The New Painting of The 20s
Mixing It Up: Painting Today | November 2021
Women walk around naked, smoking, resting, working, observing. One looks in the mirror as if taking her own measurements preparing a self-portrait, another pours paint onto canvas, a cat looks curiously at it dripping. They are their own muses and authors.
In Lisa Brice’s Smoke and Mirrors, despite the female nudity, there is a clear absence of the male gaze, before reading the label, it can be asserted it was painted by a woman. The characters are independent, confident, in no way sexualised, alluding to a first wave feminism in the modernist era, both in theme and style. This picture opens the show, ironically or very purposefully so depicting painting within a painting.
As your eyes travel through the room, you can clearly tell which works belong to the same artist. Reminiscent of an art fair, each painter has their own curated ensemble creating a fortified argument as to why they are representative of painting today. 31 UK-based artists make up the show, stress on “based” as the selection is far from all-white and British, mirroring the multiculturalism of the city of London, crisscrossing the globe, adjoining Zambia to Colombia.
Sophie von Hellerman focuses on the fruition of dream images from past events, her foggy paintings resemble watercolours in the sweeping strikes of pure pigments onto the laying canvas. Her delicate, noncommittal brushstrokes are light and heavenly in contrast to Mohammed Sami’s almost colour blocking works despite both depicting horror stories.
Slightly above are works by the rising star Kudzanai-Violet Hwami, two people embracing, a family portrait, a silkscreened photo of the artist with her father. Needless to say the works are partly autobiographical, dealing with themes of identity, culture and displacement, as perfectly captured in Bira, “where a man in Western business clothing drinks from a traditional African vessel”. Hwami’s juxtapositions are beautifully orchestrated and her brushstrokes pure, unafraid.
Frightening however is the realism of some of Jonathan Wateridge’s portraits. What might seem like casual snapshots of everyday life, are in truth highly planned and overdone scenes with actors in studios. The artist however has since moved on from hyperrealism and developed a more loose and expressive style whilst being still an adept of portraiture.
On an adjacent room, there is still space for somewhat surrealism, whether it is on Allison Katz’s work where both subject and materials tend to follow “Dalinian” convention, or as you read Issy Wood’s labels and stop to think if Oil on Velvet might be a typo.
As you go upstairs, the first room is striking, evoking American Abstract Expressionism in the megalomanic size of the canvases. This is the first allusion to abstraction in the show with the notorious inclusion of contemporary giant Oscar Murillo. While the lower floor is consistently figurative, at times revivalist or traditional, the stairs make a good transition into another approach to painting, every so often boundary-breaking as in the work of Samara Scott.
Murillo’s larger than life works evoke the likes of Gerhard Richter but while the German artist’s mark making consists mostly of scratching, Murillo tends to add to the canvases he himself assembles from patches, creating impasto-like textures through the use of letters in different languages, imbuing the works with additional layers of meaning.
Scott’s “paintings”, on the other hand, use mostly anything but paint. Mixing up household items, from detergents to plastic bags, if you look closely you might even find an iPhone charger as you look through to the buildings across the river. Samara Scott is a brilliant tongue-in-cheek inclusion, more than being a celebration of fascinating work, it is a chance for viewers to hinder they own conceptions of painting and break down the elements that have gotten it included in the curation.
There’s figurative, there’s abstract and there’s something in between. There’s linen, there’s velvet, there are windows and concrete boxes. There is oil, there’s rice and there are household items, to look through, to look at and to squint into. The curation is surprisingly comprehensive covering all aspects of painting from size to approach to subject. From naïf to hyperrealism, from fading brushstrokes to spray cans and colour blocking. From established, to reemerged, to emerging artists.
This exhibition might be the closing argument on the point gallery director Ralph Rugoff has been making. Rugoff argues painting “may in fact be the medium that accommodates the most conceptually adventurous thinking.” (Quoted from catalogue). While disputable, Mixing It Up doesn’t fall short on the task of encapsulating painting for the 20s, far from defining a movement but very on point on celebrating the medium, its diversity and globalisation.