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Issue 1774
The student newspaper of Imperial College London

Keep the Cat Free

Contemporary art - mixed up!

Hayward Gallery seeks to present the entire repertoire of contemporary British art in this one stop - jarring but highly revealing exhibition!

Miu1 Photo: Lisa Brice (2021), Photo: Mark Blower


in Issue 1774

Art Exhibition

Mixing It Up: Painting Today

★ ★ ★ ★
Hayward Gallery
Until 12th December, 2021

Hayward Gallery - for the uninitiated, sits on the southern bank of Thames (once home to yesteryear’s avant garde), at the end of Waterloo bridge right along side its humble compatriots, the Royal Festival Hall, and the National Theatre within the Southbank Centre. Proud in its brutalist architecture, it flaunts its naked concrete at us while inviting us over to its latest exhibition — "Mixing it up: Painting today". 

Billed as an exposition of contemporary UK painters; the exhibition brings together 31 remarkably talented artists under one roof; And through its serving of 130 exhibits, it offers everything to the viewer from abstraction to surrealism; oil on canvas to painted puffed rice and relief work; political commentary to moralism and more. Arranged in a vast gallery space spread over 2 levels, the exhibition achieves nothing better than it does in showcasing its variety - in form, narrative, context, medium and technique.  

And the art works, clustered together by artists, is presented well to exposit this aspect right from the beginning. We are greeted as soon as well enter by the sharp fluorescent chromatones of Lubiana Hamid’s “The Captain and The Mate". Two figures centre stage look straight ahead, with a focussed singular perspective on us; We are viewers to each other. Vivid use of shape lines and bright colours and contours that conveys a multi-dimensionalism to the painting. And almost in abject contrast - lies nearby work by Sophie von Hellermann, full of haze and dreamy motifs. In one painting, a German women, naked, runs away from a British spitfire during WW2. Rendered by Hellermann with a neutral, more withdrawn colour palate, in contrast to the brazen bright colours of Hamid’s work, it brings out the subtlety of the horror behind the painting without being over the top. And this variety set in tone between works only builds as one moves through the landscape - with each artist comes a completely new perspective, technique, and context to painting and the medium.  

Sophie Von Hellermann Hope And History Photo: Sophie von Hellermann, Photo: Ollie Harrop
Hope and History, 2021, acrylic on canvas, 200 x 190 cm

In Kudzanai-Violet Hwami’s Biro, her ‘western man’ sits with brooding eyes against a backdrop of a colonial map of rural Rhodesia. Dressed in a suit, he drinks from an Bira looking ahead, the pain in his eyes - ours to share. The map in the backdrop is painted over by huge swathes of blue. The social commentatory on this is not lost – and again following the muted undertones of Hellermanns’ work – contrast!  

Next comes Jonathan Watering’s series of couch paintings - photo-realist paintings of every day life. Brought about without an overt commentary - political or otherwise; Followed by abstract work by Hurvin Anderson and on and on… 

... the breadth and brazenness  with which the works are displayed here jars the viewer into submission by the end.

These examples cited above are but only a few that highlight the rich landscape of contemporary British work that "Mixing it up" so masterfully juxtaposes. There is too much talent here in this exhibition to pursue discussion and discourse on each artist and painting. But this very breadth does beg the question — at what point is all this too much? After a plethora of paintings of variety; each ever so different from the last but just as meaningful - it does all tend to coalescese, blur... exist as one. And to be clear the number is the culprit here, not the art - and certainly not the artists. 31: why did the curators chose 31? Why not 30 or 20 or even 10 for that matter? 

So what we have at the end of the day is an exhibition that has got all the right ingredients but fails to hit the perfect mark: Much like the brutalist architecture of the gallery that houses it — the breadth and brazenness with which the works are displayed here jars the viewer into submission by the end. However, despite the palette being this broad, with such quality one can forgive the proportions of the paint in the mix.  

Lubaina Himid The Captain And The Mate Photo: Lubaina Himid (2021), Photo: Andy Keate
The Captain and The Mate, 2017-2018, acrylic on canvas, 183 x 244 cm

Stopping for a bit to collect my thoughts after this promenade, I inevitably found myself dragged to a painting by Luca Brice, overleaf Lubiana Hamid’s "The Captain and The Mate", at the beginning of the exhibition. Featuring dark palettes of blue and red, a lady with a smoke in her hand peers through a half open door to either wave us goodbye, to share her a smoke or to greet us; all while a shrouded mysterious figure hangs around the back. For equal measure, there was also a black cat perched comfortably across the threshold, screeching at us for presumably disturbing its quiet feline life! 

Leaving the exhibition with this picture in mind, I’d like to think there is a story being told here, of the type told in hushed corners, featuring dimly lit quarters, smokes, felines, and the silhouettes of a women behind half closed doors. Perhaps not a story - must be a secret then!  

So spare an afternoon (or a day) and knock on these concrete pillars, listen close to the lady, her cat, and the rest of her cohort – and I think they might just share that secret with you as well – listen close — (for as you might discover yourself) about just how much more there is to contemporary British art than Banksy! 

Mixing it up – runs until the 12th of December, 2021. Do not miss it!  

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