Timothy Gatenby is a contemporary British figurative artist who nostalgically paints modern imagery such as motorways and pop culture with a traditional Old Master approach. Through his limited palette and a ghostly distortion of imagery a sense of foreboding lurks behind the softly executed painting surface in Gatenby’s world. His work has been displayed at the National Portrait Gallery, Royal Academy of Art, Mall galleries and Birmingham Society of Artists.
In recent years Gatenby’s work has been selected for the Columbia Threadneedle Prize Exhibition (2018), Royal Society of British Artists (2018), the New English Art’s Club (2014), BP Portrait Prize (2012) and the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition (2019, 2012)
Gatenby’s paintings feature nostalgic characters from 90s television, rendered with a painterly quality more associated with the esteem of Fine Art than the amusement of light entertainment. Familiar characters, usually known for being brightly coloured and fun, are depicted in washed out hues; their smooth cartoon-like surfaces represented as textured and greyed. The usually jovial characters of popular television are stripped of their bright, happy personalities and on them something much more sinister is superimposed.
There is a sense that these characters from happy childhood memories have been lost to the passage of time; that history has forgotten them, that they have been brushed aside in the wake of newer incarnations of characters for popular amusement; washed up at the banks of the mainstream of entertainment, becoming just an afterthought no longer foregrounded, except in these paintings.
The same dynamic underlies Gatenby’s motorway paintings, which take the often disparaged aesthetics of concrete and tarmac from some of Britain’s major roads, and sets them as the atmosphere of landscape paintings that hint at the classical discipline which they reappropriate for a brutalist, modern setting.
All the while, throughout the various styles and themes that Gatenby explores, small idiosyncratic moments crop up, where, as if for his own amusement as much as anybody else’s, a joke or a pun is given expression through a depicted object seen out of place, or an expectation subverted by an oddity, giving the work a touch of the absurd, since the emotional thread spun on the notion of disgraced and forgotten figures of childhood television ‘and the depressing vision obscured by petrol exhaust fumes on the highways and byways of life’ becomes an irony. The works thereby achieve a certain circularity of meaning, by which a tragi-comic interpretation can be pursued as far as one wishes to take it. The forgotten characters are not forgotten after all, but return under a different guise.