Painting in the New Millennium
White Chapel Gallery
6 February 2020 –10 May 2020
Featuring, as considered, ten of the most intriguing painters in Contemporary art today, whose work conveys social and political concerns, Radical Figures,which appears as a celebration of the return of figurative painting, was an eclectic enough collective exhibition, to find both uncompromising proponents and utterly sharp criticism.
The first impression that arises when you enter the exhibition at the White chapel gallery is the pleasant confusion of finding an assemblage of paralyzed on the wall figures, in no humanized sense but cleverly deformed into splinters of colours that flutter and magnetize, scattered around in a collection of completely contrasting styles.
My attention was caught exclusively by the works of Cecily Brown, Daniel Richter, Michael Armitage, and Cristina Quarles, but having closely acknowledged also the work of Ryan Mosley and Tscabalala Self during the Talk Figurative Painting Now: Artists in Conversation, I assert that all of the paintings on display had something to offer as a provocation and reconsideration on the modern insight of the image of the body in Art today.
‘Prelude’ to the ‘review’ was the works of Daniel Richter and Cecily Brown in unusual dialogue, where his saturated, elliptical figures rafting in a dark sea in his ‘Tarifa’ contrasted the expressive, abstract interpretation of conventional figurative scenes in Brown’s painting. Her fragmented, seemingly chaotic compositions, where flesh dissolves in transition between a liquid and a solid pint, embedding desire, life, and death in reverence to classic Western paintings, I found rather compelling, as they fed up my exploration and intention to ‘sink’ the familiar contour of the representative manner into fluid, gestural colour patterns in my work.
Cristina Quarles’ painting, where the figures are precisely constructed, or rather say deconstructed, dissembled, following the placement of the body in space, but filled in with a vibrant, intensive, sharp colour, bring a hint of displacement - depicting ‘disorganized body in a state of excess’, as she says. Her stylized, collaged, very distinct technique portrays in fables the sense of identity, and political nuance at the same time.
Known for the political context of his work, Michael Armitage, with his recognizable style, where brushstrokes remind traces of snakes in the colour palette, and often referred to that of Gaugin, indicated in this exposition the theme of sexuality. The interpretations of the portrait, the body, the scene, were concerned with feelings of discomfort, still weirdly embarrassing and evasive in modern society.
I left Radical Figures with the desire to observe it, dig deeper into each piece, fathom the thought behind each subject. I certainly found the conformation that contemporary figurative painting is writing another history, asking questions, unnerving questions, and instead of a representation of authentic validity of form, beauty, balance, it tells stories through expression.