Painting is a classic medium, timeless even. Sure it’s had its ups and downs in popularity, but it has remained a staple in arts practice through the ages. It also remains the most complex and challenging art medium out there. As art has developed and changed from its inception as simple communication (cave paintings) to the NOW!, painting has had some challenges to take on: photography, video, performance, the digital… but during my rounds of the degree shows this year, the painting work has continued to impress. When it’s done well, it can be, quite simply, the best.
So, which paintings stood out amongst the madding crowd this year? Here’s my top 10 pick from the shows so far…
Neil Raitt (RCA)
Through all the degree shows, I saw only one artist who had a queue of people to see the work — and that was Neil Raitt at the RCA. Raitt makes large paintings of repeat images. At the RCA install they were snow topped mountains and green fir trees, which, in their turn, make for some incredible viewing. His patience, the glorious outcome, the simplicity and the complexity — just stunning.
Tore Holberg (Goldsmiths)
Tore Holberg was the winner of The Neville Burston Award at Goldsmiths for his BA final exhibition and I can see why. His final project looked like a small curated solo show of works, which went from large images of a monkey painting, to a really stunning painting of some blonde hair. Holberg’s space was my highlight from the Goldsmith’s BA shows.
Eleanor J G Wright (RCA)
Some artists take the idea of classic painting methods and play with the medium. Eleanor J G Wright is one of those. On arriving at the Battersea RCA campus I noticed a large square of pink paint peeling from the blue exterior walls. I loved it — who knew you could get peelable paint? It wasn’t until I walked inside and saw a label for the piece that I realised it was one of the degree installations. Totally fun, it felt like a new way of thinking about painting in relation to architecture.
Robin Seir (Chelsea BA)
Some paintings just hit you immediately; others are a slower burn but stay with you long after you’ve walked away. Robin Seir‘s paintings fall into the latter category. On my first circuit, I didn’t pay too much attention to them, but they reward a longer linger, and have stayed with me as some of the most memorable from the Chelsea degree show. Subtle, minimal and familiar (through his use of nostalgic imagery), I like these the more and more I think about them.
Rosanna Dean (Camberwell)
I don’t often see a piece of work and immediately want to own it. I like to build up a relationship with a piece and see if it stays with me and if I feel the same about it with every re–visit. This is not always the case, sometimes, that rare thing happens when it’s love at first site, and this happened at the Camberwell Degree Show with Rosanna Dean‘s work. I would have happily taken all of her subtly coloured, abstractly–realist paintings off the wall — there and then.
Sean Boylan (SLADE MA)
Painting can sometimes find it difficult to stay contemporary and offer new ways of seeing, but some artists manage to make the medium do just that. Sean Boylan‘s paintings at the SLADE MA were a mix of the abstract and the comic book, this work stood out, and I predict that Boylan will be one to watch.
Steven Gee (East London)
The nice thing about the best contemporary painters is they look beyond the canvas: they see paint as not just something that can represent something else, but as a medium all of its own, sculptural and malleable.Steven Gee, from East London University, paints like a sculptor, working strips of bright colour that wind their way round canvas edges, sometimes sitting a foot away from the walls. The artist pushes the frame for canvas painting forward. He is off to the RCA in September — another one to watch.
Min Jung Kim (SLADE BA)
Although it was of a very high standard, the single painter that really stood out for me at the Slade BA wasMin Jung Kim with a series of moody blue canvases with washes of bright candy colours and abstract shapes. I can’t exactly pinpoint what it was, their appeal evidently being something on a subconscious level. I would buy one of these in a heartbeat.
Hyunjeong Lim (Central Saint Martins)
At the end of year shows I always keep an eye out for two things (in addition to the art works, of course): prize–winners and red dots. Hyunjeong Lim provided the latter, and lots of them too. With work to various sizes and scales, my particular favourite was a tiny postage stamp sized one of a raspberry. I’m still kicking myself I didn’t buy it, in fact. These paintings are incredibly decorative and it is easy to see why they were selling out.
Olivia Peake (Birmingham City University)
Finally a painter from outside of London: Olivia Peake‘s works in the Birmingham City University degree show are architectural. Bright neon colours, lines, splodges, abstract tensions between shapes and spaces, Peake’s painting are ambitious and manage to bring a sense of 3D to their flatness, which is explored further in her installation pieces. Some of her work literally spills out onto the gallery floors in architectural sculptures echoing the lines and neons shown in her paintings. Peake is another one to watch: as her career progresses I have a feeling her works will just get better and better.
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