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Review: Kathryn Maple, Under a Hot Sun at Walker Art Gallery

Kathryn Maple offers spaces to become lost in. If you are ever feeling disheartened by the state of British painting and seeking purpose in this vast medium, Kathryn Maple presents its purpose with clarity – by inviting us (me, at least) into her world, in moments packed with literary levels of self-reflective narrative, and self-questioning perspective.

‘Under a Hot Sun’ is Maple’s first solo exhibition and follows on from her John Moores Painting Prize win in 2020. For context, it’s worth visiting the accompanying John Moores archive exhibition in the adjoining room to see The Common, her 2020 painting which now hangs alongside iconic paintings by Andy Warhol and David Hockney.

The title of Kathryn Maple’s first solo exhibition, Under a Hot Sun directly references her making process – one that shines through her work efficiently. Before making any paintings, which are a mix of oil and collage, she sits outdoors, in situ, observing and curating her thoughts into emotive and momentary sketches.

That focus on the present sings through her paintings, which she later develops from sketches, notes, and memory into human-filled landscapes ranging from packed buses to London graveyards.

These are not paintings to relax by, or paintings that Kathryn Maple feels will sit well in the homes of her patrons. They are paintings that allow her to express precisely what she felt in the moment she observed them, treated with humane consideration. The result is a series that ties together, telling a story of a moment that we can’t know to be observed or interpreted.

But it’s that personal perspective on the world, backed with 1930’s semi-detached houses, and the dingy LED strip-lights of suburban night buses, that makes these paintings so worth seeing. At no point do you feel like you are meant to nod in approval. Instead, you’re drawn in, exploring the methods of making. All the while, accidentally growing to understand the world that Maple creates.

From preliminary sketches out under the hot sun, to finished mixed media canvases, we’re invited on a journey through the eyes of the maker, and taught to appreciate the paintings as places rather than commodities or crafts.

From March this year, 365 drawings made by Kathryn Maple from 1st January to 31st December 2022 went on display at London’s Lyndsey Ingram Gallery. I have been sceptical of the impact of the John Moores Painting Prize, perhaps due to an aversion to awards, but to see these paintings and this painter reaping its rewards shows that there is value in discovery when it isn’t through the normal channels.

Without the Walker’s biennial prize, I wouldn’t know these paintings or this artist, and I would be worse off for it.

Words, Kathryn Wainwright

Kathryn Maple, Under the Hot Sun is open at Walker Art Gallery until 30th April