Spotlight: The Reclusive Australian Artist Keith Cunningham Produced Five Decades of Unseen Art. Now, It Is Beginning to Go on View

"The Cloud of Witness" at Newport Street Gallery brings together 70 works by Cunningham, many of which have never been shown publicly.

Installation view "Keith Cunningham: The Cloud of Witness" (2022). Courtesy of Newport Street Gallery. Photography by Prudence Cuming Associates.

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About the Artist: Australian artist Keith Cunningham might not be a familiar name but a new exhibition at London’s Newport Street Gallery is hoping to reinsert the artist into his rightful place in art history. “The Cloud of Witness” brings together 70 works by the little-known artist.

Born in Sydney in 1929, Cunningham left school at the age of 15 and began working in the art department of the David Jones department store. Moving to London to study at the Royal College of Art in the mid-1950s, Cunningham worked alongside major artists such as Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff, and Jo Tilson, creating lush, moody figurative canvases. 

Installation view "Keith Cunningham: The Cloud of Witness" (2022). Courtesy of Newport Street Gallery. Photography by Prudence Cuming Associates.

Installation view “Keith Cunningham: The Cloud of Witness” (2022). Courtesy of Newport Street Gallery. Photography by Prudence Cuming Associates.

Why We Like It: Cunningham’s paintings are often somber, marked by dense, sculptural brushstrokes built up in layers. His canvases are filled with skulls, fighting dogs, and contorted figures. In the years after graduating, the artist displayed his paintings with the prestigious London Group, with whom he exhibited for two consecutive years. His works earned critical acclaim and were highly sought after by collectors. But in 1967, Cunningham withdrew from the art world, refusing to participate in exhibitions.

Following his death in 2014, at the age of 85, more than five decades of unseen works were uncovered. In 2016, with the efforts of his wife and friends, a small group of his paintings were exhibited at the Hoxton Gallery in London. Six years later, “The Cloud of Witness” is the first large-scale exhibition of Cunningham’s canvases, offering a rare chance to rediscover his powerful, expressive forms.

What the Gallery Says: “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.”

See additional images from “Keith Cunningham: The Cloud of Witness” below.

Installation view "Keith Cunningham: The Cloud of Witness" (2022). Courtesy of Newport Street Gallery. Photography by Prudence Cuming Associates.

Installation view “Keith Cunningham: The Cloud of Witness” (2022). Courtesy of Newport Street Gallery. Photography by Prudence Cuming Associates.

Installation view "Keith Cunningham: The Cloud of Witness" (2022). Courtesy of Newport Street Gallery. Photography by Prudence Cuming Associates.

Installation view “Keith Cunningham: The Cloud of Witness” (2022). Courtesy of Newport Street Gallery. Photography by Prudence Cuming Associates.

 

To find out more about the artist, follow @keithcunninghamofficial on Instagram. “Keith Cunningham: The Cloud of Witness” is on view at Newport Street Gallery through August 21, 2022.


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