The following essay by Professor Brian Catling appeared in the catalogue which accompanied Kevin's
May 2005 exhibition at the Ruskin School of Drawing of Fine Art.


It is the paradox of the carnival- which in the most general sense is the paradox of emotion,
but in the most specific sense is the paradox of sacrifice -ought to be considered with the
most crucial attention. As children, we have all suspected it: perhaps we are all, moving
strangely beneath the sky, victims of a trap, a joke whose secret we will one day know. This
reaction is certainly infantile and we turn away from it, living in a world imposed on us as
though it were "perfectly natural", quite different from the one that exasperates us. As
children, we did not know if we were going to laugh or cry but, as adults, we "possess" this
world, we make endless use of it, it is made of intelligible and utilisable objects. it is made of
earth, stone, wood, plants animals We work the earth, we build houses, we eat,bread and
wine but have forgotten, out of habit, our childish apprehensions. In a word, we have ceased
to mistrust ourselves.
[Georges Bataille, The Cruel Practice of Art, 1949]

Do not let the stillness of these little lives fool you. Do not let their colour beguile you into
thinking with the innocence of toys. For it may already be too late. The Mormon smile of the
beheaded Mickey Mouse is smearing itself on you. The charm of these mysterious wardrobe
matings is intentional, bating their disturbance with the reminiscence and the guilt of

Kevin Slingsby's recent paintings have been honed down, concentrated into portraits of things
that are pretending to be innocent, but doing it with a double bluff. Because he is not using
the current lubricant of cynicism, these paintings are not hiding in a perhapsness that has
been gentrified out of a subject-less lack of voice and the fear to possess one. They are born
out of meaning and the desire to reconstitute apprehension in a language of the tangible.

Slingsby's earlier works dealt directly with political metaphor and sometimes the war between
metaphor and symbol; large paintings that grimly mirror contemporary events with a sardonic
mirth and an active excitement that pins our enquiry to their surface. Many of these explosive
works are like being in a whirlwind of shouts and rumble, picket line eruptions, tornados of
spontaneous rebellion, walls of division broken down by passionate chants. In these works
one of his most insistent icons is the brick, often with a note tied to it; a message in a bottle
for a socially and politically antagonistic world.

There is a quietness in the new paintings that comes from the static charge of equipoise. The
torrents, down pours and eruptions of broken axes, bricks and nails have given up their
shrapnel velocity and agreed to be packed back into the munitions of waiting. Here their
threat is upgraded into the ballistic paraphernalia of everybody's wardrobe or store room. For
that is what has happened in the recent killing-fields. The Molotov cocktail and the nail bomb
have been reinvented as exploding trainers and a nightmare arsenal of in-flight paranoia
gleaned from the domestic sink and the supermarket. If you have any doubt of this just look
into the vitrines that adorn departure gates in most airports. They are scattered with
potentially lethal combs, nail-clippers and disposable razors, a veritable arsenal of
Slingsbyesque concealed perversions. These zones are also fundamentally joke free. Any jests
or comments are severely policed and the word bomb can only be said very loudly and meant.

This is not the gallery for Slingsby's subtle humour but a parallel feeding ground. But oddly,
there is one device here which is working in his spectrum. The x-ray security scanner also
transmutes the known into the other through its visual insistence, sharing the same octane of
colour. These paintings have the same size and sedate reference of amazement. The machine
looks for the pathology of motive amongst the intimacy of possessions, while the paintings
unfold the psychology of enigma as a form of cherishment.

These gleaming icons have also given up another kind of speed. They adopt stillness, a
response against the constant visual rattle of the computer screen, where agitation equals
fluency. They offer reflection on a porous screen, soft shadowed enough to make us peer
deeper into their sedate absorption, which belies the fierceness of their core. We walk around
these works with a growing sense that they are stalking us.

