Steve Willingham’s painted canvases are bright with bold colours and patterns but these artworks are not sickly sweet or so loud that they scream for attention.Instead there’s a sense of cheerfulness, skilland (most importantly) freedom about hispaintings that unites the works in this second solo exhibition of Steve’s work at Inkwell Arts.
In his artist’s introduction to the exhibition, Steve cites many lasting influences in his work including Yorkshire artist David Hockney. Both artists attended Bradford Art College but the similarities don’t end there. Willingham’s skilful approach to colour and balance throughout his paintings is a trademark of Hockney’s and the sunny, cool toned blues and fleshy pinks in many of Hockney’s California paintings (think A Bigger Splash) can be seen throughout Steve’s work. In many ways Hockney’s work is shaped by his experience of America in the early 60’s – a time where homosexuality was illegal in the UK but legal in New York City when he visited in 1963. This freedom of expression and sexual liberation arguably shaped Hockney’s work from a young Royal Academy printmaking student into what many feel is the artist of a generation. Hockney’s paintings are rarely melancholy, they have a cheerful affect on the viewer – as do Steve’s works, particularly through his confident and skilled use of colour.
Steve maintains clarity of colour, reminiscent of the Pop Art era. The abstract patterns within the paintings are not tightly constructed, they are not formulaic or regimented but they flow free across the canvases.
Steve also refers to Abstract Expressionism being an influence in his work for this exhibition. A movement entirely centred around freedom of expression that radically denied what painting was then understood to be. One of the founders of this movement, Wassily Kandinsky famously said ‘There is no must in art because art is free.’ and I believe that philosophy lives on in Steve’s artwork.
This is a sunny, bright and cheerful exhibition, in a sunny, bright and cheerful space which will no doubt inspire others to embrace freedom of expression in their artwork. A must visit!