THE RETURN OF PAINTING

Art is undergoing a resurgence as as we find expression via brush and canvas

When we think of Art most people will imagine painting. From Leonardo da Vinci’s infamous Mona Lisa to Mark Rothko’s iconic abstract works, painting dominates the History of Art.

Its decline in the Twentieth Century was wholly expected, as artists revolted against the status quo and sought new art forms. After Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings, what more could painting offer us?

The 1990s brought us the YBAs (Young British Artists), with artists such as Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin, who shocked the world with their mix-media approach. However, over the past few years something unexpected has happened: a revival of painting has occurred in contemporary art. Just take a look at this year’s graduate show at the Saatchi Gallery, ‘London Grads Now’ (3rd September to 11th October) that showcases the work of 2020’s graduates from London’s top art schools, and you will find an exhibition of predominantly painting.

In an era where art is so diverse, where art can be anything, this revival may seem odd, even backward. This return of painting seems to have gathered momentum in 2020. In this year of uncertainty, it is no surprise that we have gone back to an art form that we are familiar with. This is not the return to an art we already know but sees the rise of a new wave of emerging young artists. The exhibition ‘A Focus on Painting’ at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London (12th September to 21st October), showcases four contemporary painters, who challenge the medium in different ways. Rachel Jones’ abstract paintings are in no way traditional.


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By Cherry Irvine: Arts Columnist


Her small scale works on unstretched canvas draw attention to the relationship between paint and canvas. Without a frame the canvas ripples under the weight of the paint, meaning the paintings appear like cuts and gashes on the white walls they are pinned to. The work of the American artist Dona Nelson also seeks to explore the possibilities of the medium.

She is known for her ‘two-sided’ paintings, where she applies paint to both sides of the canvas, meaning there is no front or back. Her works hang not on a wall, but stands in the middle of the room, more like a sculpture than a painting. Not since the Abstract Expressionist movement in the 1950s has painting been so experimental. The movement was a revolt against traditional figurative art. Instead artists such as Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko and Helen Frankenthaler created art that focused purely on the medium itself, and the very act of painting.

Like Abstract Expressionism, the return of painting to contemporary art is a rebellion against the current art world, where conceptual art has taken precedence. Conceptual art can seem so complicated and inaccessible, its often grand ideas has excluded the masses and has solidified the idea that art is elitist. Painting being (mainly) two-dimensional, makes it perfect for viewing on Instagram.

The bright colours and gestural qualities of paint are easily communicable even through a phone screen. Being ‘social-media friendly’ does not diminish the impact of seeing the paintings of Jade Fadojutimi but has only furthered her popularity. At 27 years old the artist is the youngest person to have her work exhibited in the Tate collection. Her abstract paintings are dynamic and full of energy; you could easily lose yourself in their bold lines and brilliant colours. Like many of her contemporaries, Fadojutimi is pushing the boundaries of painting, whilst remaining true to its fundamental properties. Her work’s popularity is reaching a new, young audience. Its time to get excited about painting again.


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MACKAYAN: THE RETURN OF PAINTING