Staff Picks XIII

Gallery Volunteer, Konstantinos Chatzirafailidis, writes about a popular painting with our visitors in this month’s ‘Staff Picks’.

John Bratby, ‘Kitchen’, 1965, Oil on canvas, © The Estate of John Bratby. All Rights Reserved 2013 / Bridgeman Art Library, Image © University of Leeds

My favourite work in the collection is John Bratby’s Kitchen which dates back to 1965. John Bratby is an interesting artist in lots of different ways. As the founder of the ‘kitchen sink realism’ movement (also known as ‘kitchen sink drama’) in the late 1950s and early 1960s, he tried to make use of an artistic style which was close to social realism and abstract expressionism at the same time. The movement’s intention was basically to change the stereotypical portrayal of the working class in 1960s England and can therefore be seen as radical and revolutionary. Furthermore, in Bratby’s case, most of his paintings are scenes inspired by the everyday life of his own, middle class family and that, in a way, makes his work even more powerful since the paintings come from personal experience.

This painting is very detailed, to the point where we can spend a lot of time looking at the image and getting the feeling that we are actually inside this kitchen ourselves. Besides its striking use of realism, another aspect worth mentioning is the colour palette that the artist has used. The bright colours catch the viewer’s attention and add to the vividness of the painting, as they bring emphasis to everyday objects, often neglected in modern art. Also, Bratby does not limit his creativity to depicting only what is inside the kitchen but he goes even further and gives us the opportunity to get a glimpse of the outside world, too. Thus, the painted windows function in almost the same way that windows in real life do.

Another part of the painting that one might want to focus on is the human presence and how it is related to kitchen sink realism and its goals. As in most paintings that belong to the movement, the people pictured in Kitchen (probably a mother with her son) appear to be expressionless and unhappy. There is no effort made by Bratby to beautify the scene. The woman and the younger boy stand in the corner of the painting lifeless, merged with the rest of the objects, yet that ‘lifeless presence’ is exactly what I find alluring about this work. Their appearance in the painting makes the scene more interesting and their passivity compliments the inanimate, everyday objects. I see this painting as a raw interpretation of an ordinary scene taken from a working class family. Overall, the painting depicts exactly what the title indicates – a kitchen. But that does not stop the artist from offering a kind of social commentary and giving us an insight into a working class family spending some time in the heart of the home.