Mike Silva: New Paintings | The Approach

I reviewed a Mike Silva show at this gallery three years ago, and it’s not a dig to say that this new show is an almost exact retread of what I saw in 2020. This painter has a very narrow range of subject matter: empty interior views of down-at-heel rooms in London, with a window to the outside. Sometimes he paints a man inside these rooms, looking away from us.

The pleasure I took in the two shows was was also pretty much identical, due to Silva’s considerable skill. The power of his interiors come from their specificity. They’re purely, recognisably London somehow - perhaps from the shape of the windows, perhaps the glimpse of brick buildings and chimneys he sometimes traces in the background. Or, most likely, it’s from the quality of that weak, watery London light, which he captures perfectly, again and again. When I left the gallery, to a sky pregnant with rain, framed by dark brick buildings, it was as if I’d stepped into the background of a Silva scene.

Mike Silva ‘Owens room’ (2023) Owens room (2023)

The paintings’ mildewy walls, dripping taps and dry houseplants are intensely recognisable from every London flatshare I’ve ever had. Actually, they’re recognisable from Silva’s too - he works from photographs taken from previous decades, when he was part of a housing co-op. As a property guardian, he got paid to live in empty properties with others. His scenes are twice-divorced from the everyday then, over time and via photos. They don’t come from the artist simply painting what’s in front of him.

My favourite from the new show, pictured above, is called Owens Room. Silva revealed the background to this particular work in an interview with the Guardian recently. The original photo he based the painting on was from the 1990s. He took it in his lover’s home. “My camera temporarily moved away from him to the window,” the artist adds, as if the decision wasn’t his to take.

Perhaps it wasn’t: again and again, his artist’s eye is drawn to London windows - poorly insulated, a bit mouldy, inadequately covered by cheap fabric, barely filtering the weak light from outside. This humdrum view, imaginatively rendered, is his artistic motif - a motif that doesn’t seem likely to change any time soon.

Not that that’s a bad thing.

Mike Silva: New Paintings is at The Approach (London). 06 July - 05 August 2023