Stephen Chambers

Review: The Court of Redonda, Heong Gallery


Following its acclaimed unveiling as a Collateral Event of the 2017 Venice Biennale, Royal Academician Stephen Chambers presents The Court of Redonda – a major solo exhibition at Downing’s Heong Gallery


Inspired by a literary legend that has developed around a tiny, uninhabited island in the Caribbean Sea, Stephen Chambers’ The Court of Redonda showcases a collective portrait of an imaginary court filled with creative individuals. The island of Redonda was claimed in 1865 by a merchant trader who established an honorary monarchy that has been passed down to the present through a literary lineage.


Sparked by a ‘mental collaboration’ with the novelist Javier Marías who was until recently a King of Redonda, Chambers has created a large collective of characters. Marías, styled as King Xavier, appointed many notable writers and artists to his imaginary court in which creativity is honoured over hereditary privilege.


The curator, Emma Hill, describes how the work has been woven from a story about a place which purely writers and artists have envisioned. She continues, ‘It is a work about the collective human spirit. The expression of the necessity and freedom of creative imagination, or art’s ability to reflect to us the moment we are living in and for an individual artist’s statement to carry the weight of this, is at the heart of images Chambers presents us with in the faces of his imaginary courtiers.’


Featuring an impressive 101 paintings, The Court of Redondaarticulates the role played by artists in envisaging a world not how it is, but how it could be. Featuring subjects drawn from different epochs and cultures and hung with reference to historic portrait collections, the court imagines a utopian society that celebrates the creative and idiosyncratic.


Developed over a two-year period coinciding with Britain’s referendum on leaving the European Union, the work touches upon similar themes of identity, heredity and nationalism. Despite the focus on division during the referendum, Chambers depicts nationalism as bringing everyone together. As Rod Mengham notes, ‘The art of Stephen Chambers makes visible the patterns of meaning that activate the individual imagination from within and without; his patterns refer us to the stories uniting us as a group, even when they are stories of division and rivalry: stories about islands, and their relationship to bigger land masses….’


Elected to the Royal Academy of Art, in London, in 2005, Stephen Chambers brings The Court of Redonda to the Heong Gallery, Downing College at the University of Cambridge, where he has also been awarded an Honorary Fellowship. The exhibition continues until 20 May 2018.