He is a mysterious, up-and-coming artist whose work has been championed by the likes of Madonna and sells for up to five figures.
But there were raised eyebrows when it was revealed that “Rhed” was none other than the singer’s eldest son, Rocco Ritchie.
The 21-year-old, Madonna’s child with her ex-husband Guy Ritchie, has been said in reports to have quietly established himself as an expressionist painter, with a number of shows at the Tanya Baxter Contemporary gallery in Chelsea, west London, since 2018.
But since PageSix unmasked Ritchie, opinion has been divided on whether his success is due to talent or the weight of his parents’ names.
That Ritchie is Rhed is hard to argue with. Both are the same age, grew up in identical cities, and attended Central Saint Martins and the Royal Drawing School. In 2020, Madonna and Guy Ritchie even reunited at the Tanya Baxter Contemporary, alongside their partners and children, for a then unnamed exhibition.
So what do we know of his work? Rhed uses thickly applied oils and gestural brushstrokes for his depictions of the human form, according to Tanya Baxter, the gallery’s curator.
His inspirations include Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Paula Rego and Helmut Newton. While his subjects have “psychological tension”, he balances this by using a colourful palette and “playfully painting looming figures in the middle of the canvas, often set against a monochromatic abstract backdrop”, Baxter says.
“Having an eclectic cultural background, with a childhood spent between New York and London, his paintings exude an engaging mixture of innocence and confidence,” she adds.
Rhed himself has said he is “fascinated about the inner and outer world, especially where they meet”. The message of his paintings is that there is “beauty in the struggle of life” – more beauty, he is quoted as saying, than when life comes easy.
The King’s Road gallery, which has likened Rhed’s work to Jean-Michel Basquiat and Banksy, promotes a number of positive reviews, including from Mervyn Davies, a former chair of the Royal Academy. “Good artists are those that turn energy into something beautiful that resonates with the eye,” Davies says. “Anyone can be a painter, but it is a question of making others think, and provoke feelings.”
The arts writer Godfrey Barker called Rhed “an authentic, pure, and undiluted product of the 21st century … Rhed is not yet to be ranked with the Golden Youth who shook the world at Frieze in 1988. But he is to be mentioned in their company. He makes a powerful statement about Anxiety Now and points into the future.”
The Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones was less enthusiastic, suggesting the artist had been put into the public eye too soon.
“His paintings are clumsy adolescent efforts with no sign of originality or vigour,” Jones said. “Obviously that doesn’t mean he will not become a better artist with time. Painting takes work. It therefore seems a shame that Rhed has been put into the public eye when he’s just not, at this point, a real artist. These daubs are amateur stuff, vaguely imitating Picasso or Modigliani, that could have been done by a million young people.”
The gallery, Jones added, “ought to be ashamed of cynically pushing this unready youngster on the market. They compare him with the street artists Banksy and Basquiat but to be honest, the only street they remind me of is the King’s Road where this kind of bad art is sure to sell to posh fools.”
Rhed’s pieces are listed on Artsy for up to £24,000. Whether or not the world should have allowed Ritchie to continue using a fake name is yet to be determined.
The Tanya Baxter Contemporary has been contacted for comment.