Cadogan Contemporary are delighted to present this joint exhibition by Emily Girkins and Arthur Laidlaw. Along with exhibiting established British and International artists, we at the gallery see the importance of promoting the next generation of artists. In Emily Girkins and Arthur Laidlaw we have found two extremely talented young artists whose art historical backgrounds form the foundation of their work.
Girkins and Laidlaw began their artistic practices from very similar starting points. They became friends while studying history of art at Oxford University, before deciding independently to concentrate on practicing fine art. After Oxford, both artists migrated to SouthLondon.
Girkins dedicated herself to oil painting, studying for two years at London Fine Art Studios, and now has her own studio near by. Last year, Girkins became artist-in-residence at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, where her work hung in an exhibition alongside the gallery’s permanent collection.
Meanwhile, Laidlaw completed his MA at City & Guilds of London Art School, before finding a studio in a disused pub in Camberwell. Last year, Laidlaw held a sell-out exhibition of paintings of Syrian ruins at the Oxo Tower, raising twenty-five thousand pounds for rescue-workers the White Helmets.
Despite each commonality, this exhibition brings the two friends together in an artistic setting for the first time. Together, their ambitions for the show are bold and persuasive; informed by their academic roots, Girkins and Laidlaw are interested in the deconstruction of art historical narratives. Girkins’ work investigates the viewer’s relationship to identity and history painting through a steady build up and erasure of the subject. Laidlaw’s work shows a similar preoccupation with viewer expectations; his complex rendering of a landscape through dozens of different material layers presents a destabilising image that asks us to question our assumptions of a place or culture.
Both artists are also clearly interested by the bounds of the frame, and the way that framing (both actual and metaphorical) can impact the reading of a picture. Whether the perspectival window of Alberti, or the unframed flat canvas of Clement Greenberg and the Abstract Expressionists, the frame plays a central role in the viewer’s understanding of an artwork. It can be seen as a portal into an escapist world, simply “a flat surface covered with colours, put together in a certain order” , or anything in between. Girkins and Laidlaw take advantage of each framing conceit, pushing and pulling their viewers in an out of the picture-plane, asking questions both about the materiality of their craft and the narrative intricacies of their subjects.
Essential to each of the themes outlined above is an obsession with the shifting visual ground between representation and abstraction. Girkins and Laidlaw aim to push each work to the outer limits of this space, and It seems clear that, for both artists, neat lines cannot be drawn around their subjects – literally or figuratively. What began as academic for both Girkins and Laidlaw, questioning the tidy labels and boxes into which we fit so many of our artistic experiences, has ended as something nuanced, messy, and very real.