Nicola Bealing, Thief and Murderer, 2022, oil, acrylic & oil stick on linen, 168 x 122cm
Nicola Bealing, Thief and Murderer, 2022, oil, acrylic & oil stick on linen, 168 x 122cm

Nicola Bealing, Thief and Murderer, 2022, oil, acrylic & oil stick on linen, 168 x 122cm

Nicola Bealing

Chapter 2: The Borough

15 March – 16 April 2023

Nine Elms

Private View: March 12 2023, 2-5pm

Matt’s Gallery is pleased to announce a new exhibition in two parts by Nicola Bealing. Drawing from two connected new bodies of work: Chapter 1 will present works from Dead-man’s Fingers and chapter 2, The Borough.

The Borough is a suite of new paintings by Bealing, completed with the support of The Bryan Robertson Award, which Bealing won in 2021. The series takes its title from George Crabbe’s long poem of the same name. Published in 1810, it describes the inhabitants & institutions of a fictional coastal village through a series of letters.

Letter no. XXII is the disturbing account of Peter Grimes, a fisherman who takes on a series of young apprentices who one by one meet grisly ends at his hands. It is from here that Bealing has departed on this series of works. (Benjamin Britten famously used this same source material as the basis of his opera ‘Peter Grimes’ in 1945)

Grimes’ story is a truly horrible one; a nasty litany of brutality, misery, child abuse, serial murder and mental collapse, but for Bealing this darkness pulses with imagery. As Crabbe’s human tragedy plays out against the maritime environment rich visions bubble up.

The dark heart of the tale is that the people of the Borough are absolutely aware of Grimes’ cruelty, neglect, bullying, abuse and eventual murder of his apprentice boys, but turn a communal blind eye doing nothing beyond mild tut-tutting. Crabbe writes, ‘…..some, on hearing cries/Said calmly, “Grimes is at his exercise.”’

It is assumed that Crabbe based the character of Peter Grimes on a real person. The story of society failing the vulnerable and pouring out remorse when it’s too late is old and familiar and all the more chilling as a result.

Alongside a series of her signature small character studies, The Borough includes Bealing’s largest individual works to date: Again They Come and Lost Hope and Anchor, each measuring 3 metres in height. Bealing felt it was important that these paintings take on a towering presence through their monumental size

Typical of Bealing’s work we find a push/pull effect in the paintings - the viewer is drawn in by colour and seductive paint work but then repulsed and slapped back by the imagery and subject matter. This is especially relevant in this body of work where the source material is such a fundamentally shocking account, when the distancing effects of time and fictionalisation are stripped away.

Chapter 1: Dead-man's Fingers will run from 1 February - 5 March.