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Radical Figures: Painting in the New Millennium

Whitechapel Gallery, London


This survey looks at the resurgence of figurative painting in the present moment. It includes 10 artists from seven countries who have come to prominence since 2000, whose work both acknowledges the inheritance of 20th-century painting traditions like post-Impressionism and Abstract Expressionism, and adapts these to confront present-day social issues – from gender politics to migration. Find out more from the Whitechapel Gallery’s website.

Preview the exhibition below | View Apollo’s Art Diary here

Maid’s Day Off (2005), Cecily Brown.

Maid’s Day Off (2005), Cecily Brown. Courtesy the artist, Thomas Dane Gallery and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York; © Cecily Brown

Cecily Brown combines the intuitive freedom of AbEx with a sense of structure influenced by study of the Old Masters, creating canvases that are populated by swirling, inchoate figures. In Maid’s Day Off, the freedom of the brushwork invests the domestic interior with a kind of frantic energy, comically illustrating the sense of disorder evoked by the title.

#mydressmychoice (2015), Michael Armitage.

#mydressmychoice (2015), Michael Armitage. Photo: White Cube; © Michael Armitage

A naked woman lies in an idyllic, otherworldly grove – yet the forest that borders it consists not of trees but of bodies, cropped so that only their lower legs are visible. Armitage is riffing here on Impressionist and post-Impressionist nudes – perhaps in particular Manet’s Dejeuner sur L’herbe, and the Tahitian paintings of Gauguin – and the intrusion of these faceless, observing figures reminds us of the voyeurism of this kind of image. Meanwhile, small mammals creeping in the undergrowth – perhaps locating the scene in the painter’s native Kenya – stare out at the viewer, watching us watching them.

Imagine You and Me (2018), Dana Schutz.

Imagine You and Me (2018), Dana Schutz. Courtesy the artist, Petzel Gallery, NY and Thomas Dane Gallery; © Dana Schutz

Dana Schutz’s bizarre, comic-book figures, rendered in thick, wet-on-wet oil paint, are most often arranged so as to suggest stories of calamity. Cast adrift in a boat that’s much too small for them, the two humanoids here gaze lovingly into one another’s eyes, as though unaware of the scene around them.

Feeder (2016), Sanya Kantarovsky.

Feeder (2016), Sanya Kantarovsky. Courtesy of the artist, Modern Art, London, and Luhring Augustine, New York; © Sanya Kantarovsky

The New York-based artist Sanya Kantarovsky draws on influences of Surrealism and post-Impressionism, as well as folk tales and children’s cartoons, to create paintings that are animated by an offbeat sense of wit. Feeder offers a grimacing man in a ruff, head bent; his eyes obscured, the badge on his admiral’s hat comes to seem like the eye of a Cyclops. He grasps a wretched figure – part human, part canine – by the neck, to spoon-feed some unappetising acid-green substance down its unfortunate gullet.

Event website