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  • Miles Hedley

ROD KITSON: BLUE LOTUS at the Art of Isolation gallery

Symbols have always mesmerised our species. One of the world’s oldest artworks is an ivory lion-man carved 40,000 years ago, millions of words have been written about the hidden meanings in Renaissance masterpieces and whole movements dedicated to the concept – including symbolism itself, of course – have risen and fallen throughout the history of art. And there has been no let-up today, as Damien Hirst’s sharks testify.

A new exhibition of works created in lockdown (a mega-symbol in itself) by Rod Kitson at the well-named Art Of Isolation gallery in the Surrey Quays shopping centre continues this immemorial thread and embraces symbolism with unbridled enthusiasm. And it’s a corker.

The tone is set by the title of the show and one of the 32 paintings – Blue Lotus. Blue is a universal representation of eternity and the lotus is a powerful symbol for enlightenment and rebirth.

Kitson has scoured the world’s ancient mythologies as well as religions and contemporary culture to create a body of vibrant works made with oils put on straight from the tube that has the effect of hypnotic immersion. The result is endlessly fascinating because not only can you revel in his technique with its marvellously relaxed mark-making but you can also lose yourself trying to decode the images in front of you.

By way of a taster, I spotted ancient symbols from classical Greece, Polynesia, pharaonic Egypt, pre-Columbian America, Celtic Europe, the shamanic north and pagan England. Doubtless there are dozens of others. There are modern ones, too, some of which derive from Kitson’s own bucolic and unconventional upbringing near Brighton. See if you can spot the obsessive top-hatted thief with a pram filled with red booty…

Many of the pictures have an internal motion, the symbols moving in a circular orbit within the frames and following a trajectory of life and death, sometimes obviously through the phases of the moon, sometimes esoterically by tracking life’s emergence from the primordial ooze through Eden and the Fall to death and the infinite. It’s a spellbinding journey.

Each of the pictures began life as a drawing on sugar paper done in the hour allowed in lockdown for our daily exercise. The paper was later sized with PVA glue and the lines of the drawing were inked and sometimes altered. Later still, Kitson painted the images with undiluted oils. The process combines to make artworks that pulse with light.

As you may have realised, I love everything about this show from the brilliance of its colours and Kitson’s technique to its themes, subjects, images and hidden challenges. I urge you to see it.

Blue Lotus is at the Art Of Isolation gallery in Surrey Quays shopping centre till 7 November. Full details at

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