Niru Ratnam Gallery
Wednesday, September 30, 2020
Saturday, October 24, 2020
First Floor, 23 Ganton Street, Soho, London, W1F 9BW
Niru Ratnam Gallery

Matthew Krishanu’s solo exhibition ‘Picture Plane’ consists of paintings where subtle shifts in register between different parts of the painted surface imbue his subject matter with a sense of ambiguity and detachment. Through this Krishanu questions the position of his subjects in relation to traditions that were largely the legacy of European colonialism.

In ‘Mission School’ (2017), twelve children are seen looking at a copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’ which is propped on an easel. The children occupy the very bottom of the picture plane. Flatness and a lack of pictorial depth give way only in one part – the reproduction of ‘The Last Supper’. Christ is at the centre of the work, the viewer’s gaze directed by the diagonal of his left arm. This is a sudden appearance of the conventional perspective associated with Renaissance and pre-modern canonical art history, puncturing the rest of the picture plane.

In the House of God series, Krishanu paints together areas of flattened space, rendered in layers of one or two particular colours, with half-remembered figures and buildings that are pushed towards the edges of the painting. The surface of works such as ‘Church, Tree and Field’ (2020), and ‘Church Tower and Field’ (2019) are predominantly taken up by a large painted area of colour that might plausibly be read as a field (with reference to the respective titles of each work). But it is also possible to read these areas as a field in a different sense; a colour field, the term that writers sometimes used to describe abstract painting. These ‘fields’ are almost wholly abstract and the “subject matter” of this series, the churches, towers and crosses, is very much at the margins.

The religious figures and buildings in Krishanu’s works might be understood as embodying the half-remembered traditions of a long-gone power, slowly disappearing into the land, in to the fields of colour that surround them. The figures in ‘Procession of Priests’ (2020) seem to gain collective meaning from each figure’s similar devout pose, but individually these figures and buildings are unmoored, just surviving on edges or thrust out towards the viewer at the bottom of the picture plane.

Depth, context, anchoring of figures within a background is only sporadically present. It is there contained within the reproduction of that mainstay of the western canon, ‘The Last Supper’. It is also there, albeit in a different way, in Krishanu’s paintings that feature two boys which he has indicated are him and his older brother such as ‘Two Boys and Mountain Tent’.

Krishanu’s work questions where the space is for subjects who find themselves within a foreign, imperial narrative, an afterthought to the great ‘civilising’ mission. Often this is to be an observer rather than a participant, perhaps indeed observing the decline of that mission. His subjects might only be allowed marginal and precarious subject positions but there is a tenuous security in those positions, watching as imposed traditions slowly sink into the unforgiving land, serenaded by crows.

About | Matthew Krishanu (b.1980) was born in Bradford and based in London. He completed an MA in Fine Art at Central Saint Martins in 2009. Recent solo or two person exhibitions include: New Figurations, Jhaveri Contemporary, Mumbai (2019); House of Crows, Matt’s Gallery, London (2019); The Sun Never Sets, MAC, Birmingham (2019) and Huddersfield Art Gallery, Huddersfield (2018); A Murder of Crows, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham (2019). He is currently exhibiting in Everyday Heroes, Hayward Gallery/Southbank Centre, London.

16 September – 24 October, 2020