While the motifs of the river and boatmen are universal themes, many of Billy Childish’s paintings are connected to the locales of the Thames and Medway estuaries. The estuary has a particular resonance as a place where water (time) flows in both directions, and where eddying currents are met with stillness and relative tranquility. 'sailish fisherman' (2020) has a certain stillness too, as do the water reflections and the pose of the figure, creating a moment of calm which plays off directly against the hallucinatory palette, the dynamic composition, and the immediacy of thought and action expressed by liquid outlines and rapid mark making.
A prolific painter and printmaker, Billy Childish is known for his uninhibited, expressive imagery characterised by a resonant vitality. Free of irony or superficial novelty, his works espouse values of authenticity, spirituality, and beauty, conveying a sense of a vivid physical presence. Above all, they express Childish’s earnest engagement with life.
Much of Childish’s strongly autobiographical work places the artist at its centre. In more recent works the figure of the artist has been deferred in favour of archetypes, whether known historical figures such as Edward Elgar and Charles Bukowski or nameless oyster boat sailors and dock workers who once populated the river Medway and Chatham dockyards, where Childish grew up and now has a studio.
Billy Childish is an extraordinary and prolific artist. His paintings, woodcuts, poetry, writing and music share a common acerbic honesty that, rather than being nombrilistic, is deeply compelling and idiosyncratic. Childish's practice is informed by a tireless curiosity for themes as varied as war, the history and topography of his local and personal environment, social protest, hill walking and religious philosophy. Without the need for validation or approval from the art world, Childish has developed an authentic, independent and defiant position within culture that is admired by many worldwide.