based artist Michael Kirkham (b. Blackpool, UK, 1971). Kirkham paints figures – mainly women and girls – that exist in a world of melancholy and apathy. Their poses are often sexually provocative, yet any erotic connotation is lost by the empty, staring look in their eyes, and their apparent lack of interest in the world around them. The exhibition will mainly feature recent works, including a number of paintings that have never been shown before.
Without exception, the figures that are the main subjects of Kirkham’s paintings seem to be afflicted by an all-encompassing melancholy. The apathy of those portrayed turns overtly erotic poses into something empty and alienating. The viewer feels uncomfortably like a voyeur: can they see something that we are not meant to see? What has happened in Kirkham’s world; what is the source of this desolate melancholy from which no-one can apparently escape?
The sense of distance is enhanced by the way in which Kirkham portrays the figures: in the Mannerist style, in minute detail and gleaming unnaturally, as if they have been covered in a layer of plastic. Their surroundings play an increasingly important role in the more recent works, making Kirkham’s world even more ominous, and raising even more questions. The paintings of the last few years also betray an unmistakeably local influence: the chaos, graffiti and the grimness of East Berlin. The compositions are in some ways reminiscent of those of the early Flemish masters like Jan van Eyck, showing figures which strike natural poses, but which retain a certain distance. In that respect, the works can be seen as a comment on or representation of the modern era. An era dominated by the emptiness that is the shadow side of prosperity, and the decadence of an existence in which all are in search of love and recognition.
Michael Kirkham studied at the Glasgow School of Art and De Ateliers in Amsterdam. After completing his studies he spent three years in Brussels, before moving to Berlin in 2002.
The Gemeentemuseum bought work from him as far back as 2004. Aschenbach & Hofland Galleries of Amsterdam will be producing a catalogue to accompany the exhibition. Michael Kirkham has also produced a series of works entitled The Story of the Black Glove especially for the occasion. It consists of a limited edition (25) of eight giclée prints.