What does British painting look like today? Hayward Gallery has brought together 31 artists creating work in Britain for a show that’s celebrating the diversity of painting — there are old painters, young painters, mega-successful painters and emerging painters.
There’s no real unifying theme uniting the artists on display, which would mean the curators had hundreds to choose from so at all times I found myself wondering why they selected this specific artist over many others like them – or in some cases ones that I think have a stronger case for being here. But then again I suppose they had to limit themselves somehow and even 31 feels like too many as the result is a crowded hang where we don’t really get enough space to appreciate each artist.
If there is one genre of painting that gets a lot of space in this show it’s the naive figurative style which is very much trending in art right now. That simplistic painting style that resembles a child’s drawing but is very popular in contemporary art circles. It’s a style that has never won me over, nor has anyone ever convinced me of its value in contemporary art but it gets a strong showing here. Fair play to Hayward who are just going with a popular trend and clearly I’m out of touch with contemporary art’s latest fashion, even if the majority of the public are probably with me on my stance.
The gallery has included some heavy hitters such as Turner prize-winning Lubaina Himid and auction record-setting Peter Doig. Though it’s these more established artists who offer the more disappointing works here. It’s the emerging artists like Lydia Blakeley and her painting of the ‘monkey cat’ meme that shows how painting has evolved in step with contemporary viral culture – bringing permanence to something that was designed to be fleeting.
My top pick from the show is Mohammed Sami whose paintings refer to conflict without showing it, for example, a throne that belonged to Saddam Hussein clearly carries the weight of decades of history, violence and dictatorship with it. Most alarming is his work that shows a silhouette of a giant spider against a door, this latent threat is not pleasant viewing for anyone and one for arachnophobes to avoid.
A close second is Samara Scott who uses plastic bags, sponges and household liquids to create abstract compositions that morph over time and in some cases are placed against gallery windows to create a beautiful interplay with the light streaming in.
It’s the emerging and lesser-known artists who are the freshest and most impressive here and I get the feeling it would have been a stronger show if it leant more heavily in that direction. The Hayward Gallery may have used the bigger names to get the punters in but it’s the other artists that will keep them here.
It’s a real pick n mix and where the sour and sweet works are evenly balanced, though I feel like if they mixed it up a little less we could have had a stronger show.
Mixing It Up: Painting Today is on at Hayward Gallery until 12th December. Tickets are £12 for adults.
Images from top to bottom
– © Lisa Brice (2021). Courtesy the artist; Stephen Friedman Gallery, London and Salon 94, New York. Photo: Mark Blower
– © Rachel Jones 2021. Courtesy of Hayward Gallery. Photo: Rob Harris
– © Matthew Krishanu (2021). Photo: Peter Mallet