To enjoy the full impact of the paintings of Herbert Kitchen we must be prepared to follow deep into his visions, into a lonely world which reveals in unexpected ways the process of its formation and contains signs of its primitive origins.
We realise that this synthesis has happened by the accumulation of layers of strata, by the clothing of a core, which may consist of fire and brimstone or a liquid and sensitive life-blood, with successive skins. This slow process of the hardening of the crust of the earth resembles in principle the healing of wounds and the seasonal thickening of the growing tree trunk.
The vast expanse of wilderness shown to us by Kitchen, arid and endless beneath the empty vault of outer space, are incised with long unruffled lakes that reclaim the light of the sky, a marriage of earth and water that would appear to remain sterile were it not for the dramatic intrusion from below of vertical phallic monuments. The also are built of strata but unlike the inanimate formations of the plain they bring with them a flow of life from unseen depths.
They initiate a vertical principle in this embryonic universe. Life has broken through the horizontal rock formations. The strata of these megaliths has become the grain of trees providing the channels for the upward and downward movement of sap, the geyser and the waterfall flowing through the compact filament of vegetal growth, as neatly packed together as those petals we find in each section of a flower bud.
Kitchen has watched the process of growth in the earth and in the plants to which it gives birth. He has noted it faithfully in drawings that are astounding in their perception and accuracy. His concentration on the fundamental drama of the prostrate and the erect and the fecund conflict this must produce results in a work of formalised eroticism and a solemn static image of persistent growth. His painting convinces us admirably of the presence and strength of the internal hidden impulses of life. They contain a combination of exceptional qualities, being highly personal and yet of universal significance.
London, January 1973
Painter, designer, illustrator and teacher, born in Liverpool, who gained a diploma in design at Central School of Arts & Crafts. He was a part-time lecturer there, 1961-64, and at City of London Polytechnic, 1964 – 92. Kitchen was noted for his versatility, completing textile designs for Edinburgh Weavers, animation films for BBC and London Weekend Television; background paintings for feature and television films; illustrations for Cape, Collins, Kestrel and other publishers; artwork for advertising agencies; and regular illustrations for Private Eye magazine, 1969 – 93. Awards included the Chicago & Illinois Cassandra Foundation Award (Painting), 1969; International Graphics, First Prize, Fiera di Bologna, and included in the honours list of the Critici in Erba, Bologna, both 1988; and Gold Medal for Illustration, Society of Illustrators, New York, 1991. Mixed shows included Beaux Arts Gallery, 1961; Der Geist des Surrealismus, Baukunst Gallery, Cologne, 1971; First Tokyo Biennale, New Image in Painting, 1974; Deck of Cards, JPL Gallery, 1976; and Surrealism Unlimited, Camden Arts Centre, 1978. Had a solo show at Archer Gallery in 1973, later ones include a retrospective at Smith’s Gallery, 1991. From 1984 Kitchen wrote and illustrated a series of his own books. Lived in London.
Dictionary of British Artist