Billy Childish – Frozen Estuary Exhibition – Review


Cult labels can obscure the viewer’s perspective of the artist’s work, with associations of niche celebrity given meaning by sycophantic fans and media observers. Childish is touted as a ‘cult’ figure in his latest exhibition at Chatham dockyard. This could scream popular or ‘cool’ to the ‘right’ people or celebrate an alternative and underground status. Childish’s character(s) loom large, set on pleasing themselves before courting the crowd, perhaps at the risk of eclipsing his work. In a 2010 video for the Tate’s ‘Sound and Vision’ series, he dons the costumes of painter and musician to playfully interview himself, with respectably awkward questions. When the artist asks about his influence on the musician, the answer is ‘no’ followed by a wistful smile.

The frozen estuary series offers something pleasantly different. The dockyard exhibition gives some space to history and personal mythologising – displays of album covers, books and memorabilia to greet the audience. Maybe this is a triumphant return to a place he left with little love lost.

13 oil and charcoal on linen paintings cover the main walls, some with the paint still wet. Despite featuring friends and family, the subject seems less personal, the focus is the river itself, depicted in vivid blues and whites and frozen in time and canvas. Inspired by photos of the winters of 1895 and 1947 when both estuaries froze over, Childish captures a stark landscape, where workers pose with boats locked in ice, dominated by blue skies and glaring white. Details run in earthy browns, a muck upon the landscape, as wet paint dribbles down many of the canvases, forming icicles of dirt and snow.

Here is something about place rather than person, escaping the ‘cult’ cliché and exploring the relationships between time, place and identity. A full size nude stands by the entrance, leading visitors through the memorabilia to something else entirely. Something brave.

The exhibition is on at the Historic Dockyard, Chatham, until 30th September 2012. Details are available at:

By Roy Smith


Guest Writer

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Billy Childish Art Exhibition – Historic Dockyard Chatham – 1st June to 30th September 2012

Creative and Art Events

Billy Childish is a local cult icon, internationally celebrated painter, writer and musician who was born in Chatham, Kent.  He has spent the last 35 years developing an impressive body of work that is staggering in both scope and scale. 

As a young man Billy Childish spent six months in 1976 working as an apprentice Stonemason in Chatham’s Dockyard, and in 2011 he returned to the Dockyard as its first official Artist in Residence. The culmination of this residency will be an exhibition of new paintings, drawings and prints at the Dockyard’s gallery – No.1 Smithery: The Gallery, whilst other work made during this period will be sent around the world and shown in solo exhibitions in London, Seoul, Berlin and then Los Angeles. 

Curated by London based Steve Lowe, the Dockyard exhibition – Frozen Estuary and Other Paintings of the Divine Ordinary – will also show a selection of Childish’s recorded and written work along with other background material relating to his life and times in the Medway area. 

The exhibition will be displayed in the NO.1 Smithery. For opening times please visit

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A Medway Vision 3 – Authentic Legend


Every now and then you hear of someone who should be more well-known than they are. Medway painter and poet Bill Lewis is one of them.  I’m not talking about seeing some ones work and thinking, ‘oh that’s quite good’ rather, I’m talking about someone who, once you realise what he has done, you realise he is a legend.

Bill Lewis is one of the founding members of both The Medway Poets and The Stuckist Movement of painting.  The Medway Poets were founded in 1979 by Lewis along with those other Medway legends Billy Childish and Sexton Ming.

Stuckism was founded in the 1990’s by Bill and 12 others (again Billy Childish) in response to the post-modern ‘event’ art of Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin.  In fact, the name ‘Stuckism’ comes from a conversation Emin had with Childish.  During a phone call, Emin mocked Childish and his painting friends for being ‘stuck, stuck, stuck’ in the past.  And the name, well, stuck.  Bill Lewis and the other original Stuckists, or ReModernists, decided that this new art lacked authenticity.

When asked if he still considers himself a Stuckist, there is little doubt he knows that he will always be one of the founding members of that group, “but I’m more interested these days in the wider aims of the ReModernist experiment. The integration of spirituality into art and the attempt to avoid slipping back into post-modernism”.

When asked about his painting style Bill says “some people have called it Magical Realism but I’m not sure that fits. My paintings are like a magic mirror that I hold up to see what I am like inside. The imagery in them often takes years for me to decipher. Sometimes I never fully understand them”

“Some writers and artists tell me they have no influences but then humans have a great capacity for self denial. They think they are being original. Nothing is original. The best we can hope for is to be authentic. Authenticity comes from love. The things we love influence us the most”

I have always made pictures but I did not start writing until I was at school. I used to draw on everything as a kid and after covering the wall next to my bed my parents bought me sketch books to stop me drawing on the rest of the walls. But poetry and fiction are my main artistic outpouring.

For me, his paintings are fascinating.  One in particular reminded me of the Inuit art I had seen from the Canadian Arctic when I was making my first feature film, East 3. However, it’s his writing that appeals most of all.  It seems that this is where his true voice is.  Looking at some of the poetry on his website it strikes me as very honest.  It carries that element of all great poetry in that it seems to speak to you personally without ever knowing who you are.  It carries a beat to it that is often missing from modern poetry, Bill notes “we have lost the music in our poetry. Poems should sound good to the ear as well as work on the page”  This is probably why his work sounds so good when performed as his YouTube clips testify.

If there is indeed, a Medway Vision, a new spirit of independence and artistry then Bill Lewis, quite simply, is one of its godfathers.

A new book of poetry “In The House Of Ladders” by Bill Lewis is out now and published by Greenheart press (an imprint of WOW Medway magazine). Price £10.

Mr Young

Independent Filmmaker

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