Annie Kevans has had solo exhibitions in London, New York, Vienna, San Francisco, Antwerp and Edinburgh. She has exhibited in group shows at leading galleries and museums including the Barbican Art Gallery, the Royal Academy, the Saatchi Gallery, the Grand Palais in Paris, the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Beursschouwburg in Brussels and the Marres Centre for Contemporary Art in Maastricht. Kevans' work has been acquired by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Pallant House Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth, New Hall Art Collection and the David Roberts Foundation. Collectors include Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Jean Paul Gaultier, Kylie Minogue, Stephen Fry and John McEnroe.
Kevans’ paintings reflect her interests in power, manipulation and the role of the individual in inherited belief systems. She looks at alternative histories and how they relate to current issues and creates what she describes as ‘anti-portraits’ that may or may not be based on real documentation. She believes that, as her work is concept driven, sometimes the actual similarity to the person depicted in the work is irrelevant. This can be seen in her 'Boys' series which is not about portraying dictators as they really looked as children but rather about the notion of the ‘innocent child’ which has influenced images of children in art since the Victorian times. Kevans believes that a person’s identity is not preset but is a shifting temporary construction and her work questions our verdicts on history and perceptions of intellectual solidity.
Her latest series, ‘The History of Art’ and ‘Drag’, highlight gender inequality in the art world. ‘The History of Art’ features women in art history who were once acclaimed in the art world – some were even international celebrities – and whose history and significance have been gradually eroded so they are ultimately forgotten to a modern audience. Kevans was astonished to learn throughout the course of her extensive research that, despite the massive obstacles in their path, many women managed to have successful careers as artists as early as the 16th century. Although some have been championed in the last decades having been ‘rediscovered’ by later art historians, these women still remain separate from mainstream art history. Their work is consistently sidelined in major exhibitions and women artists are deemed only worthy as subjects within the secondary realm of feminist art history. In ‘Drag’, Kevans reveals male art stars in drag, comfortably posing as women but confident that their achievements will not be forgotten. Artists such as Francis Bacon, Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Robert Mapplethorpe and Cecil Beaton all photographed themselves in drag but the question remains, would these artists continue to be so revered had they been born women?
In 'All the Presidents’ Girls', a series featuring presidential mistresses, Kevans highlighted the manipulation of truth in the recording of history as well as in the creation of status and authority in ordinary men. Following on from this work, Kevans painted the illegitimate slave children of presidents such as Thomas Jefferson and John Tyler, alluding to the injustice and hypocrisy perpetrated by some of the most revered figures in American History. The works looked at issues surrounding racial conflict in the US and the ongoing denial of the horrors of slavery, at a time when the US elected its first black president.
Kevans uses our familiarity with portraiture and public figures to draw attention to the proverbial ‘elephant in the room’. With her 'Collaborators' series, she profiles famous figures such as Coco Chanel and Gaston Louis Vuitton, revealing their secretive and little-known collaboration with the Nazis during World War II. With these works, the artist investigates collective memory and the manipulation of reputations to fit an ideal. The works in 'Girls', a series which looks at the sexualisation of childhood, see child stars such as Brooke Shields, Britney Spears and the Olsen twins take on an almost eerie appearance, their wide-eyed naivety counteracted by sensuously plump red lips and semi-nudity.
Having an affinity for the marginalised, Kevans paints figures overlooked, exploited, or objectified within the context of history or contemporary culture, imbuing her subjects with a tangible humanity and sensuality.
"But none hit me so directly as a simple row of portraits by Annie Kevans. Fragile, sweetly rendered faces laid in oils so thin you would swear they were watercolours. Distinctive, very beautiful and very familiar faces looking out through pain-drenched eyes. I bought Beethoven and the actresses Patty Duke and Judy Garland. I look at them every day that I’m at home in Norfolk. They disturb me and uplift me at one and the same time... Annie Kevans has done something so important. By uniting these icons, by releasing them from their usual photographic poses and delineating them with simple, free flicks and flourishes of the brush and above all by accessing that part of them that is in pain, she allows us to look again. This is what artists do. They give you new eyes with which to look again at the familiar and find something quite new. Whether the familiar is a hillside, a vase of flowers or an iconic figure, the effect is to gift us with an insight we never knew we had. It is the artist’s insight and we can be grateful to her for it."
“I am impressed by the way Annie Kevans captured the different types of beauties that have been my inspiration and my muses from my grandmother to artists like David Bowie and Boy George.”
Jean Paul Gaultier
"Her work's way of quietly digging out unsettling truths about society has held the art world in thrall... Kevans' work is approachable, unpretentious, and unexpectedly profound. These naively rendered, pastel-coloured paintings are like little warnings of just how easily our civilised veneer could crumble away"
Nisha Lilia Diu, Telegraph
"Don't be fooled by her wide-eyed adolescents: dark themes hide behind those soft brush strokes."
Claire Sacre, Elle, UK
"Annie Kevans has an eye for what makes an eye-catching portrait. Her oil-on-paper likenesses look simple, almost childlike, but they come with a sting in the tail... The works sound sensationalist, but Kevans' use of thinned oil paints on canvas paper gives her subjects a melancholic, dreamlike feel - all eerie wide eyes, drippy hair and smeary lips."
Alice Jones, Independent
"It's testament to Kevans and her strange ability to get inside the headlines and emerge with art as beautiful as it is unsettling, that it's awfully hard to think up a label for her. Is she a YBA? Portrait painter? Pop artist? That sense of intimate encounter makes her work powerfully affecting."
Olivia Cole, Daily Beast
"An implicit understanding of all this is present in Kevans’ beautiful series of portraits. Her light brushstrokes and thin washes of colour perfectly capture the fragility of her subjects and hint that our knowledge of them was merely superficial. As if preserved in a single frame of celluloid, each of them is portrayed as a symbol of her public persona yet is also humanized, the emotion in her expression offering a glimpse into the real woman hiding behind the stereotype. The fact that Kevans is a female artist re-discovering and celebrating these real women who experienced real emotions only adds to the impact."