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Joanna Kirk at Blain|Southern London

September 7, 2015 by Mary

Joanna Kirk’s pastel paintings relate her experience of motherhood in which beauty is marked out against everyday reality to provide a new perspective on her work and life. Using her fingers to blend colours and build surface, much of Kirk’s inspiration is drawn from the Impressionist painters Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt for whom domesticity was their given sphere, as well as later artists such as Louise Bourgeois for her ongoing revision of childhood experience.

Blain|Southern London will present an exhibition of new large-scale works in pastel by Joanna Kirk from September 9th to October 8th, 2015.


Press release: Fusing drawing and painting, Kirk is one of the few contemporary artists working solely with pastel, attracted by the pure pigment and ability to manipulate colour and texture directly with the fingers.

Her works are expansive yet enveloping in their detail. Rather than depicting physical space, she creates psychological landscapes that explore ideas of isolation, motherhood, the human condition and our complex relationship with nature. Kirk addresses such intangible concepts by turning physical natural objects into almost abstract and unearthly manifestations.

Recent works draw from the ever-evolving topography of Iceland and the isolated valleys and woodlands of North Wales. Through layer upon layer of pastel pigment she builds scenes of tangled roots, interlaced branches and rugged rock formations. Hidden within these compositionally rich and complex landscapes are figures whose presence and position lead the narrative and mood of the piece.

In ‘The Battle of Nant y Coed’ (2013) the artist seems to view her subject from a maternal perspective. Although tucked away within the interlaced branches, a young boy can be found staring confidently towards the viewer, independent in his own space yet assured by a watchful parental eye. This interplay between subject and object typifies Kirk’s works; figures appear to both define their environment at the same time as being enveloped by it.

‘Mothership’ (2014) depicts the process of awakening and empowerment felt by a young woman as she steps away from childhood. With a nod to Caspar David Friedrich, Kirk paints her subject alone and exposed to the elements - yet enveloped by rays of light, in which she holds a pose of strength and confidence. A watchful presence is revealed within the image as a rock formation that seems to pulse with energy, encouraging the scene of transformation below.

It is Kirk’s obsession with detail that has allowed her to produce such a vital body of work with pastels - a medium rarely used to such intensity and scale. Her landscapes are epic, intense and monumental, stimulating notions of the uncanny within the mind.

Joanna Kirk, Blain|Southern
4 Hanover Square, London W1S 1BP
Monday to Friday: 10am – 6pm , Saturday: 10am – 5pm