Jimenez - Colon Collection
Justin Mortimer
Female Nude
Mortimer, Justin
Justin Mortimer (b.1970) is a British artist whose paintings explore a human world where depravity and desecration seem a matter of course. Dark, nameless environments are occupied by figures witnessed in circumstances of physical threat and psychological distress, surrounded by sinister machines, medical apparatus and the evidence of conflict. These paintings are loaded with ambiguities surrounding their cause and context. Where are these people? What has happened? What is going to happen? Why? What exactly does that machine do…?

They consistently invite us to question the relationship between subject matter and content. While the imagery is almost exclusively pitiless, the texturing of the paint, the play between light and shade and the passages that lead from photo-realist definition to near-abstract formlessness are so sensitively handled as to make the work at least partially redemptive as well as to indicate a key philosophical dimension: the oblique relationship between evidence and interpretation.

Despite the paraphernalia of chemical warfare, neon and Guantanamo Bay-style prisoners’ uniforms, Mortimer’s tableaux are marked by a classical approach to composition. Paintings such as Perimeter, 2012, Annexe, 2012, and Theme Park, 2009, lead the viewer’s eye towards the often grisly ‘action’ of the picture as though it were a historical painting after Géricault or Goya. But despite allusions to specific geographies and political regimes, the anonymity of these battle sites, wastelands and operating theatres is sustained and is key to the sense of an ahistorical malaise.

Colour is also central to Mortimer’s practice. In many of the large-scale works, the human figure is shrouded in darkness, yet colour, when it comes, is typically acidic and uncomforting, suggestive of atmospheric and psychic unease. Sometimes colour is used to illuminate an object, such as an item of clothing, and at others it is used to obscure our vision. In Crèche, 2012, two legs jut out from behind several pink balloons. Like bilious clouds straying into view, the balloons obstruct the evidence of the scene, yet their colour and enlarged polyp-like forms perhaps confirm its abjectness. This peculiar affect is accentuated by the transparent sheen of their surface in relation to the finely modulated skin tones of the shins on the trolley.

This jar of visual information results from the incongruity between the graphic imagery and its dream-like affect. In several paintings, large portions of the canvas are without incident and are instead characterised by an insubstantial ‘atmosphere’, seemingly linked to the Romantic sense of ‘Weltschmertz’ - melancholy caused by comparison of the actual state of the world with an ideal state. This clash of registers is doubly complicated by the impossibility of the scene presented; relationships between foreground and background, or between one motif and the next, appear not to make sense. For example, the figure in In Annexe lies abandoned on a stretcher in a dank room swarming with multi-coloured balloons. Though the balloons are not dangerous in themselves, their presence is tormenting because it is unexplainable and deeply unsuitable.

In fact these troubling images are composites variously sourced from the Internet, from medical journals, holiday photos and black and white images of war, then collaged on Photoshop before being worked into a painting. Each canvas is built up through layers of paint that are then scraped away and built up again until a fully achieved environment forms. In this, scenes of abasement take place beside a supermarket’s plastic curtains, a washing line, some bobbing balloons, swathes of tarpaulin. The disjunctions take them beyond cold-eyed examinations of the atrocities of war and into a timeless, post-moral territory comparable to that marked out by Cormac McCarthy and JG Ballard. Real and imagined events become confused and the trajectory of humanity from barbarism to civilization is left in doubt.

Justin Mortimer graduated from the Slade School of Art in 1992 and lives and works in London. He has won several awards including EAST Award, 2004, the NatWest Art Prize, 1996 and the BP Portrait Award, 1991, and has participated in recent exhibitions at MAC Birmingham, 2011, and the Prague Biennial, 2011. His work is in the collections of, among others, the National Portrait Gallery, London, the National Portrait Gallery, Canada, Royal Society for the Arts, Bank of America, NatWest Bank and the Flash Art Museum of Contemporary Art in Trevi, Italy.

Previous Solo shows

2011 'Haftling' Mihai Nicodim Gallery, Los Angeles
Exhibition review by Christopher Kinight in LA Times (link)
2010 In Your Own Village Master Piper, London
2009 National Geographic Five Hundred Dollars, London
2008 Justin Mortimer Hewer street ,London
2007 Punk Loves Cupcake Pippy Houldsworth, London
2006 JustinMortimer Galerie Bertin-Toublanc, Paris

Selected group shows

2011 Some Domestic Incidents MAC Birmingham, UK
2011 Some Domestic Incidents Prague Biennale 5
2010 Bad Industry Mihai Nicodim Gallery, Los Angeles
2010 Cutters 2010 Pool Gallery, Berlin
2010 Cut, Collage Contemporain Galerie Van Der Stegen, Paris
2010 Cutters, An Exhibition of International Collage Cinders Gallery, New York
2008 We Don't Need Nobody Else Eigse Carlow, Ireland
2007 Isobar Fieldgate Gallery London
2005 Painting Unperfect Houldsworth Gallery, London
2004 EAST international 2004 Norwich Gallery (Selected by Neo Rauch and Gerd Harry Lybke)

The Armoury Show 2012
Los Angeles Art Show 2012
NADA ART Fair Miami Beach 2011
The Armoury Show 2011
The Armoury Show 2010
Represented by Mihai Nicodim


2004 EAST award EAST International
1997 Hunting Art Prize, Young Artist of the Year
1996 NatWest Art Prize
1991 BP Portrait Award First Prize, National Portrait Gallery

Selected portrait commissions

Harold Pinter
HM The Queen
David Bowie and Iman
Three Royal Court Theatre Directors (Stephen Daldry, Katie Mitchell, Ian Rickson)
Stella Tenant
Brian Lara
Sir Steve Redgrave
Glenn MacGrath


National Portrait Gallery, London
National Portrait Gallery, Canada
Flash Art Museum of Contemporary Art, Trevi, Italy
Royal Collection
Royal Society for the Arts
Bank of America
Nat West Bank
Standard Charter Bank
Football Association
MCC (Marlylebone Cricket Club at Lords Cricket Ground, London)
Royal Mail
River and Rowing Museum, Henley