Hurvin Anderson's stunning paintings take over Birmingham's IKON gallery

By Mark Sheerin | 03 October 2013

Hurvin Anderson – Reporting Back, Ikon, Birmingham, until November 10 2013.

a detail of a large painting by Hurvin Anderson of ornate white metal gates against a green background
Hurvin Anderson, Double Grille (2008). Oil on canvas© Collection Janet de Botton
It’s the colours that draw you in. A barber shop is rendered in cerulean blue. A forest canopy gapes with unlikely shades of navy. Khaki emerges from a monumental study of foliage. And a tennis court in Sherwood green pings out from a postbox red clay surround.

It is tempting to say that Hurvin Anderson uses the colours that reflect his afro-Caribbean heritage. But never having been to Jamaica or Trinidad, where many of these paintings are set, this reviewer does not feel fully qualified to comment upon pictorial qualities of that part of the world.

Anderson might be a realist; or he might be an expressionist. He might even represent a new breed of realist expressionists. But colour is not the only way he lures the eye. He also loves grids, lines of perspective and any number of tricks that can draw you into the work or at times keep you out.

a painting of a sparse interior with blue walls
Hurvin Anderson, Peter’s 1 (2007), Oil on canvas© Government Art Collection
Just consider that tennis court. The title of the work tells you all you need to know, Country Club: Chicken Wire. Locals are kept from the sporting facilities by an exhaustive screen of wire hexagons, which fill and flatten the canvas. Both fence and tennis court receive equal attention to detail, and the results are technically stunning.

Nearby work Imperial has equally interesting things going on. What looks to be a colonial hotel is rendered swiftly in a dripping wash of brick coloured paint. The building has been ghosted into the composition, whereas the most concrete elements in the painting are an array of telegraph wires which lead you from foreground to background and evoke an improvised tropical modernity.

Anderson is the youngest sibling in a large immigrant family, the only member to be born in the UK. Unsurprisingly, his roots find their way into any discussion of his work. This is never more the case than with his depiction of a domestic barber shop in Birmingham which he would have visited with his father.

The painter has made a series of works about this quintessential afro-caribbean scene. He paints varying degrees of detail and in, say, Peter’s II reduces the counter and the mirror, the lampshade and the stool in the corner, to an arrangement of unmoored blank shapes.  The flat colour, the staginess, and the simplicity of these works could remind you of a less cruel Bacon. But the customer, when he appears in Peter’s: Back, is treated with all the care of an attentive barber.

Taking culturally resonant subjects, such as barbershops, beaches, and bars, Anderson seems most interested in their formal pictorial qualities. This is nowhere more apparent than his recent studies of lush foliage in which a dense canopy of leaves is overpainted with a grille such as might be found on any security conscious estate in Jamaica.

There is no getting away from the exclusionary measures, but there is plenty to absorb you in these careful studies by Anderson. Be he a Brit in Jamaica or a Jamaican in Britain, you can get lost in these works, wherever you hale from.

Admission free. Open 11am-6pm Tuesday to Sunday.

Visit Mark Sheerin’s contemporary art blog and follow him on Twitter.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

More pictures:

a painting of a tennis court seenthrough a wire mesh
Hurvin Anderson, Country Club: Chicken Wire (2008), Oil on canvas© Courtesy Gordon Watson
a photo of a man in a barber's chair seen from the back
Hurvin Anderson, Peter’s Sitters 2 (2009), Oil on canvas© Zabludowicz Collection
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