HE CLEANS HIS TEETH WITH NITROMORS
Tim Noble (2016)
Arriving at the door of Kingsley Ifill’s studio in Herne Bay, I am greeted by a large dog – half-rottweiler, half-staff. Entering the premises, my eyes have to adjust to the dim light. Little effort has been made to clear up the assortment of strewn-about car seats, packaging and bits of bicycles. The place could do with a lick of paint - it’s like a scene from Trainspotting.
Kingsley greets me with his cheeky smile, but soon disappears into one of the murky rooms. I follow him in. Blocked from any natural light, we are standing in his darkroom, an improvised but organised space where sets of trays brim with chemicals. In another room, a jet washer lies strewn across the floor pointing towards a large stainless steel panel and arranged like some sort of torture chamber. Kingsley has taken root: this is not some squat, but his HQ where he resides and creates.
I venture further down towards the light, where a disused bar reveals itself. Long since have last orders been called; the brass shutters hang half agape. Kingsley appears again. He tells me this used to be a drinking men's social club for the British legion. ‘Old men and medals telling stories in Estuary English, slurping to the rhythm of the waves.’ The corridor is lined with what at first seems like a bone factory of minimalist, aluminium frames which turn out to be racks of screen printing stencils – fresh and in production. I enter a new room and all is revealed: it suddenly seems clear why Kingsley has moved out of London. A light, spacious room with windows overlooking the sea. This was the old dancing area of the social club. What was once the stage is now occupied with two large-format colour printers. Propped up against each wall are stacks of large canvasses, Kingsley’s new work freshly printed and sometimes multi-layered with hand-pulled screen prints.
Before I delve in deeper, I am distracted by the bay windows that look out onto the North Sea. The south-east coast of Great Britain. The modern day Vikings, a gang of lads on jet-skis raping and ravaging the ocean, tearing between an assault coarse of yellow buoys. In the distance sits the end of the pier, the sea walkway to it long since demolished. At 3,787 feet, this pier was once among the longest in Britain, and first appeared in Ken Russell’s first feature film French Dressing. Its end is now dislocated from the mainland, ominous and alone, its legs exposed with black, spiky sea urchins.
The pier, along with a bank of wind turbines and the distant Maunsell Forts are the teeth to the Thames Estuary’s gaping mouth. Further down its the throat, the worm of the meandering river passes Stanford-le-hope, once home to Joseph Conrad, whose Heart of Darkness declared this to be ‘one of the dark places of the earth.’ In the other direction, towards Dover Docks, St Margaret’s Bay was once home to Ian Fleming, who claimed that he could only write with his back to the sea, and penned Moonraker here.
Kingsley has created his own set of distractions from the sea. He is clearly engrossed in his subject matter: his canvases are adorned with images hand-picked from scouring the Internet or from the pages of the books he hoards. Prominent are his fruit-machine series: life-sized, one-off prints on canvas of arcade machines, the playful and addictive paraphernalia of seaside life. These seduction machines are stripped from their noise and bling-bling flashing lights and frozen in time as black, stealth monuments. Kingsley’s canvases are mounted on aluminium stretchers. You can hold the bars behind and lift them up like a sail. I conjure up the image of myself wind-surfing off with one, echoing the wind-propelled tram that used to pull luggage along the vast length of the original pier. Or am I gripping a mirrored riot shield reflecting what society propels at me?
Panning around the room, I see a another canvas with the image of a pile of what looks like an orgy of headless bodies, bare arses protruding with big knackers hanging down. This pile of bodies resembles a primeval form - a blob of fat and muscle, a mass of self-flagellating, pulsating flesh – some bastardised offspring of the human centipede. Intercourse with this would surely involve multiple anal penetration; most likely a muscle lock in – just in time to be snapped by a curious onlooker peeping through one of the bent blinds.
Kingsley masterfully completes this canvas by depicting the registered trademark of UHU glue smack across its surface. It succeeds in sticking the image firmly in my mind. And, oddly, the logo is a slightly reassuring presence within what at first appears as a pretty disconcerting set of appropriations. Kingsley's work plays with our assumptions, teases them: the UHU image witnesses his use of bold, ballsy, up-front imagery tickled by and nodding to the endless mastery of the human spirit. What bubbles up from the depths of the Internet matches with the deepest human desires, the need to stroke the individual ego and nurture the depravity of the human soul.
Be it exaggerated selfies or commercial vandalism or a healthy disrespect for commodification, Kingsley selects, edits then spreads a delicious layer on to his primed surfaces. He holds them up for us to look at anew, revealing not only news headlines but an inexhaustible melting pot of fresh imagery. Have a suck on one of Kingsley's candy bars – it might have been dipped in Nitromors. One piece has Kim Kardashian flaunting her triple-sized appendages. It’s called Thank God for mental illness. And it is impossible to ignore the row of judge’s heads Kingsley has created in the corner of his studio, all of them overseeing us with their critical wisdom. They seem like his own hanging committee. But just as we see order and authority condemning us, Kingsley's law and order is perverted: each judge’s wig is peppered with a spray of lead pellet shot holes – his target range for his own personal shooting gallery.
A few hours later I leave this cave, cocking one eye to the single mattress on the floor and another to the darkrooms, hoping Kingsley’s legendary partner in crime will reveal herself. I leave, instead, adorned with one of his trademark t-shirts – a print of a keyed car door, an image that feels like a presentiment of Warhol’s car crash series. We are drawn into the once pristine surface of a car door keyed with what could be Kingsley's own signature: I have slashes and swirls across my chest and leave curious about which one of his works I would I like best on my wall, if I had the chance, while they are still within touching distance. As I leave, I think of Kingsley's Instagram piece Nice White Car which depicts a brand new Mercedes, with the paint daubed slogan across its side ‘NICE WHITE CAR’. Anti-commodity or a jealous jilted lover? Will my car be on bricks when I find it? Of one thing I am sure: Herne Bay's treasure is that it has a rough diamond in its mine.