Corvus. Installation of painting by Matthew Cristhan at the Stuart Hall Library, Iniva, London

Birds arrived at the Iniva Stewart Hall library in Pimlico. Ravens, to be precise, 28 of them appear between shelves, above doors and next to books; keeping us company with their comical, supernatural and charming presence when we break away from the sometimes lonely learning practices.

This is from Matthew Crisan’s ongoing Crow series, which he began in 2012 and which was also seen earlier this year in the Gothic architecture of Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, as well as in the display of Raven’s House in Matt’s Gallery. in London.

Matthew Cristhan, who was born in the UK and emigrated to Dhaka in the 1980s, is known for his fabulous paintings that often paint memories of his childhood in Bangladesh, where his parents worked for the church.

Currently, the entire Crow series consists of 60 intimate pictures of ravens, rooks, jackdaws and ravens, which the artist first takes with a photograph – always sitting or walking, but never in flight. Then he draws the bird one canvas with oil on a board. Crows appear in profile or in front, some of them are looking straight at us, while others are looking down or seem to be moving away from us. Crows paintings consist of dense layers of various shades of black, dark blue and brown, against a background of pale shades of background colors such as green and pink. Close cropping and thick paint texture give the paintings an abstract quality, but when they are visible in a group, the peculiarity of each crow stands out.

“There is something wild and indomitable in ravens,” the artist describes his fascination with these cosmopolitan creatures that inhabit almost every country in the world when I visited him at his Walthamstow studio this week. He explains to Crishan that in the beginning, literature and visual arts inspired him to draw and draw them, relying on links from the collection of poems by Ted Hughes “The Raven” to the picture of Gaugin “Never” (1897), which, in turn, is a reference to the poem Edgar Allan Poe "The Raven." (1845). Mythical tales of raven-crows also appear in different cultures around the world. The crows he portrays here are “London crows”, but they also return him to his childhood in Bangladesh and India, where, according to the artist, they could be seen and heard everywhere.

Krishanu reveals to viewers how to read or interpret the symbolic quality of raven paintings. In the space of the Stuart Hall Library, systems of knowledge, classifications, or taxonomy arise. Seeing this set of outstanding magic birds in the library, a place in society that is considered a place of knowledge, seems to emphasize the supernatural intelligence of the crow. Crows are considered one of the most intelligent birds in the world. A study published in 2017 in the journal Science showed that crows can plan ahead tasks – behavior that has long been considered unique to humans and their relatives – and that ravens have a strange memory for human faces, which means they can remember whether a particular person is a threat.

For me, having seen these magical birds in the protected space of the library collection, I began to more respect the knowledge that is inherent in the natural world around us.

The Iniva Stuart Hall Library is open to the public. They have a new space on the campus of the Chelsea College of Art that moved from Shoreditch last year, so this is a great chance to explore it and discover outstanding crows Matthew Crisana.

Christina Takenny, Curator

On November 30, 2019, Matthew Cristhan will give a presentation on his Corvus series at the Stuart Hall Library. Click here for more information.

The Stuart Hall Library 16 John Islip Street, London SW1P 4JU . Open from Tuesday to Friday, 10.00-17.00, Saturday, 10.00-16.00 . The exhibition runs until November 30, 2019.

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