Somehow, despite everything standing in its way, art is flourishing in London. We’ve got rising rents, exorbitant studio fees, a lack of opportunities and a suffocating cost of living crisis, but still, the young artists of this city are making work, and doing it brilliantly. It would be easy (and lazy) to depict the London art world as entirely rarefied, nepotistic and exclusionary, but the truth is far more open, interesting and varied. There are artists from countless different backgrounds, with different viewpoints, working in all different parts of the city.
And the work they make is varied too. If you go by what the galleries are showing, you’d think London is nothing but wall-to-wall hazy figurative painting, but the variety out there is staggering. Satirical housework performances, immersive rodent-based film installations, ceramic friezes, Frasier Crane, Tupac Shakur, ska, Mariah Carey, sausages, teeth, paintings, sculptures, photos and everything in between; young London art in 2023 is weird, diverse, funny, exciting, challenging.
For me, this is the most exciting young crop of artists I’ve seen since I started at Time Out, more than a decade ago. They’re dealing with major topics like racism, exclusion, mental health, gender, sexuality and poverty, but with a ludicrous amount of joy, pop culture references, fun, aggression and weirdness, it’s actually, really, genuinely, properly thrilling.
So here are our nine favourite young artists working in London today, picked with the help of some of the best curators and gallery directors in the city. You might not be able to hang all of it on your wall, and some of it might even make your parents tut and say ‘I could do that’, but if that’s what you’re after, the past is that way. This right here, this is the future.
(With thanks to the following curators and directors for their contributions: Paul Luckraft, Zabludowicz Collection. Martin Clark, Camden Art Centre. Alex Petalas, The Perimeter. Sarah McCrory, Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art. Cliff Lauson, Somerset House. Selvi May Akyildiz, Frieze No.9 Cork Street.)
Our nine favourite young artists in the city
Rosie Gibbens puts her body on the line in humorous, scathing, surreal attacks on gender roles and femininity. In performances, films and sculptures, she manipulates symbols of domesticity to show how absurd the whole charade is. She gives blowies to a wodge of toothbrushes, twirls nipple tassels with a desk fan, dances seductively with ducks and office equipment, and makes blobby, soft sculptures out of her own body parts. Her art is a bunch of brilliant, visceral, clever, satirical visual gags, and the joke is on us.
With vicious humour and big, bold aesthetics, Olivia Sterling brutally lampoons contemporary ideas of race and representation in modern Britain. Bodies get fed through meat grinders, hands drip with melting ice cream, bums are smeared with sunscreen, skin tones are codified and ethical lines are crossed. Gory, funny and brilliantly painted, it’s like a classic cartoon dragged kicking and screaming into the present day, and you never know whether to laugh or cry.
Where once Pudvine’s paintings were full of grinning dinosaurs and violent, giant penises (his own, obviously), recently they’ve become rife with tortellini, aliens and Frasier Crane. What his art has lost in Jurassic penility, it’s gained in pop culture surrealism, but its aims are still the same: this absurd, ridiculous, shocking, diaristic weirdness is an exploration of the artist’s own fears and anxieties, his worries about death and masculinity, his insecurities, his pangs of guilt and his loves and passions. It’s just everyday life, with all its cocks and supermarket own-brand pasta on display for everyone to see.
Art is a weapon for RIP Germain, aimed straight at the heart of oppressive power structures. His conceptual approach has seen him create intense installations at places like the ICA, filled with things like hydroponic systems, masked security guards and Tupac Shakur chains. His work has loads of ultra-dense cultural references and nods to illicit worlds, but the whole thing is geared towards undermining authority, and exploring the Black experience in the process. It's deeply and intentionally complex, it's art without answers, only questions intended to jab the system in the ribs, over and over.
Jenkin Van Zyl
Through a haze of gore, animalism, fetish club aesthetics and nods to 1980s dystopian cinema, Jenkin Van Zyl makes art about freedom and escape. A recent show at Edel Assanti gallery led viewers through a giant rat's mouth into a hospital/maze to watch a film. Another show at Rose Easton saw a huge latex beast trapped in a filthy glass cage. His work is full of latex costumes, grime and biomorphic prosthetics. It’s sensual and terrifying, and it will absolutely make you wish you could dance with rats.
What is nostalgia if not a kind of grief? Adam Farah Saad uses symbols of his youth to mourn its passing. Their 2021 show at Camden Art Centre had a fountain filled with Ka grape soda, Mariah Carey posters and a Virgin Megastore CD tower playing Sugababes and Madonna’s ‘Ray of Light’. Farah Saad reframes all these signifiers of youth, all this nostalgia, to create genuinely moving portraits of all the memories that make up our lives.
Rene Matić calls it ‘rudeness’; a self-invented genre for a self-invented way of approaching British culture through film and photography. With tons of biographical detail, and a super-confrontational aesthetic, Matić delves into the complex ways West Indian and white working class culture mix and interact in Britain, all while nabbing ideas from the history of northern soul, 2-tone and ska. The result is a harsh, bright, but always tender look at this country and what it has become, a mixture of intimacy and aggression that manages to shock and attract you at the same time.
Turns out it’s not the eyes that are the window to the soul, but the teeth. At least in Rachel Jones’s art they are. Her ultra-vivid take on abstraction – all clashing colours and textures – finds inspiration in an oral fixation, with all the shapes based on teeth, tongues and uvulas. It’s like Clyfford Still with a degree in dentistry, but Jones’s beautiful canvases also explore all the hidden meanings in smiles and frowns, the messages we send with our mouths, and the endless racial and culture symbolism of teeth, making her the most interesting abstract painter working today.
Proudfoot’s enigmatic approach to ceramics has made her work in that medium unique. Her flattened, shadow puppet-esque, glistening assemblages are full of bodies that are being pulled apart and sewn together, hybrid creatures and oodles of hair and wax and food. The result is a bunch of bodily, eerie, gorgeous sculptural installations that feel like they’re hiding countless, unknowable narratives.