Feast your eyes! – review of Mixing It Up exhibition at Hayward Gallery.

Hayward Gallery presents a fresh survey of contemporary painting. With carefully picked thirty one artists, the exhibition aims to show the sheer variety of painted works produced in the country. The artists work predominantly in Britain but they hail from the UK and different parts of the globe, bringing unique perspectives to our art scene. 

The exhibition spreads over two floors, with the lower galleries reserved for figurative and representational painting. In the upstairs rooms the works are more abstract and created with more experimental use of paint. 

Starting the tour in the lower level, the first work that we see is a large acrylic painting by Lubaina Himid titled The Captain and The Mate (2017-2018). Himid is one of the most successful contemporary artists in the country. Born in Zanzibar, Tanzania, she was the leading figure of the British black arts movement in the 1980s. She was also the first woman of colour to win the prestigious Turner Prize (in 2017). The artist continues to make works challenging historical narratives, especially in reference to the transatlantic slave trade. Himid’s solo exhibition at Tate Modern is opening later this year, so watch this space.

Photo showing inside of art gallery with white walls. On the left in the background are two paintings. the left one has a woman shown from chest up playing a guitar with black bird wings hovering above her. the right one is a nude redheaded woman running across a green field with a war airplane above her. On the right in the foreground is a painting on a ship. In the centre of this painting are two figures of Black men in eighteenth century clothing, in the foreground lower left corner there are two figures of Black women embracing each other. On the right is a large yellow basin with two handles.
Mixing It Up exhibition view. On the left Sophie von Hellermann – Hope and History (2021), and (centre) Perfidious Albion (Spitfire)(2021) on the right Lubaina Himid -The Captain and The Mate (2017-2018).

Reclaiming and rewriting the canon can be noticed in other works on this floor. Also in the same room are canvases by a contemporary South African painter Lisa Brice (see more about her works here). Brice paints mostly female figures, her works are filled with art-historical references, the colours she uses are very saturated and unnaturalistic. There is usually a cat somewhere, a kind of a trademark feature for the artist. 

A painting showing a Black woman standing and partially hiding behind a green and red door. The woman is smoking a cigarette which is giving a reddish smoke and holding a door handle. She is wearing an orange hat and long blue sleeveless dress. At her feet is a black cat with an angry expression, its mouth wide open.
Lisa Brice – Untitled (After Vallotton) (2021)

Several artists on display take inspiration from popular culture in order to subvert the canon, such as works referring to reality TV or rap songs clips by Somaya Critchlow, or Lydia Blakeley’s satirical Is this Internet Art? Exchange 2 (2021), depicting a popular Internet meme, asking the viewers to make their own judgement. 

A painting depicting a white monkey cat meme, the figure of the 'monkey cat' is sitting on top of a brown box with its hands spread in a questioning pose. the background is brown.
Lydia Blakeley’s Is this Internet Art? Exchange 2 (2021)

Mohammed Sami, born in Iraq, often references the catastrophic invasion of Iraq, but in a subtle, subversive way. Ominously titled Electric Chair I (2020) looks innocent at first glance, but is in fact a painted representation of the golden throne used by Saddam Hussein. The absence of human figures in Sami’s landscapes or interiors is  eerie and full of tension. 

View of gallery exhibition. We can see a and short rope barriers in front of three paintings on a white wall. On the left a small painting showing a dark rope swing on a blood-red background. 
In the centre is a larger and wider painting depicting dark trees and buildings with yellow lights between the trees. Above the trees is blue sky with white-grey clouds. On the right is a tall and narrow painting of a gold chair with light blue upholstery on dark background.
Mixing It Up exhibition view – paintings by Mohammed Sami

An important theme for several presented artists is identity and heritage, for example Denzil Forrester, Caroline Coon, Hurvin Anderson, Peter Doig, and Kudzanai-Violet Hwami. While some of the artists chose to depict the life around them, others venture into the realm of abstraction, sometimes they combine both, such as the abovementioned Hwami. In the Family Portrait (2017) the artist, born in Zimbabwe, examines complex relationships with the past mixing naturalistic human figures with abstract strokes of colour. 

Painting showing a Black family including from the left a father, mother holding a small child and another child whose face appears to be scratched off, all sitting on a brown sofa. in the abstract blue, orange and yellow background is a blue white and black negative of a photo showing an adult and a child sitting together in an interior.
Kudzanai-Violet Hwami – Family Portrait (2017)

Moving along, Allison Katz, who incorporates rice in her oil paintings and Issy Wood who often uses unconventional supports for her painting, such as velvet, are both testing the limits of paint as a medium. This experimentation trend continues upstairs with mixed-media works by Alvaro Barrington, and Merlin James to beautiful stained-glass-like works of Samara Scott. Using a vast array of traditional paint and far from conventional materials, Scott’s translucent compositions take the art of painting to a whole new level. Consider the mind-blowing mixture of media used in Flowers and Fruit (2021) which includes: plexiglass, sandwich bags, hair mask, toothpaste, leg wax and mouthwash. 

photo of a tall mixed media painting looking like a multicoloured abstract stained-glass
Samara Scott – Flowers and Fruit (2021)

Also upstairs we can see the explosion of abstract shapes and colours represented by large works of Rachel Jones, Jadé Fadojutimi and Oscar Murillo. The canvases of Murillo are more restrained in colour, yet still expressive. 

View of exhibition in gallery, grey tiled floor, corner of two white walls, a fragment of grey and white bench in foreground. Left and centre two multicoloured abstract paintings. On the right a larger abstract painting in white, black, red and blue colours.
Mixing It Up exhibition view. left and centre works by Rachel Jones, right by Oscar Murillo

The exhibition really lives up to its name, it’s a stimulating mix of styles, techniques and themes. From naturalistic figurative art of Matthew Krishanu and Graham Little, through softer and more painterly canvases of Sophie von Hellermann and Gabriella Boyd, to hyperrealism of Gareth Cadwallader, Louise Giovanelli and Jonathan Wateridge. It’s quite a challenge to wrap your head around everything you see. Caragh Thuring gives a nod to Pop-Art, while works of Vivien Zhang and Daniel Sinsel are part Pop and part surreal. Paintings of Rose Wylie, Andrew Pierre Hart and Tasha Amini can be described as figurative abstraction.  

The few hours I spent in the gallery were very enjoyable. With a selection of diverse works of over thirty artists it’s quite a lot to take in, but ultimately there is something for everybody. If you love painting and want to keep up to date with contemporary art, this exhibition is definitely for you.

Artists featured in the exhibition listed alphabetically: 

Tasha Amini, Hurvin Anderson, Alvaro Barrington, Lydia Blakeley, Gabriella Boyd, Lisa Brice, Gareth Cadwallader, Caroline Coon, Somaya Critchlow, Peter Doig, Jadé Fadojutimi, Denzil Forrester, Louise Giovanelli, Andrew Pierre Hart, Lubaina Himid, Kudzanai-Violet Hwami, Merlin James, Rachel Jones, Allison Katz, Matthew Krishanu, Graham Little, Oscar Murillo, Mohammed Sami, Samara Scott, Daniel Sinsel, Caragh Thuring, Sophie von Hellermann, Jonathan Wateridge, Rose Wylie, Issy Wood and Vivien Zhang. 

Mixing It Up. Painting Today exhibition on display at the Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre, London from 9 September 2021 until 12 December 2021.

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