Radical Figures: Painting in the New Millennium

Whitechapel Gallery, London

until 30 Aug 2020

Since painting was pronounced dead in the 1980s, a new generation of artists has been revitalising the expressive potential of figuration. Charging their vibrant canvases with a social and political undertow, they echo the words of Philip Guston: ‘I got sick and tired of all that Purity. I wanted to tell stories’.

Michael Armitage 

#mydressmychoice, 2015 
Oil on Lubugo bark cloth
149.9 x 195.6 cm
Private Collection, London © Michael Armitage.

Photo © White Cube (George Darrell)

The paintings of Daniel Richter (b. 1962, Germany) draw from current events – the migrant crisis or Taliban mythology – as do Michael Armitage’s (b. 1984, Kenya) narratives of politics and violence in East Africa, equivocally conveyed in the lush, exoticised style of Gauguin. The rollicking surfaces of Cecily Brown’s (b. 1969, UK) canvases congeal into figures, whose sources range from pornography to art history, before dissolving back into painterly marks.

Sanya Kantarovsky 

Feeder, 2016 
Oil and oil pastel on canvas
190.7 x 140 cm
Tate: Presented by Stuart Shave © Sanya Kantarovsky; Courtesy of the artist, Modern Art, London, and Luhring Augustine, New York
Cecily Brown 

Maid's Day Off, 2005 
Oil on linen
200.7 x 198.1 cm
Courtesy of the Hiscox Collection © Cecily Brown. Courtesy the artist, Thomas Dane Gallery and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

Nicole Eisenman’s (b. 1965, France) protagonists occupy a brightly lit universe that is both dream and nightmare, while Dana Schutz’s (b. 1976, USA) contorted figures give form to unconscious drives. Tala Madani’s (b. 1981, Iran) primal fantasies of abject men and children shift from comedy to debasement, from paint to shit. Sanya Kantarovsky (b. 1982, Russia) and Ryan Mosley (b. 1980, UK) look to art history, literature and children’s stories in their darkly humorous and carnivalesque scenes.

Ryan Mosley 

Cave Inn, 2011 
Oil on linen
214x180cm
Private collection. Courtesy of the artist, Galerie EIGEN+ART, Berlin / Leipzig and Tim Van Laere Gallery, Antwerp. Photo: Dave Morgan

Artists also critique from within or expand on the styles and subjects of canonical male painters. In Christina Quarles’s (b. 1985, USA) canvases, groups of polymorphous nudes are intimately entwined, merging with graphically patterned surfaces. Tschabalala Self (b. 1990, USA) pieces together paint, fabric and print for a cast of characters inspired by the streets of Harlem. Exuberant and explicit, each artist revels in the expressive potential of paint.

Dana Schutz 

Imagine You and Me, 2018 
Oil on canvas
223.5 x 223.5 cm
© Dana Schutz. Courtesy the artist, Petzel Gallery, NY and Thomas Dane Gallery