11am – 4pm, 7th, 8th, 14th and 15th March
Utopia Banished is a solo exhibition by Edinburgh-based artist Jon Canty at Coburg House Gallery in Leith, Edinburgh. Having grown up in Bedfordshire, studying Civil Engineering and pursuing a career in town planning, Jon began studying art at Hampstead School of Art in 2013 and moved to Edinburgh in 2016 to undertake a Foundation course at Edinburgh College, then Painting at Leith School of Art from 2017 to 2019.
During this time, it was a work by Welsh artist Mervyn Levy from the 1940’s showing the signing of the 1940 Nazi-soviet non-aggression pact that signalled the start of the journey to this point for him, its geometry showing a calculating coldness as European humanity’s future is decided in an international chess match-like setting, which became a cold-war touchstone. Showing me his sketchbook, Jon explained that he built on this idea, incorporating an increasing starkness and variations in texture and experimenting with different substrates, alongside an interest in modern military paraphernalia and death-metal musical imagery, to arrive at the exhibition’s modern-gothic theme.
Though small in number, the images are undeniably disturbing on a large scale, given their nightmarishly bleak subject matter and nuclear-winter settings. They divide largely into two styles – the stark monochromatic works of mask-wearing helmeted figures that stare emptily at the viewer, and more detailed depictions in a palette reminiscent of the mid-20th century, including empty underground bunker compositions and hospitalised faces festooned with sinister-looking apparatus.
He has visited military bunkers such as the Troywood facility in Fife to gain a more detailed understanding of the spatial and textural aesthetics of planning for nuclear war, inspiring a combination of the cold sharpness of steel, concrete textures and the ethereal and ghostly. Tellingly though, it seems Jon recognises the invisible humanity at the centre of this – the human response to a terrifying aggressor – as a signifier of an enduring spirit of resistance, and there is a heroism to be found in the hope for life to somehow endure.
15 Coburg Street
Leith EH6 6ET
Image: Jon Canty – Resistance in the Face of Aggression: Figure Study No. 6, oil in panel