Timothy Gatenby is a British artist whose 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, as if seen in the granular photographs of old newspaper articles or in the mugshots of police files on prisoners awaiting trial or having been charged of some crime. The usually jovial characters of popular television are stripped of their bright, happy personalities, the glossy veneer of celebrity that they ordinarily partake in – still the style of glamour to be seen among the famous of today; revealed to be an effect, superimposed upon something more sinister.
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. In this way, the works play with a theme of re-centring, taking that which is overlooked, and giving it attention and display.
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.
Since training under Charles Cecil in Florence, Italy, Gatenby has exhibited regularly around the UK. His work has been displayed at the National Portrait Gallery, Royal Academy of Art, Royal Society of British Artists, New English Art Club, Birmingham Society of Artists and Columbia Threadneedle Prize.