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  • Miles Hedley


Updated: Aug 13, 2019

The spaces where artists work have inspired some of the finest paintings in history - just think of Velasquez’s mysterious Las Meninas or Van Gogh’s studies of his bedroom-atelier. Part of the appeal of such pictures is that they offer a kind of still-life investigation into the creative process and, by extension, into life itself. So how does a 21st century artist find a new take on a form that has already been mastered by some of our greatest geniuses?

South-east London artist Rod Kitson has come up with one radical solution – deconstructing the genre in both space and time.

Kitson has a pop-up exhibition called Machines For Living In: Art By The Square Foot which is currently on show in a disused shop at the top of the main escalator at Surrey Quays Shopping Centre. It consists of 190 12x12 inch boards painted over 190 days earlier this year showing aspects of the Bermondsey attic where he lives and works.

Each block was completed in a day, set aside and never retouched. Some are almost empty if they cover only a section of monochrome wall. Others, though, are wildly complex, like the one featuring a floor-rug of labyrinthine patterns broken up by a socked foot.

Kitson’s decision to dispense with the normal constraints of time adds an extra dollop of spice to the already rich artistic mixture. For example, in one picture his sofa hosts characters blending into each other because the subjects had sat on the same cushion on different days as he painted this item of furniture. And sharp-eyed viewers will notice that books on his crammed shelves appear elsewhere because they had been taken down and left lying around during the course of the painting.

The 190 squares have been hung on the gallery wall – extending on to the floor in the case of the rug picture – with a gap of a few millimetres between them, giving the overall work the sense of a huge painting in the process of being ripped apart by an explosion.

The result is that what might seem at first to be a serene still life is in fact seething with movement and power, underlining the exhibition’s titular inspiration – the great modernist architect Le Corbusier’s description of houses as machines.

The rug painting took a mind-boggling five weeks to complete and is called, unsurprisingly, 35 Days On A Rug. Other works in the 190 series are 9 Days Under A Skylight, 24 Days At A Velux Window, 35 Days With The Boxer – featuring a friend’s portrait of a pugilist - 36 Days At A Bookcase and 51 Days On The Sofa.

This brilliant show also includes parallel pieces, including 10 Days With A Pineapple, 5 Days With A Rhododendron and a stunning double-aspect portrait of Kitson and his brother.

Kitson is clearly an artist destined for great things because in a world where it’s routinely said that there is nothing new under the sun he has found a way of looking afresh, with relentless honesty and great wit, at a revered form. But don’t just take my word for it – go to Surrey Quays and see for yourself. You can even make your own contribution by painting a bare square which will then be hung as part of a new exhibit.

The show is open daily until August 17 and after that it will open every Saturday till the end of September (other days by appointment). For more info on times etc go to

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