The Living and the Dead

Paintings and sculpture by John Kirby

13 January - 15 April 2012

This exhibition has closed
The Art Books of Henri Matisse

Head (1993) © John Kirby, courtesy of Flowers, London

This exhibition is the first major retrospective of the work of John Kirby, an important contemporary artist who was born and grew up in Liverpool. His paintings and sculpture explores the themes of gender, religion, sexuality and race and Kirby's complex relationship with each of them.

Comprising over 50 paintings and 10 sculptures the exhibition brings together a group of work spanning over three decades, from early paintings made at the Royal College of Art in the 1980s to more recent works.

Solitary figures in strange worlds dominate Kirby's work; this has led many people to compare his work to that of Rene Magritte. However Kirby cites the Polish-French Modern artist Balthus and American realist painter Edward Hopper as his major influences.


'Last Supper'

Man and woman sitting at a dinner table

Last Supper (1984-99) © John Kirby, courtesy of Flowers, London

"Who are these people and what might they be doing? Like everyone, I live day to day with a cast of characters from my past into the present. Some, such as my dear, dead parents act out imagined little dramas like their last meal together in my attempt to understand who they were and who I am. My work, like that of all artists, is largely self portraiture but as a generalised view of the business of being human, and of being alive."

'White Wedding'

Two men in white suits

White Wedding (2006) © John Kirby, courtesy of Flowers, London

"Now I am a black boy in a white suit dressed for church. My friend, Victor, told me about arriving in a cold, hostile England as a small child from a warm, little island. Here he is dislodged, stranded and wary. A little island himself in fact."


Person's head with antlers

Actaeon (2010) © John Kirby, courtesy of Flowers, London

For this sculpture, the artist was partly inspired by the Titian painting 'Diana and Actaeon', which was on display at the Walker Art Gallery (on tour from the National Gallery) from 13 January - 26 February 2012.

 This exhibition is developed in partnership with Flowers Gallery, London.



Extract of the film 'Son of Liverpool' by Annis Joslin


I've never had a show in Liverpool and I always wanted a show in Liverpool. I don't know if I would have rediscovered it in my head if I hadn't had this show. It's been interesting from my point of view about my relationship with the city. It feels like the end really, like an obituary. It's poignant and a bit sad and melancholy because I'm thinking about my parents. Liverpool gets under your skin; it's not the sort of place you can be half measured about. It's the Marmite of cities really.

I think the characters are portraits. They might look like specific people and seem like specific people but they'e not really. They're more actors in a little play and the actor happens to be my Father acting or myself acting, but they're not specifically about our lives or if they are, it's not a direct narrative. It's more a symbolic narrative.

Interviewer: What where your expectations of yourself when you were 16?

I don't know. I didn't have any. I wondered what my life was about, who was I going to be with, where would I find my relationships. Good heavens, there was nothing then. The 60s were happening and I wasn't ever a part of them. You know, everyone was having a good time, we were all told.

So much of my work is about what Liverpool means in a very broad sense to me. My childhood and being a Catholic and my parents and everything - we were so much a part of Liverpool. I don't paint pictures of Liverpool.

Interviewer: But you're a 'son of Liverpool' are you?

Yes. My oldest brother Dave said to me not so long ago, I said you know "I'm a Scouser", this kind of throw-away line, he said "No you're not, you haven't been for years". And I felt very hurt by that because I think I am. I don't follow Liverpool Football Club or you know get dewy-eyed at the thought of the Liver Birds, you know, but it's something that you are forever really.