Art of Psychiatry Society


Kevans paints a thin veil between madness & genius
April 6, 2011, 7:11 pm
Filed under: Exhibitions

Annie Kevans
Pier Angeli (Ship of Fools), 2009
Oil on canvas paper
19 15/16 x 15 7/8 inches
(50.6 x 40.3 cm)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Dr Jonathan Hurlow  – the exhibition ran 27th November- 23rd December 2009

Exhibition homepage

Wikipedia entry

Kevan’s Ship Of Fools exhibition at the Fine Art Society was highly successful in leading to a large number of acquisitions by collectors. The sheer quantity of staring wide eyes has a profound and haunting effect on anyone who entered their basement full of her portraits. The paintings are both kind to the eye and rich with a nostalgic resonance with 1950’s children’s book illustrations. Her bold claims about exploring the historic notion of an association between mental health problems and success are ambitious, if a little thin and unclear.

Even so, appreciation and respect are due to her for fostering of interest in people who are successful despite or because of their mental health problems. This work almost lies at the opposite pole to the often harmful popular exploration of possible links between mental disorder and violent offending.  Here we find no crass attempts to provide quick thrills by portraying people with mental illness as terrifying psycho killers. However I remain a little puzzled about what Kevan’s actually does with this more positive ancient debate about madness and genius.

I am not too sure that I recognise any particular difference between this body of work and her past exhibitions. The style and large number of famous faces seem similar. The only distinction appears to lie in her selection of successful people who have somehow been associated with suggestions that they are mentally unwell. Perhaps the absence of any descriptions regarding how she selected these people is due her resistance to believing that this can be done sensibly. I am too cynical, but I also wonder why her work seems to have changed so little whilst the associated themes catalogue a diverse series of spicy popular foci of controversy.  If she aims to explore this topic of such weight, then perhaps her large numbers of familiar, stereotyped and accessible portraits are not quite sufficient.

There is growing evidence that highly creative people are more likely to suffer from mental health problems, but I see no sign acknowledgement of this. Rather than casting somewhat retro counter culture style allusions to the challenges inherent in describing mental health problems, perhaps she would be better off asking how the great success of some people with mental health problems can take place whilst so many others struggle to overcome an excess of discrimination and socio-economic deprivation. I am no fan of those who take concepts too far in art and I cannot praise her enough for drawing attention to this positive stigma-busting  idea, but I hope Kevans returns to this topic and provides a little more clarity in the future.

Images courtesy of the artist and Perry Rubenstein Gallery, New York.
Photographer: Christopher Burke Studios
© Annie Kevans

 

Annie Kevans

Pier Angeli (Ship of Fools), 2009

Oil on canvas paper

19 15/16 x 15 7/8 inches

(50.6 x 40.3 cm)


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