Brian Catling (born in London, 1948) is an extraordinary artist, but this is just one of many guises; he is also a published poet and academic, and is currently Professor of Fine Art at the Ruskin in Oxford. Though he has taught sculpture for many years, his work most often takes the form of video or live performance and these separate activities frequently come together to create events which resolutely defy categorisation. His work manifests an uncompromising desire to press the boundaries of what we call art, and what it can and should do. A performance at the Serpentine Gallery in 1994 titled 'The Blindings', lasted an epic 9 days, and 'Antix' at Matt's Gallery, London in 2006 evolved slowly over 16 consecutive nights, the artist having first made his arrival in a boat which he sailed up the Thames from his house in Oxfordshire.
Catling chose to present for this exhibition a series of new egg-tempera paintings he calls his "gritty little gems"?, tiny icon-like works of Cylopic figures which he has made in secret over the past few years. Though these have developed partly in response to his live performances, the artist kept them deliberately distinct from his usual practice. These portraits of what should be monsters, possess a strange beauty and sympathy, and stem directly from an earlier series of paintings of the unfortunate 19th century Edinburgh 'idiot' Robert Kirkwood or "Bobby Awl"? who has long held a morbid fascination for Catling. The artist had closely guarded these works but they were shown here for the first time alongside the original 19th century death mask of this bizarre and mysterious character from Edinburgh's past, generously loaned from the Collection of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh.