Image: Mixing It Up: Painting Today review
Detail of Lisa Brice, Smoke and Mirrors, 2020. © Lisa Brice
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Mixing It Up: Painting Today review A showcase of devotion to an age-old medium

12 September 2021

By Laura Cumming

stunning image opens this show: of a small woman balancing on a towering stool to paint a substantial canvas on the wall. Look twice and you see that she is working on a picture of herself, larger than life and clearly made without any use of a mirror. Her shadow on the rear wall is larger still, and so gracefully painted by the South African artist Lisa Brice as to amount to a third portrait of this woman, namely the Dutch painter Charley Toorop (1891-1955), whose art has only recently received its due.

Brice’s triple portrait of Toorop, painted in hazy monotones, literally raises her up, enlarging upon her gifts, her self-knowledge and struggle. It is a highly intelligent hymn of praise, a spellbinding commemoration.

It is also the ideal herald for what follows, which is nothing less than a show of enormous and lifelong devotion to painting by 31 contemporary artists, many born elsewhere but who all now live in Britain. The oldest is in her 80s, the youngest under 30.


Since each artist is represented by several works, beautifully displayed with plenty of radiant thinking space in architectural enclaves, there is the feeling of seeing many small shows. Yet there is a constant and unifying energy to the whole experience – rich, absorbing, eventful, and as connected to the life of our times as anything in contemporary fiction. (...)

Although there is mercifully no curatorial agenda in Mixing It Up: Painting Today – other than the belief of the Hayward Gallery’s director, Ralph Rugoff, that the UK currently has one of the world’s great painting scenes – there are definitive groupings in the presentation. An upstairs room is concerned with illusion, specifically the paradox of depicting the 3D world in two dimensions (...)

One space is devoted entirely to abstract painting (...). And a downstairs room gathers together all the coarsest and most eye-jabbing works in the show, mainly overwrought or hyperreal paintings involving creatures. (It is on the right as you enter.) But the proportion of duds in Mixing It Up is unusually low.

The manner of making is as diverse as the content. Paint is applied by airbrush, rags or fingers; there is faux-fresco, spatter, wash and drip; a kind of painting that shows all its own workings and a kind that seals over everything below the surface. 
Nothing comes of nothing in art. No painter works entirely alone. What is so special about this particular lineup at the Hayward Gallery is precisely what unites these painters: their sincerity and integrity, none of them despising their medium, conceptualising its value, character or past, or using pigment for secondary purposes. That Rugoff could put on such an absorbing and dynamic exhibition even without involving so many other contemporary stars is a testament to the pure strength of these paintings.
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