A fun and thought-provoking show

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Chris Milton: New Works, blackShed Gallery, Robertsbridge. Until June 22. Review by Nadene Ghouri.

The BlackShed Gallery in Robertsbridge is carving out a niche as one of the most dynamic art spaces locally and the current exhibition by Hastings-based artist Chris Milton both thrills and excites.

In Dark Flowers, one of a series of large pencil drawings inspired by pole dancing clubs, a dominatrix in a basque brandishes a whip with aggression, yet her tragic-comic expression is topped by fake eyelashes ala Liza Minnelli. Her pretty floral skirt leaves you feeling she’d really rather be a princess in a party dress than lashing the punters. The contradiction of raw sex and childlike innocence is laid bare again in a pencil drawing of a nun smoking a joint. Legs akimbo, she is deliberately provocative, yet her fragility is what stops the piece being crass. It is unsettling yes, offensive never.

But where this exhibition really inspires is in the series of bold colourful paintings which dominate half the gallery. Again Milton’s dynamic technique is in evidence with neon slaps of colour and almost graffiti-style images.

But underlying each piece is softness and subtlety, something that becomes more apparent when one learns that the series was inspired by the death of the artist’s beloved father. Beyond the Laughing Cavalier takes the iconic cavalier as its starting point, but in Milton’s hand the famous ginger moustache is drawn onto a purple skull with crosses in his eyes and an iron mask for a face.

The pieces are clearly a tribute but the viewer never feels like an intruder, rather they gently beckon us in to a very private quiet grief we are invited to share.

Plastic Piece is a witty almost 1950s Hollywood style pastiche showing a woman with a gun to her head. But it is Placid on Painted Porcelain that for me is the star of the show. An ethereal and serene woman in pearls (or is it a man?) rises elegantly from a tray of cocktail glasses, as if calmly surveying the scene at the end of a party. It’s only on the third glance you realise she is actually the glass itself.

Overall, despite what could be a dark or depressing theme, this ends up being a thoroughly thought-provoking, fun and sensitive show.

The BlackShed gallery is at Russet Farm, Robertsbridge, East Sussex. Contact Kenton Lowe on 01580 881247. Gallery hours are Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 4pm or by appointment.