Unfashionable as it has been much of the past few decades, painting remains the artistic medium “favoured by a large majority of artists across the country”, said Mark Hudson in The Independent. So it’s cheering that it has been enjoying something of a critical renaissance of late, with canvases by artists such as Rose Wylie, Michael Armitage and Turner Prize-winner Lubaina Himid occupying gallery spaces that have, until recently, been filled with conceptual and installation art.
This new exhibition at the Hayward Gallery is a bold attempt to survey the state of painting in Britain today, from the “gutsy abstraction” of Oscar Murillo, another Turner Prize-winner, to the “polished photorealism” practised by Zambian-born Jonathan Wateridge.
Featuring the work of 31 artists, including “major figures” such as Peter Doig as well as painters “fresh out of art school” – and what feels like everyone in between – the show is resolutely inclusive: more than half the participating artists are women and many were born outside the UK; yet any sense that the curators have fallen victim to over-zealous positive discrimination is immediately dispelled by the high standard of the works on show. Overall, it is a highly entertaining exhibition that stands out for its “compelling immediacy”.
There’s a lot here to “thrill and delight”, said Alastair Sooke in The Daily Telegraph. The best sections elicit “a rush of tingling excitement”: one gallery pairs “whopping” abstract canvases by Murillo and hotly-tipped artist Rachel Jones; seen together, they “crash over you like breakers”. In the same room, a series of vividly coloured, semi-abstract works in oil pastel by Jadé Fadojutimi “ravish the eyes, stimulating retinas into overdrive”.
Unfortunately, however, such moments of coherence are rare, and on the whole the show is a bit of a mess. The curators’ insistence on diversity – in terms of age, social and ethnic background and style – is noble, but the lack of consistency it entails results in a chaotic “mishmash” of a survey; in general, it feels less like a comprehensive exhibition than a “sprawling art fair”.
Moreover, while most of the artists here fully deserve inclusion, certain works come across as “subdued, timid, even dreary” by comparison to the rest. Ultimately, it’s a missed opportunity.
The exhibition is dramatically uneven, said Ben Luke in the London Evening Standard. It features countless “jarring juxtapositions”, and some of the work just “isn’t very good”. Nevertheless, it is more than worth a visit. Many works are strong enough to “cut through” the muddled displays, losing none of their subtlety: among the more notable are Gabriella Boyd’s “strange but wondrous” images of figures and interiors, and Matthew Krishanu’s “quietly tense” scenes based on childhood memories.
They could hardly be more different from German-born Daniel Sinsel’s immaculate and slightly daft paintings of unlikely objects, one of which depicts a “penile aubergine” with a hot-pink stem “proudly emerging, trompe l’œil style, from the border”. Exhausting as all this variety can be, it is a testament to the “endless material possibilities” of paint. The best of the artists here “create a world entirely their own” – one that could not be communicated through any other medium. For all its shortcomings, this is an exhibition which “demands to be seen”.