Matthew Small has a thoroughly unique approach to portrait painting. Far from focusing on a sitter of importance or glamour, he takes his subjects direct from the streets around his native Kentish Town. Wandering the city with a video camera, he captures the anonymous faces of urban youth, disaffected and defiant.
The materials he uses are also found from his surroundings. He paints onto discarded sheet metal: combi-boiler covers, filing cabinets, even a discarded Ikea cabinet has been disassembled and used to create a series of faces from local estates. Many of his paints are also gathered nearby, such as household gloss or poster paints, applied in a way resembling the surfaces of billboards long weathered away over the years. By every element of the paintings being found objects (subject, material and image), Matthew portrays people as intrinsically related to their surroundings, as truly products of their environment.
This show is the first exhibition of Matthew Small’s treatment of new subject matter, applying his unmistakeable technique to painting cityscapes, in particular the estates where his characters are found. Maintaining the tone of hard urbanism and continuing the interplay of mnochrome and colour, he injects his cityscapes with the same mixture of unrelenting alienation and a defiant, at times tragic life-view that characterises his portrait work.
From this combination of works, the show provides a deep insight into urban life in North London and its characters, as seen by an uncompromising realist painter of unique talent.