New Mythologies. Figurative Abstraction in Contemporary Painting at Huxley-Parlour (exhibition review)

New Mythologies: Figurative Abstraction in Contemporary Painting recently opened at the Huxley-Parlour Gallery. The title of the exhibition sounds like a contradiction in terms, but it describes the selection of works quite well. It features works of seven contemporary artists: Eileen Cooper RA, Ella Walker, Karishma d’Souza, Stephen Chambers RA, Emma Fineman, Iris Schomaker and John Copeland.

Works by Emma Fineman (born in USA, based in London) and John Copeland (USA) are prime examples of contemporary figurative abstraction. Both artists blend figures with abstraction in genres of landscape and portrait respectively. Fineman’s technique is very gestural and expressive, her figures can appear lost in abstracted landscapes. Copeland uses impasto technique effectively distorting the figures, which are the starting point for his compositions.

3) Emma Fineman, Metzeir Tzar, 2018 © the artist, Courtesy Huxley-Parlour Gallery
Emma Fineman – Metzeir Tzar (2018)

Among the artists included in New Mythologies some names might be more familiar than others, such as Eileen Cooper RA, whose characteristic style is instantly recognisable. The British artist is a painter and printmaker. In her three paintings on display bold colours and strong dark outlines catch the eye, while hints of narrative add complexity to these dreamy scenes. Cooper’s style is sometimes described as magic realism and it is easy to see why. The Shadow Fox (2012) is particularly intriguing, limited colour palette and minimal background highlight the performer and the shadow behind her on the wall. According to the artist, the story in a painting begins with a figure, she often paints dancers, artists and performers.

12) Eileen Cooper, Shadow Fox, 2012 © the artist, Courtesy Huxley-Parlour Gallery
Eileen Cooper – Shadow Fox (2012)

Figures are also important to Iris Schomaker (UK) and Ella Walker (UK). Schomaker simplifies her subjects to the point where the silhouettes in bare interiors are reduced to angular outlines, their faces are left blank and impossible to read. Walker’s monumental works on paper, in contrast, are crowded with figures – revellers in carnival processions merge with abstracted surroundings.

Stephen Chambers RA (UK) places his figures in fields of colour serving as landscape backgrounds. The work titled Perfect Nude I (2010) is slightly ironic. Clearly visible underdrawings make it not quite perfect after all. In another curious painting by Chambers entitled Gravity (with Crawling Child) (2005) the viewer imagines what will happen when the child reaches the edge of the table.

13) Stephen Chambers, Gravity (with Crawling Child), 2005 © the artist, Courtesy Huxley-Parlour Gallery
Stephen Chambers – Gravity (with Crawling Child) (2005)

Also on display are three recent works by Goan painter Karishma d’Souza, who belongs to the young generation of Indian artists. One of them Guarded City: Unseeing (2016) is particularly striking and multi-layered. It combines simplified geometric rendering of architecture juxtaposed with meticulously painted details of natural features. Trees resembling simplified human figures guard the walled city from a distance. The painting in question blends several traditions of painting, surrealist bare landscapes, miniature painting and a trompe l’oeil detail in the form of red curtains as if in theatre or a window. Depending on your interpretation, on the windowsill or on the stage a little book is left open in the bottom left corner, reminding the viewer that the scene is a figment of imagination, not real.

18) Karishma D'Souza, Guarded City unseeing, 2016 © the artist, Courtesy Huxley-Parlour Gallery and Xippas Gallery
Karishma d’Souza – Guarded City: Unseeing (2016)


New Mythologies. Figurative Abstraction in Contemporary Painting is at the Huxley-Parlour Gallery, London (12 April – 4 May 2019). The exhibition is a good opportunity to see some exciting contemporary works by established and younger artists side by side.


Check the gallery website, you can see more images here:

Images courtesy of the artists and the gallery.

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