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’.
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.
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.
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.