Exploring Representations of the Self and Distance at Maximillian William Gallery, London

Review by: Rochelle Roberts

Maximillian William gallery presents the first London solo show from Texan artist Iva Kinnaird, I Would Love You if You Looked Like This:. The exhibition brings together a series of paintings of sofas which seem to speak to this current time of social distancing. This show is on view until 9 January 2021. 

Installation View, I Would Love You If You Looked Like This:, at Maximillian William, London 11/09/2020 – 01/09/2020, Photo Credit: Damian Griffiths

Kinnaird is an artist known for her interdisciplinary work encompassing painting, sculpture, installation and performance. Although she has exhibited extensively throughout Texas, this is her first show outside of the US. Despite this, I Would Love You if You Looked Like This: is a strong and deeply thought-provoking exhibition that pays homage to that much overlooked, but vital, piece of furniture: the sofa. 


Ear Plug Couch, 2020, Acrylic on Canvas, 1.18 x 48.o3 in., Courtesy of the Artist and Maximillian William, Photo Credit: Shen Tan

Kinnaird’s paintings are delicately rendered in acrylic paint, and her skill lies in her ability to accurately and convincingly portray the feel and texture of the surfaces of the sofas. An unusual subject matter, these still lives, void of people, left me with a multitude of questions, each one leading me onto the next. Who were the people who owned these sofas? What can we, as viewers, understand about these people from examining their sofa? And in turn, what were they trying to portray about themselves in owning these particular sofas? In this way, the sofa takes on the role of the person within the painting. It brings to mind the painting Miss Jekyll’s Gardening Boots (1920) by Sir William Nicholson, in the Tate collection, which the artist painted while waiting for garden designer Gertrude Jekyll to sit for a portrait. The boots, however, are in a sense the portrait. In thinking of what the owner of the sofa is trying to show of themselves, the paintings can almost be seen as a status symbol. 

Barcode Couch, 2020, Acrylic on Canvas, 10.27 x 48.07 in., Courtesy of the Artist and Maximillian William, Photo Credit: Shen Tan

These sofa paintings speak of community. The sofa is a place for friends and family members to gather and chat, to binge-watch tv shows together or take a nap. They are a place of socialising and relaxation. In a time when the UK is just coming out of a second lockdown and many people are unable to socialise, it feels particularly poignant to focus on this subject matter. It is also interesting that Kinnaird has chosen to paint these sofas with their length extremely exaggerated. This evokes a feeling of wanting to bring as many people together as possible, and at the same time accentuates distance. As we are all asked to socially distance, these paintings speak to that, speak to an inability to touch, to be close. 

Installation View, I Would Love You If You Looked Like This:, at Maximillian William, London, 11/09/2020 – 01/09/2020, Photo Credit: Damian Griffiths

The title of this exhibition is an interesting one, and perhaps hints at another type of distance that Kinnaird is keen to explore. I Would Love You if You Looked Like This: brings to mind that familiar point in an early relationship where on one side you have someone who is very invested in the relationship’s progression and on the other side, someone who would rather stay at home and lounge on the sofa than make the effort of spending time with the other person.

Sawtooth Couch, 2020, Acrylic on Canvas, 11.22 x 47.99 in., Courtesy of the Artist and Maximillian William, Photo Credit: Shen Tan

The sofa, in this sense, becomes more valued and worthy of time that a relationship with a person. It is cynical, but something experienced by many in various ways, particularly now with dating apps that present so much choice, and with it, endless possibilities. This is illustrated perfectly in a painting like Ear Plug Couch (2020) which shows a beautiful orange sofa with two orange cushions at either end. The cushions are faced towards each other, as though they are people having a conversation. But the distance between them is unmistakable, and perhaps they are not speaking but glaring, the elongated length of the sofa a testament to their physical and emotional distance. 

Bamboo Bench, 2020, Acrylic on Canvas, 11.18 x 48.03 in., Courtesy of the Artist and Maximillian William, Photo Credit: Shen Tan

Although a relatively small show in terms of the number of works displayed, it is one that lingers in the mind long after you have left the gallery. Make sure to visit the gallery’s website for more information on opening hours and how to visit.