Kevin Hunt, (lowkey), 2022

Kevin Hunt (lowkey)

(lowkey) is Liverpudlian artist Kevin Hunt’s first solo exhibition, bringing together several strands of his practice in a gallery setting for the very first time. A major new body of interrelated works have been created for the show, including wall-based relief sculpture and a series of semi-functional micro-sculptures. These are installed within and around a large-scale architectural intervention that subtly reworks KARST’s industrial gallery space.

Kevin grew up in Speke, a satellite council estate on the edge of Liverpool and the exhibition is rooted in his lived experiences and interactions within its municipal post-war architecture, explored from the artist’s queer perspective. This resonates strongly with the utopian reimagining of Plymouth’s architecture through its post war reconstruction following the Blitz.

Entering the gallery, you are met with PARADE (2022) – cement smeared, curved walls that partially conceal the straight lines of KARST’s interior space, whilst also alluding to the outside built environment. Echoing the ring road contours of ‘The Parade‘, Speke’s now-defunct shopping complex, the work is also a nod to Plymouth’s lozenge-shaped Derry’s Cross roundabout connecting Union Street and Royal Parade. Two versions of this structure bookend the exhibition, inviting an opportunity to meander through the space and loop back on yourself…

Locks inserted into PARADE’s walls hold elaborate bunches of uncut, skeleton and jiggler keys. A lengthy chain is connected to each, at the end of which dangles an ambiguous, machined aluminium object. The shapes of these miniature metal sculptures trace the cartography of unrealised proposals for the Speke estate. Form is extruded from these unmet plans – a potential lido (on the banks of the River Mersey) and a precinct – giving mass and weight to Speke’s architectural ideas that never made it. Metaphors for fitting in (or not), the artworks, lowkey (all 2022) are a play on words: hanging long and low whilst also discretely blending into their newly built environment. After the exhibition, a handful of these sculptures will be gifted to keyholders of buildings in Plymouth that have influenced Kevin’s work, becoming a means to not just open doors, but to instil ongoing provocation.

Vacuum formed sculptures occupy the central exhibition space. Each work, a pair of almost alike, wall-based objects from the series COUNSEL (set in stone), (all 2022), each with subtly different configurations of curved, rippled forms atop of blocky bases; informed by the many undulating ornamentations on the façades of Plymouth’s modernist city centre that often go unnoticed. This fascination with the clandestine curvatures that adorn many post-war, civic buildings has become an important way for the artist to understand his own sexual identity, similarly hidden during his formative years living within the blocky, ‘straight’ architectual conformity of a council estate. Formed by overheating plastic until its surface blisters, these twinned works feel like the Portland Stone or concrete architecture that they mimic, falling in and out of view as you move around the space.

Punctuating the exhibition in its darker corners, CIVIC (bump/grind), (all 2022) are works made using former COVID protective screens. Placed under extreme heat and pressure, the repurposed material became volatile – with the tension of their making permanently captured in the sculptures’ shattered surfaces. Kevin, like many of us, was deeply affected by the pandemic – these sculptures address the trauma of this time head-on.

The exhibition is curated by Matt Retallick and is generously supported by MIRROR through its ‘Make Work With Us’ programme, with funding from Arts Council England, The Elephant Trust and Arts University Plymouth alongside a significant contribution from the artist.