Cunningham (1929-2014) studied at Central St Martin’s between 1949 and 1952 alongside Frank Auerbach, who remains a vocal admirer of the Australian-born painter’s work. In the mid to late ‘50s he exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and the Beaux Arts Gallery. But in 1967 he turned down membership with the London Group and abruptly stopped exhibiting his works.
Now, Hoxton Gallery has organised an exhibition with the help of Cunningham’s widow, Bobby Hillson, which showcases paintings the artist completed between 1954 and ’60.
“Cunnigham was a painter of extraordinary talent,” said co-curator Stephen Rothholz. “The great question for me is why, when he appeared to have the world at his feet did he step out of the limelight? Only he could answer that question.”
A representative of the gallery told ATG that Hillson, who also co-curated the exhibition, consigned the works to the gallery after a local intermediary introduced the two.
It highlights Cunningham’s works on skulls, which organisers explain as being in the tradition of Memento Mori works, and include a number of visceral, expressionistic canvases.
After he stopped exhibiting in the late '60s, he continued working in graphics as a book cover designer. He became a lecturer at the London College of Printing and worked as an exhibition designer. He painted in his spare time and kept a studio until the end of his life.
Prices at the exhibition range from £4000-12,000, far below the millions that Auerbach and Cunningham’s other Central St Martin’s contemporary Leon Kossoff generally take. However the organisers hope that the exhibition is a first step towards more public awareness around his body of work.
“At least the show, the first of many I hope, will allow people to see and enjoy his work,” Rothholtz said.
A representative of the gallery added that while Hoxton Gallery is not working on behalf of the Cunningham estate, Hillson is seeking a representative to take it on.
The exhibition runs from September 30-October 13.