Mixing It Up: Painting Today

Hayward Gallery, London 9 September – 12 December


Painting is having its temperatur­e taken again, and evidently the patient is in rude health. Cramming 135 works into London’s Hayward Gallery, Mixing It Up: Painting Today is an exuberant multigener­ational survey bringing together 31 painters ostensibly connected by nothing other than a commonalit­y of medium and that they all work in the †‡. Curator Ralph Rugo‰ explains his rationale in the catalogue, writing that the artists ‘share a significan­t interest in mining their medium’s exceptiona­l multiplici­ty, and exploiting its potential as a format in which things can be mixed up as in no other’. Put another way, there is no discernibl­e theme here, just an exhibition boldly living up to its title. The result is a joyfully disjointed testament to painting’s unswerving vitality.

Walking around the galleries, one is struck at just how materially convention­al the selection is. It’s been more than 70 years since postwar artists began probing painting’s boundaries by expanding it spatially and materially, yet most works here are resolutely bound to the medium’s historical, market-friendly parameters. Nonetheles­s, some outliers are found amidst the prepondera­nce of stretched canvases, such as the hip-hop-inspired works of Alvaro Barrington; his Ikea-inflected brutalism ditches cotton duck for carpet and wooden stretchers for unwieldy concrete cubes. Another is Samara

Scott, whose inclusion is perplexing since she describes her concoction­s of toilet cleaner, shampoo and cooking oil on the wall text as ‘almost a total resistance to painting’.

In a show where painting’s heterogene­ity is repeatedly demonstrat­ed from within convention­al confines, her works feel like interloper­s.

For some, a commitment to traditiona­l forms reflects a desire to engage with and subvert the pictorial history of painting, particular­ly its alliance with the white male Eurocentri­c gaze. Lubaina Himid, in The Captain and The Mate (2017–18), ri‰s on James Tissot’s 1873 painting of the same name, replacing its

white sailors with black figures in reference – we’re told – to the infamous nineteenth­century slave ship Le Rodeur, from which 39 African captives were thrown overboard following the outbreak of a mysterious eye disease. Elsewhere, Somaya Critchlow’s sensuous portraits of nubile black women rewire Western tropes of the female nude, calling up references from Renaissanc­e portraitur­e to 1970s pinups. Conversely, the gentle interiorit­y of the two boys who roam backwoods and explore ruins in Matthew Krishanu’s quietly taut scenes inspired by his Bengali childhood redress the historical objectific­ation of brown bodies by the likes of Paul Gauguin and others.

Since many of these artists treat their canvases as sites of assemblage, where references from diverse territorie­s and time periods commingle, the principle of collage provides another possible through-line. Take Hurvin

Anderson’s richly textured paintings, which draw on his Jamaican-british heritage to demonstrat­e painting’s capacity for collapsing time and space. The sense of geographic dislocatio­n and interplay of figuration and abstractio­n in Anderson’s works owes much to his former tutor Peter Doig, a vastly influentia­l figure who inspired a generation of painters and is represente­d here by a surprising­ly underwhelm­ing selection. Upstairs, in one of the show’s most coherent and satisfying groupings, Oscar Murillo’s moody manifestat­ion paintings (2019–20), with their dense and vigorous marks scrawled onto patchworks of canvas, velvet and linen, meet the gestural, rhythmic lines of Jadé Fadojutimi’s luminous semiabstra­ctions and Rachel Jones’s dazzling, intensely variegated compositio­ns that appear wholly abstract but actually depict flamboyant teeth grills.

Death is a prevalent theme in painting, and many works here allude to life’s fragility: from Graham Little’s decomposin­g fox meticulous­ly rendered in gouache, to Barrington’s hulking portrait of the recently deceased American rapper ¢£¤, to Rose Wylie’s imposing stealth bomber painted in thick impasto. The spectre of death hangs heavy over the paintings of Iraqi artist Mohammed Sami, who draws on harrowing memories of the tumultuous period following the ¦§-led invasion of his homeland in 2003. The disquietin­g canvas Infection (2021) presents an open door, its dark shadow partially obscuring a poster of Saddam Hussein, leaving visible only the dictator’s upraised arm. In the foreground a green spider plant casts a shadow suggestive of a deadly black widow. Ambiguity prevails: this doorway could lead to death, or perhaps o¨er an escape to a new life. As for painting itself, death’s door has never seemed so distant. David Trigg

 ?? ?? Matthew Krishanu, Two Boys (Church Tower), 2020, oil on canvas, 45 × 35 cm. Photo: Peter Mallet. © the artist
Matthew Krishanu, Two Boys (Church Tower), 2020, oil on canvas, 45 × 35 cm. Photo: Peter Mallet. © the artist
 ?? ?? Rachel Jones, lick your teeth, they so clutch, 2021, oil pastel and oil stick on canvas, 250 × 160 cm. Photo: Eva Herzog. © the artist. Courtesy Thaddaeus Ropac
Rachel Jones, lick your teeth, they so clutch, 2021, oil pastel and oil stick on canvas, 250 × 160 cm. Photo: Eva Herzog. © the artist. Courtesy Thaddaeus Ropac

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