Rhed: Personae & Portraits - Summer Exhibition 2020
Rhed is 20, which is good fortune. He is an authentic, pure and undiluted product of the 21st century. For me he is a genuine original who paints for his generation as well for himself.
Though not a prodigy, he has matured at breakneck speed. He began making art at age 17, with immediate technical skill. Before he got to the Royal Drawing School at age 18 he was signed up by an established London dealer. This is a rarity for an art student.
His portraits are real people. They are close personal friends - young and old - and his artistic circle at the Royal Drawing School. He has given himself full freedom. On face value most seem anxious and introspective while some have taken a punch on the nose from life. Or, like ‘Laurence’, they look to have lost it all in the casino. I ask if this is how they are in real life. “Yes,” says Rhed. It’s a Boho group, “pensive and morbid” in his words, but he does not distort them. That leads to the question: is he painting his generation - the ‘Snowflakes' - at the same time as them? “It’s a mix,” he replies.
As this generation is a mystery, if not a blank, to its elders, this makes me pleased.
Since the fantastic energy and painful subjects raised by Hirst, Quinn, Emin and the Chapmans in the 1990s, art in England has passed time in an armchair. No freshly burning themes, a lowered urgency, much repetition. New starts are needed. Rhed is not yet to be ranked with the Golden Youth who shook the world at Frieze in 1988. But he is to be mentioned in their company. He makes a powerful statement about Anxiety Now and points into the future.
One to watch. Or more than that. He may still be raw youth but capable of the extraordinary. Boy Blue, Shoulders and Forgotten (all 2020) are outstanding portraits now. The demon descending the staircase in Steps of Life is for me a masterpiece.
The message concealed in his pictures is that there is ‘beauty in the struggle of life' - more beauty, he says, than when life comes easy.
“My generation seeks the fastest road to fortune that’s out there, the path of least resistance,” he declares.
“Life bears no pretty face. Happiness is not just money and get rich quick. Pain and sadness are part. Beauty is hidden in this struggle.” The Snowflakes, he thinks, are avoidant of hardship. They complain to their parents: “I’ve had it worse than you and you can’t understand it.” They are “abnormally sensitive”. Nobility, Rhed asserts, lies in those who address misfortune, in those who are knocked down but make “a new beginning”.
This is his second exhibition curated by his gallery, Tanya Baxter Contemporary.
Godfrey Barker - Has been Art Market Correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, the Evening Standard and the BBC and is currently finishing a book, ‘Art and Money’, on the price of painting since 1850.