For young artists, "painterly" language is back in fashion.by David Killen / September 24, 2013 / Leave a comment
Painting seems to be back in fashion. Not the cool, flat canvases left behind as a backdrop for posh dining while the artistic mainstream went elsewhere. This is painting with a capital “P,” splattered and caked into existence by artists who paint as if their life depended on it. Painters in their twenties and thirties, making visceral, mature, compelling work – and getting recognised for it. Established galleries are interested. There’s a real buzz in the air.
Back in 2009 there was a revelatory show of young British painters at the Parasol Unit in Hackney. This was the first hint I’d had that something exciting was going on. These artists had picked up the frayed end of a thread that broke sometime in the middle of the last century when modernism lost its way. They were being unapologetically serious about the act of creation – “re-sacralising… a culture of desecration” to quote Roger Scruton on the task of all serious artists. This was work that demanded attention. One of those young painters, Shaun McDowell, had one man shows in both Bond Street and New York last year. Barnaby Wright of the Courtauld Institute has spoken of him in connection with Frank Auerbach as a keeper of the Auerbach flame. His work, like Auerbach’s, occupies a space between figurative and pure abstraction. Vividly coloured, often wildly executed – it looks as if he’s clawed at the paint with his bare hands in places, these paintings feel unguarded, nakedly emotional. I can’t say I exactly “liked” them at first viewing. But I felt compelled to go back to them more than once. And that’s how one begins a relationship with works of art. There’s a tension that cannot be resolved. And I know that next time he has a show in London, I’ll be there.
Paul Wright is older, just turned forty. After training as an illustrator, he has spent fifteen years developing his own “painterly” language. His show at Cork Street’s Gallery 27 in June this year was an eloquent demonstration of that language in action. His large canvases are about movement and time as much as the ostensible subject matter. Faces and objects are glimpsed rather than exposed, appearing from, and disappearing into a morass of swirling and jagged brush strokes. The palpable physicality of these works makes the act of painting seem very present in them. It’s as though each painting were part of a project to document the real subject – the ongoing process of artistic creation. Again it’s impossible not to think of Auerbach.