REALITY: Modern and Contemporary British Painting is a new exhibition at The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, at the University of East Anglia, Norwich. Curated by artist Chris Stevens, the exhibition brings together over 50 works celebrating the strength of British painting with some of the best and most influential artists of the last sixty years.
Uncompromising and direct, the work of each artist represented retains a strong reference to the real world, ‘the stuff of life’. While, to an extent, painting has been eclipsed in recent decades by the Minimal and Conceptual movements, installation, photography and film, REALITY testifies to the survival of painting as a medium and the impact of British painting today.
Major 20th Century artists are represented such as Walter Sickert, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and David Hockney, alongside contemporary painters including Ken Currie, George Shaw and Caroline Walker.
The artists in REALITY tackle a diverse range of subjects, referencing the body, relationships, history, politics, war, the urban environment and social issues. Despite these different references, the works are all united by two things - the harsh realities that have concerned key British artists over the decades and the simple act of painting.
Walter Sickert’s Ennui is an ideal introduction to REALITY; capturing the banality of everyday life at the beginning of the 20th century. David Hockney’s My Parents beautifully complements Sickert’s work painted over 60 years previously. Hockney has instilled the painting with symbolic references and is a dedication to love and commitment; to the reality of relationships and growing old; to the differences and similarities that unite and separate us.
George Shaw’s dedication to the depiction of his home town, Coventry, reveals the mystery of the mundane, the absence of human life and the unfamiliarity of the familiar. Shaw portrays the narrative in his paintings with great subtlety, almost tenderness; his streets and buildings are deserted, allowing his own emotional response to the ties of suburbia to creep in and take hold. David Hepher’s expansive urban landscapes capture the hopelessness and decay that emanates from these buildings, capturing the lives of the inhabitants who he has chosen to omit from the canvas.
Caroline Walker’s paintings in contrast are voyeuristic; her women appear to be in limbo and seem unaware that they are being observed, either half-clothed or naked. Meanwhile the figures in Chris Steven’s works challenge the preconceptions we have about people -exploring identity, class, race, gender and the environment.
Sam Jackson’s small, intimate portraits bring a certain psychological intensity to his figures – an intensity that is amplified in Ken Currie’s sombre compositions, such as the exposed vulnerability of his Dirty King. Other artists have focussed on domestic interiors, and the work of Anthony Green and Paula Rego allow strange glimpses of the emotional complexity of our lives at home.
Commenting on the exhibition, Curator Chris Stevens said: “It is an enormous privilege to bring together in one exhibition a group of artists who have been a major influence on my personal development as a painter.
“The painters in this exhibition have been selected under the banner of Realism through their interest in everyday subject matter. Each painter is figurative or representational in nature and yet REALITY will present an extraordinary overview of artists with highly individual approaches to the making of a painting.”
REALITY: Modern and Contemporary British Painting features works from the following artists: Francis Bacon, Tony Bevan, John Bratby, Cecily Brown, Katarzyna Coleman, Graham Crowley, Ken Currie, Dexter Dalwood, Lucian Freud, Anthony Green, Gwen Hardie, Philip Harris, Clive Head, David Hepher, David Hockney, Luke Jackson, Sam Jackson, Chantal Joffe, John Keane, L.S. Lowry, Alan MacDonald, Jock McFadyen, Paula Rego, Ray Richardson, Terry Setch, George Shaw, Walter Sickert, Stanley Spencer, Chris Stevens, Caroline Walker, Alison Watt, Carel Weight.