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Review for ‘This Is England’ at the Leonard Street Gallery; Artist: Matthew Small.

Matthew Small, 30.Nov.07
Author Madeleine Hunter

I was enticed into this exhibition by the smart welcoming gallery. I walked in not knowing what to expect and I was immediately confronted by a multitude of giant, imposing male faces staring directly at me.
Matt Small’s subjects are taken directly from the streets. They are all filmed without their knowledge and he paints them on found- objects such as concrete and metal, using household materials like gloss or poster paint, which he applies very thickly. By giving each portrait names such as Ahmed, Andre and Terry, he gives the ‘anonymous faces of urban youth’ a character. The combination of subject and materials really captures London street life, and Matt Small’s interpretation of ‘England’. Viewing this exhibition alone, being confronted by the faces of people I might usually avoid on the street was very effective, and the naming of his portraits provided a real sense of intimacy.
Small’s use of paint is both clever and impressive. From a distance the paintings resemble a face turned inside out, although the features are still very distinguishable. The thick, heavily textured, paint portrays raw flesh, like one of those Damien Hurst models where you can see the insides of the body. From a distance some of the portraits also looked like a Union Jack, both in colour, and in the direction of brush strokes. Up close the portraits must contain at least a hundred different colours but they are somehow unified when you take a step back.
The exhibition continues downstairs where all his initial drawings and sketches are displayed. Seeing the faces that are the starting points for his threatening, richly painted, portraits provides an interesting contrast. They have a certain level of vulnerability attached to them, and I certainly felt less threatened!
I would strongly advise getting to the exhibition before it ends. The whole experience is successful whether or not you like the paintings themselves.

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