With 31 painters of different generations, geographies, and genres, Mixing It Up: Painting Today certainly offers something for everyone. But this diversity is without cliché, and invites challenging, yet accessible, conversations about the set menu of modern art.
In Untitled (2020), Somaya Critchlow offers her vision of a Black sexual body. Modelled after the Old Masters and rap music, her subject stands with her back arched against the wall. Her pose offers no hint of the geometric Gareth Cadwalladers that stand on the other side. His hyperreal subjects, set against surreal, Daliesque surrounds, more often adorn the folk pop albums of Tom Rosenthal instead.
The Hayward’s upper galleries are dominated by abstract works, with more realistic portraits downstairs. Even these loose boundaries are often blurred. Take Zimbabwe-born artist Kudzanai-Violet Hwami’s array on displacement and identity; her Western-dressed businessman sips from an African vessel, whilst a shadowy family portrait uses inverted colour to depict a potentially haunting past.
Paint here makes direct statements. Mohamed Sami’s Electric Chair I (2020) paints the plush throne of Saddam Hussein, former leader of his native Iran. In Stop Drop (2021), Alvaro Barrington sets a portrait of DMX into concrete, reflecting the impact of prison upon the musician’s life and lyrics. Others use abstract art to address cultural collision.
Yet this is does not contradict the ‘deliberate ambiguity’ common across works. Take Caroline Coon’s footballers and floating women, which share a gender-crossing erotic physicality.
Following on from her Le Rodeur series – currently on show at the Tate Modern – Lubaina Himid reimagines James Tissot’s 19th century composition The Captain and the Mate (2017-2018). Named after its original, Himid replaces the Black body at the centre instead.
All of these artists push the boundaries of painting, often using media in novel ways. Swapping canvas for velvet, Issy Wood makes overwhelming, enveloping works that toy with past and present. Samara Scott combines toilet cleaner and cooking oil with sponges, socks, and electrical cables, creating stained glass panels of household objects.
Challenging the notion of painting itself, these works reveal unexpected connections in time and practice, becoming platforms for new thinking. Mixing It Up also speaks to the international nature of the contemporary painting scene. Though one third of these artists were born abroad, all now live and practice in the UK. It is also the Hayward’s first painting survey to show a majority of women.
In this divisive political landscape, Mixing It Up is a subtle reminder of how our contemporary culture is characterised by diversity – and depends upon it for its own development.
Mixing It Up: Painting Today runs at the Hayward Gallery until 12th December 2021.