This was Belfast artist John Kindness’s first solo project in London, a city he made his home. Curated by Gill Hedley, the idea behind this installation came from a long tradition of painted interiors in England, from medieval devotional painting to 18th & 19th century wallpapered rooms, to various 20th century manifestations like Stanley Spencer’s Burghclere Chapel, and Duncan Grant’s & Vanessa Bell’s Charleston. More recent additions to this history include Chris Ofilli’s Upper Room and Francesca Lowe’s Terminus.
The main scenes in the work were taken from Dudley Watkins’s Desperate Dan comic strips and details from William Hogarth’s engravings. A school blows up, a woman gives birth to rabbits, a freemason kisses a Papal posterior, and a composition worthy of a medieval fresco cycle involved a tar boiler, a pig trough, a boulder and an armoured car. Kindness finds the same talent for orchestrating mayhem in Hogarth and Watkins, “…they both have the ability to make the most chaotic events seem compositionally delightful. Hogarth had a unique mnemonic system for recording events in a kind of mental shorthand, while Watkins worked at a speed which made his drawing almost calligraphic”. The images were rendered by Kindness in a hybrid style that emphasised the compositional genius of these artists.
There were also original works by Dudley Watkins on display, rarely available to the public kindly loaned by DC Thomson, the Scottish publishers who produced The Dandy comic books in which Desperate Dan appeared. The Dandy and Desperate Dan both celebrated their 70th year during the exhibition period. Morris Heggie, the Editor of The Dandy from 1986 to 2006, summed up the comic strip character saying, “Desperate Dan was beyond strong, he was a force of nature, yet he had a great innocence. One morning he would defeat the massed Apaches with a frying pan, the next he would have trouble shaving”.