February 9, 2010 - Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) - Billy Childish: Unknowable but Certain
February 9, 2010

Billy Childish: Unknowable but Certain

Self Portrait, 2006
Courtesy of the artist and L-13, London

Billy Childish
Unknowable but Certain
17 February – 18 April 2010

The Mall
London SW1Y 5AH


The ICA is proud to present a major solo exhibition by artist, musician and writer Billy Childish. The artist was born in 1959 in Chatham in Kent, where he still lives, and his prodigious range of activities can best be understood as a total work of art – one which centres on his own extraordinary persona. Childish is a cult figure, and one who has gained an international following, but this exhibition is the first occasion on which a public institution has attempted to encompass his long and wide-ranging career.

The ICA’s Lower Gallery features a group of Childish’s recent paintings, which have an unusual command and power. It includes self-portraits of the artist; images of boats on the Medway Estuary; still lifes with flowers; and paintings depicting the Swiss modernist writer Robert Walser, including works based on police photographs showing the author dead in the snow. Childish’s paintings are highly expressionistic, conveying a sense of the visionary significance that he discovers in objects, places and people. They also demonstrate the deliberate rejection of the contemporary world that is a feature of all his work.

The ICA’s Upper Galleries present Childish’s output as a musician and writer, covering a career which began in 1977, and providing a context within which the recent paintings can be understood. One room concentrates on his music, which has involved a huge range of collaborators and bands, and which maintains a stubbornly independent ethos originating in the punk era. The other room features books and pamphlets containing Childish’s writings, often designed and published by him and illustrated by his own woodcuts. The display includes polemical and campaigning literature, but also his more personal poetry and prose, much of which is profoundly autobiographical in nature.

The exhibition has been curated by Richard Birkett of the ICA and Matthew Higgs of White Columns, New York, and is staged concurrently with an exhibition of the artist’s paintings at the latter venue (5 March – 17 April 2010).

The exhibition is accompanied by a programme of events, including: an evening of poetry and film with Billy Childish, on Thursday 25 February at 8.30pm; a gallery talk by Richard Birkett, on Thursday 11 March at 7pm; Billy Childish in conversation with Matthew Higgs, on Thursday 18 March at 7pm; and an evening of music with Billy Childish and the Musicians Of The British Empire, The Vermin Poets and The Ken Ardley Playboys, on Thursday 8 April, doors 7.30pm. For details see website.

Billy Childish – Unknowable but Certain is accompanied by issue five of ROLAND, the magazine of the ICA’s visual art programme.

Limited edition print
The exhibition is also accompanied by a limited edition print by Billy Childish, an etching with watercolour additions by the artist. Proceeds from the sale of these prints provides vital support for the ICA, directly contributing towards the future exhibition programme. For more information see website or contact Vicky Steer, Editions Manager (T: +44 20 7766 1425 / E: vicky.steer@ica.org.uk).

Press information
For press information please contact Jennifer Byrne, Press Officer (T: +44 20 7766 1407 / E: jenniferb@ica.org.uk).

The Institute of Contemporary Arts is a registered charity in England, No: 263848

Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA)
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