Real painting, figuratively speaking is back. With a bang.
There are some real gems, from painterly near-abstractions to paintings so hyper-real they might have been photographed. Which begs the question, why not take a photograph? But there is undeniably a flawless range and technique in the painting Hegel's Happy Hour, by Garry Denny, a visual pun on Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. Whilst the skill and absolute precision with which Denny paints is to be admired, this kind of straight up portrayal, no matter how skilled, misses, for me, the point of "art". If being presented with a mirror image of wine glasses hanging over a winebar, is art, how does it challenge our perceptions and what we perceive? It doesn't. Pop down to the local pub, take a picture, upload it to Facebook page and hey presto! It's art.
There have been two long decades of endless Emperor's New Clothes charades in the art world, this deconstruction of the tradition of English figurative painting. This appears to have resulted in a backlash. Enfin! Art is a journey into another person's perspective. I don't really want to sleep in an unmade bed.
The winner was Rachel Levitas' Urban Foxes, a sweet study of two foxes in a Lewisham street, bathed in the eerie orange glow of street lamp. Except there were no street lamps painted in. Perhaps it was another visual pun, which was a shame. Painting doesn't need to be clever in this art college graduate way. It is a turn-off. Whilst a good painting, this was by no means the best painting in the exhibition.
|Urban Foxes, Rachel Levitas|
|Goldfinger Four , Peter Wylie|
Also worth a close look are Marguerite Horner's accomplished study in shades of grey and green glazes, like a modern day grisaille of a winter woodland scene and two obscured houses.
|Into the Widerness|
|Untitled Rebeca Byrne|
Isn't that Clive James and surely that's Brian Sewell in Morgan Penn's The Critics? All in all, this exhibition heralds a return to the great English tradition of figurative painting but is a little bit uneven in the selection of the final 67 pieces from over 1 000 entries for the 2010 competition. There has to be more than one artist in the UK (Clara Drummond, Rose) who can paint an attractive and alluring and accurate portrait? Some of the pictures of children were plain disturbing and ugly.
Finally, this bucolic landscape by Malcolm Mitton's Bridge on the River Chatton : Autumn, which embodies all that is great about accomplished figurative painting, it makes you want to be there, step into the frame, enter the art.
*that Pete Wylie?