Subtle comment on city dwellers

PUBLISHED: 14:50 23 April 2009 | UPDATED: 16:07 07 September 2010

Write about what you know best is traditional advice for would-be authors of fiction. For figurative painters of contemporary life, sensitivity to telling details in the appearance of subjects can be more important than familiarity with their milieu or

'Write about what you know best" is traditional advice for would-be authors of fiction.

For figurative painters of contemporary life, sensitivity to telling details in the appearance of subjects can be more important than familiarity with their milieu or mindset.

This seems true of Kimberley Gundle. She is a member of a socially prominent Johannesburg family, who now lives in Hampstead Garden Suburb, in the fine former residence of its founder Dame Henrietta Barnett.

Yet the street life of our inner city neighbourhoods is the source of subjects for her latest series of paintings in A Slice Of London, which opens next week at Art First in Mayfair.

Since coming to London in 1988 to begin a postgraduate degree at the Slade School of Art, Gundle has been attracted by the public face of the city.

Her interest was first engaged by travellers on the tube and her most recent works are studies of London types observed mainly in the central areas and Camden Town.

The paintings combine isolated figures, shown against a background of flat bright colour, with a horizontal or vertical panel suggesting a comment on the subjects' lives or environment.

In Financial Times (pictured), a unicyclist in a pin-striped suit, observed in Covent Garden, is paired with a band of squiggles suggesting the graphs charting the vagaries of the stock market, which might have formerly supplied him with a job.

Gundle uses a camera to record appearances and she talks to likely prospects. She was surprised to find that a Mohican-sporting Camden Town punk, whose body language and outfit conveyed aggression, was "meek and mild".

The symbols on his panel denote hallucinatory drugs.

Similarly, her painting Choices shows a teenage girl, seen walking down a Camden street, with a panel of the array of pills she might be offered there.

The areas of the Southbank arts complex taken over by skateboarders proved a fertile hunting ground.

In Flying High, she shows a participant soaring upwards - to suggest the exhilaration and sense of escape offered by this sport.

In another, she aims to show how a skateboarder has become one with the graffiti on Southbank's concrete walls.

Several of her paintings of older people in A Slice Of London strike a bleaker note.

A doorman of the Savoy Hotel is depicted faceless to suggest people look at him only as the source of a taxi, not as a person.

Gundle pairs a foreign harmonium player with the platform marking "Mind the Gap" to evoke the culture gap he probably experiences.

As with a previous series of paintings - portraits "below the knee", of shoes and socks or hemlines of skirts and trousers - show her eye for contemporary design and feeling for pattern.

Gundle is putting these assets to good use in Lesotho, Africa, where she was invited recently by a member of the royal family, Princess Mabereng, to revitalise the weaving industry.

She is currently engaged on a project of designs for table mats and runners which use traditional craft techniques for artefacts with Western appeal.

o The exhibition runs at 9 Cork Street, Mayfair, from Tuesday to May 21. Open Monday to Friday 10am to 6pm, Saturday 11am to 2pm.


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