Art Exhibition: Presence in Absence – JD Malat gallery

JD Malat Ian Cumberland Presence in Absence
Tim Firmager
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The JD Malat gallery in London recently launched its solo exhibition for hyper-realist artist Ian Cumberland, Presence in Absence, which explores ideas of the self through voyeurism, technology and mass media.

Ian Cumberland

Born in Banbridge in 1983, Cumberland is best known for his hyperrealist portraits of isolated subjects in detailed interiors, exploring themes of mass media culture, surveillance and the notion of the human ‘self’.

Cumberland’s work is in numerous collections across Germany and Northern Ireland. He also is the 2010 recipient of the Davy Portrait Award.

Presence in Absence

The Presence in Absence exhibition consists of installations that utilise portraits as part of a multi-part tableau, establishing a dialogue between objects. Cumberland’s works require a certain theatricalness, adding abnormal touches and unsettling atmospheres within mundane interiors, giving rise to an acute degree of realism. The common theme throughout all pieces is that they are caught in a moment from their psychological containment. This can be likened to that which we have experienced en-masse during the COVID-19 pandemic. Presence in Absence is, in short, a social commentary on a sociological crisis of individuals.

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In one piece we see the model, draped in a turquoise, fitted dress, sprawled on the floor in front of a series of mirrors. Caught in a moment of thought, from the position of the viewer, the female model is reflected from all angles simultaneously, portraying the concept of mass-media and surveillance. This piece also an abnormal nod (within the setting) to the peep shows of Amsterdam where woman are enjoyed from all angles.

Another piece, Get the look 2020, is meticulously staged with text labels over every item (from the rug to the painted wooden background and even the model) in the scene. Here Cumberland explores our capitalist desire, and how we are told what we should wear and how we should live. The individual model in thought surrounded by luxury items reflects our commodity-driven world, at the expense of a ravaged landscape around us (only visible through the scenes on the TV). The viewer is ultimately left to decide what the model is thinking, and therefore what happens next. For themselves as an individual. And society.

In a further self-portrait, hung from the ceiling, Time stands still at the speed of light, the artist is surrounded by coloured dots, representing photos of light at different wavelengths. Again, Cumberlands ability to represent detail is evident. Every hair and strand in his beard is so meticulously painted such that from a distance this painting could be mistaken for a photograph. Again in this piece, the viewer is left to wonder what the artist is contemplating, and ultimately it is for the viewer to decide how the story of the artwork finishes.

JD Malat Gallery

Jean-David Malat behind the JD Malat Gallery, specialises in contemporary art, through which he seeks to promote and situate established and emerging artists within the framework of contemporary art historical discourse. His gallery is known for promoting artistic progression and cultural interaction and represents a spectrum of artists working with a diverse range of media including conceptual art, installation art, light art, sculpture and painting.

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JD Malat Gallery is located at 30 Davies Street, London, W1K 4NB

Presence in Absence is open to the public from 7 September to 5 October 2020. For more information visit

About Tim Firmager

Tim divides his time being a Digital Consultant in The City and as a food and travel writer across the globe. When he's not working as one of the Lifestyle Editors here at Vada, he's planning his next trip, or on the lookout for the latest food crazes or unusual foods in London's markets.