Expectations are high—at least from me—for the Hayward Gallery's eagerly anticipated major autumn survey of contemporary painting by UK based-artists. But for now, appetites can be whetted in the South Coast seaside town of Margate, where a tightly curated exhibition provides a taster of how the medium is being explored by artists, both local and international, to express how we live today.
Breakfast Under the Tree at Carl Freedman Gallery brings together work by a multigenerational lineup that depicts places, spaces and people both real and imaginary in a wide variety of styles, ranging from the cartoonish to the lushly painterly and, sometimes, tipping into ceramics and textiles. Gender and identity politics combine with eating, fucking, posing and lounging, and throughout there is a keen awareness of the heavy weight of white patriarchal art history that sits on the end of every paintbrush.
Over the past year, Lindsey Mendick has been attracting widespread attention with her installations featuring bawdy, coruscating ceramics and she doesn’t disappoint here with a series of splay-legged pelvis pots and a trio of ceramic wall reliefs that reboot the still life tradition in a gloriously abject celebration of party debris: fag ends in the food platter, anyone? Now a Margate resident, Mendick and her partner Guy Oliver recently opened their own not-for-profit gallery Quench, alongside their studios in the town which is already establishing a reputation for a punchy, take-no-prisoners programme.
Mixing things up as well is Seattle-based Jeffry Mitchell who is best known for his exuberantly modelled ceramics. But here he has produced a large monochrome textile wall piece which from a distance resembles a richly ornamented depiction of the elephant-headed Hindu deity Ganesh. Up close, however, it boils with detail, revealing a mass of inky cartoon faces, some grinning, some with bristling moustaches, some of which seem to have been spray painted. The entire surface is further animated by silver flashes of aluminium leaf.
Multifarious forms of sensuality are a dominant theme. In a crisply graphic painting by the veteran British feminist Caroline Coon, the sunny street of Ladbroke Grove in West London explodes with a hard bodied crowd of naked males and females dancing with energetic abandon. There are more fantastical frolics in a series of drawings by Coon that receive their first showing. Here, hermaphrodite humans cavort with a Boschian cast of bizarre creatures in a benignly libidinous paradise.
There’s a languorous sensuality in a large work by Israel-born, Brooklyn-based Doron Langberg. where two young men in their underpants and their large Labrador dog lounge in shade, bathed in a glowing rosy light. A smaller canvas, also by Langberg, whips up a more energetic fucking via a series of rhythmic, rippling brushstrokes. More austere is Jon Key, who grew up in rural Seale, Alabama and is now based in Bushwick, New York. He presents stylised images of himself and his friends locked into flat planes of vibrant purple, scarlet and gold ochre, and identifies the themes of "Southernness, Blackness, Queerness and Family" as “the four pillars grounding [his] work.”
Another rising star of the queer New York painting scene is Ana Benaroya, whose colour- saturated, explosively executed figures shimmer with female power and dominance and who, in the work on show, are breathing fire. There’s also a small richly painted canvas by Salman Toor, who recently had a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum, which offers a contemporary riff on Watteau’s Fêtes Champêtre (1719-21) and the al fresco sexiness of Manet’s Dejeuner sur l’herbe (1862-1863). In Toor's painting, young men bend, stretch and brandish weights in an impossibly verdant, bucolic setting, all rendered with a sketchy, Old Masterly lushness.
One of the many joys of this show is the mixture of more well known names—such as Coon or Toyin Ojijh Odutola, or Hannah Quinlan and Rosie Hastings, who are showing their large tableau Sleepers—with work that I knew less well, or not at all. I first encountered the dreamy, intimate queer visions of British Nigerian Sola Olulode at Infinity of Traces, Ekow Eshun’s exhibition of UK-based Black artists at Lisson Gallery earlier this year. Now it is a treat to see another of her tender, romantic scenes in ink and acrylic in which two couples, their bodies painted in her trademark glowing indigo, are locked in an intense moonlit embrace. But completely new to me was the elaborately composed group portraits of New York based Oscar yi Hou, or Mozambique-born, US-based Cassi Namoda, who has here relocated Edvard Munch’s Dance of Life (1899-1900) in her native Namacurra.
The curator of Breakfast Under the Tree is Russell Tovey, who as well as being an award winning actor is also an avid art collector, co-host of the podcast Talk Art and a judge for this year’s Turner Prize. This stimulating and beautifully installed show is testament to his eye, his energy and his boundless enthusiasm. Well worth a trip to the seaside, whatever the weather.
• Breakfast Under the Tree, Carl Freedman Gallery, until 5 September
• Appau Jnr Boakye-Yiadom—During: Changeable Behaviour/Behaviour Change, (Here Soon), Quench Gallery, until 14 August