Maybe everyone should’ve stopped painting 60 years ago or something. I mean, what can there possibly be left to say with a paintbrush and canvas after Leonardo and Manet and Rothko and Pollock?
Turns out, the answer to that is: ‘a shitload’. This survey show of contemporary painting - almost all recent work from UK-based artists - is a brilliant, dense, confident statement of painting’s staying power and continued relevance. This is painting full of ideas, techniques, aesthetics and approaches that will leave you dizzied.
Right from the start you’re hit with the one-two punch of Lubaina Himid and Lisa Brice, one using flat, bright, simple colours to confront viewers with ideas of race and social responsibility, and the other creating smokey, sensual worlds of empowered female bodies. Damn. Big ideas, big colours, big canvases.
Then you’ve got Jonathan Wateridge’s half-fuzzed out, half-HD portraits, Denzil Forrester’s swirling dub nightclub hedonism and Caroline Coon’s threatening, intense, Rousseau-high-on-second-wave-feminism aesthetic, all shown around some shimmeringly, dreamily beautiful Peter Doig paintings. Unreal stuff.
But it’s the younger artists here that make this really exciting - the Hayward’s giving a huge amount of space to artists most people have never heard of, and that makes the whole show feel seriously special.
Issy wood’s soft, thick, mushy, aloof paintings of clocks and clothes feel like emotional dissociation made flesh; Lydia Blakeley’s neat paintings of animals and memes are constantly strobing between silly and serious; Gareth Cadwallader’s tiny paintings are quietly psychedelic visual maelstroms of unbelievable precision; Somaya Critchlow’s brazen, unabashed, ’70s erotica images are like the greatest, sauciest carboot finds ever; and all of that before you even get to Oscar Murillo’s huge, overwhelming oil stick abstracts or Rachel Jones’s enormous, clever, paintings of teeth.
There are big topics here, and little ones. Big paintings, and little ones too. And so much of it is good. This is a special show.
But there are some missteps. I’m not sure that Samara Scott’s collaged vitrines - which I love - make a lot of sense here. And some of the work on show is a poor rehashing of ideas you’ve seen a thousand times before, some of it is dull, and some of it is just forgettable.
But you’re not meant to come out of a big painting survey show thinking everything here is brilliant, you’re meant to walk away feeling reassured that painting is alive. And when you leave ‘Mixing It Up’, you’ll know for absolute certain that painting’s not just alive, it’s as essential as it’s ever been.