Painting Now: Five Contemporary Artists at Tate Britain

By Sarah Jackson | 11 November 2013

Exhibition preview: Painting Now: Five Contemporary Artists, Tate Britain, London, until February 9 2014

Painting of a black cat sitting on a staircase.
Gillian Carnegie, Prince (2011–12)© The artist, courtesy Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne

Painting may be one of the oldest artistic traditions known to mankind, but that doesn't mean that the form is tired or staid. Painting Now brings together five contemporary artists who each have their own distinct take and approach to painting.

Tomma Abts, Gillian Carnegie, Simon Ling, Lucy McKenzie and Catherine Story are all considered to be important painters, yet many of them are little known to a wider British audience. The curators behind Painting Now hope to change that.

Each artist has adopted a different approach to painting that exploits and yet also subverts its conventions. Through their work, the exhibition reveals the numerous relationships between contemporary practices and traditional painting techniques.

Turner Prize winner Abts creates deceptively complex paintings exploring abstract languages of form. Her paintings emerge gradually from layers of paint, developing intuitively as the piece evolves its own internal logic. She often paints several different works simultaneously, cross-pollinating ideas and themes from one painting to another, linked by both form and tone.

Carnegie works within the more traditional formats of landscape and still-life to probe their conventions and habitual responses to the long established subject matter. Her paintings reject narrative, concentrating purely on form and drawing attention to the tension surrounding the surface of the canvas and the illusion painted on it.  She was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2005.

Ling similarly uses traditional practices to further explore and develop his painted works. Taking his paints and easel out into both rural landscapes and east London, he paints what he observes and feels about the location. Some of his landscapes are totally imagined, dreamed up in his studio, but in all his works Ling seeks to create an emotional equivalence to material form.

McKenzie uses a similar approach to traditional practices, using her formal decorative arts training to communicate particular meanings, not aesthetic choices. She shifts between fine art and other fields, including craft, fashion, heritage and commercial art. Painting is but one tool that she uses to create a visual language. None of these disciplines exists in a hierarchy; all are equally valid methods of expression.

Story is also a multi-disciplinary artist, bridging the divide between painting and sculpture. Like McKenzie, painting is but one tool in her arsenal; she uses similar motifs in each discipline but neither medium is a model for the other. They co-exist equally beside one another.

Despite its ancient roots, painting still fascinates artists and inspires them to  experiment. Tate is hoping this this exhibition will engage the art world and the wider general public in a dialogue about the power that painting can still exert.

  • Open 10am-6pm. Admission £8.60-£11. Book online. Follow the gallery on Twitter @tate and follow the discussion with the hashtag #PaintingNow.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Painting of an abstract form against a blue background.
Catherine Story, Lovelock (I) (2010)© Private collection, London

Painting of a cork noticeboard covered with sketches, photographs and colour swatches.
Lucy McKenzie, Quodlibet XXII (Nazism) (2012)© Private collection, Belgium
Abstract painting in orange and silver.
Tomma Abts, Zebe (2010)© Tate
Painting of a block of flats in an urban landscape.
Simon Ling, Untitled (2012)© Courtesy greengrassi, London

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Follow Sarah Jackson on Twitter @SazzyJackson.

Latest comment: >Make a comment
Simon Ling's painting captures perfectly the "period feel" of the architecture of schools and art colleges I attended - with the added decadence of a lazy afternoon glow on the window detail.
I hope he has been deliberate in his use of perspective to create the quirky nature of the building facets rather than it having happened by default.
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