Keith Cunningham – 'The Cloud of Witness' Exhibition at Newport Street Gallery

3 min read  ·  14 Feb 2022

Damien Hirst's Newport Street Gallery reopens with the exhibition "The Cloud of Witness", rediscovering artist Keith Cunningham, an elusive member of the School of London.

The opening event is open to all & held on the 15 of February between 6-8pm. This revelatory exhibition of over 70 works by Keith Cunningham will be on show from 16 February – 21 August 2022 at the Newport Street Gallery.

The little-known artist’s paintings were produced in London during the post-war period, an artistic environment dominated by the likes of Francis Bacon & Lucian Freud. A student at the Royal College of Art in the mid-1950s, Cunningham worked alongside major artists such as Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff, and Jo Tilson.

Upon graduating the Royal College, Cunningham was invited to submit his paintings to the prestigious London Group, with whom he displayed his paintings for two consecutive years. His canvases were singled out by high-profile art writers for their rough materiality and suggestive presence. Frank Auerbach admired his 'outstanding talent,' and his tutor John Minton described him as 'one of the most gifted painters to have worked at the Royal College.'

Praised by critics, admired by peers and increasingly sought after by collectors, in the 1960s Cunningham was on the brink of reaching international fame. However, in 1967 he suddenly withdrew completely from the art world, refusing to submit his paintings to public exhibitions and hardly ever allowing outsiders to see his works.

Upon his death in 2014 at the age of 85, Cunningham had left behind a large collection of unseen works spanning over five decades. His paintings from the 1950s and 1960s, neatly stacked in his house facing the wall, had been kept hidden, amassed in his flat's spare room. In 2016, thanks to the efforts of his wife and friends, a small selection of his paintings was exhibited at Hoxton Gallery in London. Six years later, The Cloud of Witness discloses Cunningham's canvases to the public, offering a rare chance to rediscover his powerful, expressive forms.

keith-cunningham-the-cloud-of-witness-exhibition-at-newport-street-gallery - Carousel 1-0
keith-cunningham-the-cloud-of-witness-exhibition-at-newport-street-gallery - Carousel 1-1
keith-cunningham-the-cloud-of-witness-exhibition-at-newport-street-gallery - Carousel 1-2
keith-cunningham-the-cloud-of-witness-exhibition-at-newport-street-gallery - Carousel 1-3
keith-cunningham-the-cloud-of-witness-exhibition-at-newport-street-gallery - Carousel 1-4

(Left to right) Old Man Looking, 1952. Red Figure, 1952. Lonely Figure, 1952.

Cunningham’s sombre paintings, coated in layers of dense, sculptural brushstrokes, are populated by skulls, fighting dogs and darkly altered human figures. Like his schoolmates and teachers at the Royal College, Cunningham was interested in figurative painting, transforming the reality of everyday life into loose, slowly disintegrating forms.

His canvases, like those of Bacon, Kossoff and Auerbach, are covered in powerful strokes of dark pigments conveying strikingly expressive forms. The Cloud of Witness seeks to redefine Cunningham’s role in the London art scene of the 1950s, highlighting not only his ability but also the variety of his inspirations. To this effect, it coincides with the major show at the Royal Academy of Arts, Francis Bacon: Man and Beast, encouraging visitors to compare and contrast the works of these two artists.

Learn more about 'The Cloud of Witness' exhibition

Join HENI Art Club for the event 'Full of Nervous Life: Rediscovering Keith Cunningham' on Wednesday, 2 March 2022, 7-8pm

In the HENI Art Club event, art historian Dr. Laura Spada introduces us to the life and work of Cunningham. Exploring his powerful paintings, whose strokes of dark pigments convey intensely expressive forms, finding differences and similarities with the contemporary output of major English painters of the time.