Kathryn Maple: Under a Hot Sun – Reviewed

Paper Hats by Kathryn Maple (oil on canvas_detail)-web

“I wouldn’t paint the walls in my house pink, green and brown, so why do these hues work so well here?” Kathryn Maple’s aptly titled exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery resonates with warmth, finds Maja Lorkowska-Callaghan… 

I’m not sure if I should admit that I have long been a fan of Kathryn Maple’s work at the start of a review of her show, having followed her artistic career for the last four or five years. Then again, art critique is an inherently subjective activity, no matter how much we try to convince ourselves, or our readers, otherwise.

Perhaps I mention this mostly because I am surprised by how much Maple’s work resonates with me. Despite loving her paintings when seen on Instagram, I’ve always been surprised by my own reaction – her use of colour is the exact opposite of what I would consider harmonious. I definitely wouldn’t paint the walls in my house pink, green and brown so why do these hues work so well on her canvases? We will dive into this shortly.

“Her close relationship with the city began when Maple won the John Moores Painting Prize”

Kathryn Maple studied Fine Art Printmaking in Brighton and like many of the currently most compelling drawers and painters (including Joana Galego, Alice Macdonald and Jake Grewal), she then went on to study at the Royal Drawing School. Since then, she has exhibited widely in London, as well as Leeds, Kent and Berlin. In 2018 she was shortlisted for the John Moores Painting Prize, while in 2021 she won with her work The Common. This is where her close relationship with National Museums Liverpool and the city itself began, leading to the present solo show at the Walker Art Gallery.

As seen in The Common, Under a Hot Sun features Maple’s signature figures in both urban and rural spaces. While the official exhibition blurb states that the title is referring to the climate crisis, the paintings themselves don’t have an overarching, environmentally didactic purpose. Instead, some of them show everyday situations in the oppressive temperature of a heatwave, like a simple summer picnic with friends, strawberries and sun cream. It is sometimes in those moments, when we suddenly feel the extremes of the weather on our own sunburnt skin that climate panic quietly sets in. These paintings and their turbulent colours communicate a little bit of this sensation.

“Dissonant areas complement each other – the mark of a true colourist”

Let’s go back to the unexpected colours though, because they are the true star of this show. Deep blues are broken with rusty reds and yellows, pastel turquoise sits comfortably next to pale brown. Grass goes from luscious green to luminous orange, through purples and light pinks. There are just so! many! colours! To the degree that, in each piece, my mind has to isolate sections of the paintings to see the full extent of the work that has gone into them. Large sections of the paintings rely on contrast, like tiny lemon yellow marks on swathes ultramarine blue. What’s most striking is that despite the contrasts, the paintings maintain a serene aura, with the dissonant areas actually complementing each other – the mark of a true colourist.


It isn’t only the colours though, as mark-making here is just as important. Many of us may turn our nose up at Impressionism and even Pointillism’s current hyper-commercialised format with Monet’s Impression, Sunrise adorning umbrellas and notepads worldwide. Despite this, artists continue to draw on the Impressionists’ advanced understanding of colour combinations and mark-making. Would Maple appreciate such a comparison? I can’t know for sure, but it is difficult to avoid when her paintings are complex combinations of tiny, bold-coloured strokes. Her dots, lines and dabs are so concentrated that it is simply impossible to walk away after a brief glance from afar. The shapes make sense, the composition is clear, yet you have to get closer and really look.

“These paintings extend an inviting hand into a world of effortless but concentrated focus”

There is something comforting about a painting that demands so much of your attention – like a book you can’t put down, these works seem to extend an inviting hand to a world of effortless but concentrated focus. It’s like staring into space but this time you’re not looking inward – mindfulness without having to be guided into it.

In a practical sense, you’re examining the result of months and months of painstaking work, preparatory drawings, composition and colour decisions. In fact, Maple’s first monograph A Year of Drawings, published this year, documents the 365 drawings that she created throughout 2022.

The exhibition is small, consisting of 14 works on canvas and paper contained within one square room. Perhaps this is also where the air of comfort comes from: the lack of natural light makes for a cosier setting to envelop yourself fully in the dissonant colours.

“Set aside some time: this is not a show to rush through”

The display would, though, benefit from just a few more works on paper to really see the complexity of preparation for each larger piece. One lonely, monochrome monoprint displayed in the corner doesn’t represent the breadth of this particular medium’s possibilities and certainly does not capture the artist’s sensitivity or technical experiments. If anything, it feels a little out of place.

Still, despite its diminutive size, Under a Hot Sun offers enough to satisfy a viewer hungry for aesthetic experiences. Set aside some time too, because this is not a show to rush through: change your perspective, move in a little closer and step back to really immerse yourself in the dots and dabs. It’s a privilege too, to see the work of a young artist in a public institution, where often the most we can hope for is a group show between the blockbusters. A solo exhibition, however small, provides a much needed in-depth look into an artist’s practice. In this case, I predict Kathryn Maple’s career will continue to shimmer as brightly as her gorgeous paintings.

Maja Lorkowska-Callaghan

Under a Hot Sun by Kathryn Maple continues at the Walker Art Gallery until 8 May

Posted on 18/04/2023 by thedoublenegative