Anna McNay

Review of This Is What It Is To Be Happy at Paulilles Gallery, London


This Is What It Is To Be Happy

A group exhibition with Eleanor Johnson, William Kennedy & Gabriel Kenny-Ryder

Paulilles Gallery, Copeland Park, Unit 91, London

29 May – 2 June 2019

In an era where mental health issues are one of the main causes of health problems worldwide per se, with major depression thought to be the second leading cause of disability, and an estimated one in six people said to have experienced some form of mental health crisis during the past week (and this data is already a few years old), the underlying thread of this three-artist group show, This Is What It Is To Be Happy, could not be more relevant. Timing-wise, too, short as its run sadly is, it falls right at the tail end of Mental Health Awareness Month. 

Ostensibly, however, this is an exhibition about biophilia, or our innate love for the natural world – or at least that is how it is described on the press release. Painter Eleanor Johnson (b1994), whose original concept it was, and in whose gallery it is being held, has created a new series of works, Modern Bathers, which collages together fragments of Rubens, François Boucher, and Old Master paintings, with images of her friends, in pastel, idyllic, bucolic settings, which she describes as “forest bathing”. Photographer Gabriel Kenny-Ryder (b1993), co-director of the gallery, presents panoramas, and one series of four freely hung images, of landscapes that absorb and envelop the viewer, while, simultaneously, providing stark reminders of their created materiality. It is William Kennedy (b1993), multidisciplinary artist and, here, film-maker, who freely verbalises the fact that he came along, as the third person in, and liberally interpreted this concept of inside and out, interiority and exteriority, inward and outward experience, to be a question of the mind and body, and thus, of our mental health. His frighteningly raw and visceral works, with their phantasmagorical finish, lay bare emotions many of us will have felt, but to which fewer of us will have admitted. 

Read the full review here