I have no choice but to return to the Mickey Mouse ladle series entitled Dishup. The simple
fusion of these two objects overspills with significance and the readings become a chant of
off-kilter spillings. The decapitation of an American icon forever locked in an appealing
grimace is bad enough, but when it sits in the bowl of a over-used ladle the entire object
looks like a dented and worn out sperm. Then there is its shadow, the third ear making a
condom, or skittle-like teat, which is beyond redemption. This modest painting swells with a
multi-levelled sermon on impotence. It is the dishing up of lies, one swollen culture spooning
out its banality into the faces of the starving, those who have begun to chew on the
hollowness of their anger.

This painting can be seen as the key to all of the new series; bristling hives of comment that
generate honey and venom in equal measure. Slingsby also uses our sense of the obvious, he
guides us towards a blatant reading of the images. So that it is easy to stumble into belts,
bags, buckles and shoes believing they slant towards a chic fetishism. This is the MacGuffin. A
term invented by Alfred Hitchcock, a brilliant mechanism to wind the concealed motor of the
image past its surface detail.

The whole point of the MacGuffin is that it is irrelevant. In Hitchcock's own words, the
MacGuffin is "The device, the gimmick, if you will, or the papers the spies are after..." The
only thing that really matters is that in the picture the plans, documents or secrets must seem
to be of vital importance to the characters. To me, the narrator, they're of no importance
whatsoever. Slingsby's intimate accessories by-pass the crudities of sexual allusion. Their
stackings, touchings and multiple joinings are more about communication, isolation and
syntax. A hieroglyphical language that uncomfortably coils between the poetics of family and
the vertigo of self, and between absence and possession.

There are other paintings where the enigma of object seems to be greater, where the
juxtapositions have a more mysterious enclosure and confrontations a sharper edge. In
Hatful, a felt trilby floats in a pale blue space. It is crammed full with metal coat hooks, the
institutional kind. All different colours collected over years from car boot sales and other job
lots. Again their scratches and chips have been lovingly painted, revealing previous layers and
rust marks beneath. They squirm in their containment, making the unhappy hat heavy and
distorted, becoming a load. Against this grounded moment is suggested an almost comic
action, as if this hat had been passed around to collect the pegs that once held it, the places
where it had once hung. One side of this is satisfying and enjoyable, imaginatively delicious
like a Lewis Carol parable told through performance. The other side is mockingly tragic. We
are asked to keep looking, to that point when the hooks resemble bones or question marks, or
a mass of tangled clanking ideas. One thing is certain. They will never be released back into
function and the hat will never be lifted by a passing breeze.

In 2002 Kevin Slingsby was diagnosed with the vicious cruelty of Motor Neurone Disease. A
condition that separates the intelligent mind from the growing failure and the support of its
body. Characteristically Kevin joked about this being the beginning of his Abstract
Expressionist period. In reality he made these precious gems. Compressing important time
into concentrated detailed portraits of layered meaning. These are not pictures of illness but
intense convergences of a very individual artist's vision. Alarmingly original, generously
understated and with their safety catches severely turned off.

One of the series encapsulates everything I have said before. It is entitled The Unknown and
is a composition of four objects sitting propped in a blue rectangle, lit undramatically from
above and with just enough intensity to cause a shadow. The central object is a square red
box with its lid partly open, holding it down and in place is a wooden mirror, its reflective
surface face down against the box. Pinning that in place is the plastic arm of a modern cheap
children's doll. Under the box and lifting one corner is a grey characterless rubber door stop.
All are propped, uncertain, hesitant yet reliant. All are cocked in a half Pandora threat, asking
for the weight of our seeing to trigger them! Because Slingsby paints so well, we are made
aware of the surfaces and properties of this conundrum. We can imagine the hollow rattle of
the sliding fall; a peripheral action, a haunt of gravity held in place by the dogmatic grip of the
purposeful wedge. And here it is; mortality, where the unknown is held, making all other ideas
implicit and cogent to the moment. Again the poise at the heart of the question. We have to
lessen the pressure of our sight over this careful balance, to visually tip-toe across its
meaning. The modesty of this painting is the only way such a huge subject can be broached
because it forces us to continually rearrange and calm the elements in the picture, while
knowing that its unsettling composition, like its subject, is already perfect.