Cutting-edge contemporary painting group exhibition opens at the Carl Freedman Gallery in Margate
Expectations are high – on my part at least – for the Hayward Gallery’s long-awaited big 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 carefully curated exhibit gives a taste of how the medium is explored by artists, local and international, to express how we live today.
Breakfast under the tree at the Carl Freedman Gallery brings together works from a multigenerational range that portray both real and imaginary places, spaces and people in a wide variety of styles, ranging from cartoonish to lush pictorial and, at times, rocking into the ceramics and textiles. Gender and identity politics combine with eating, kissing, posing and lounging, and everywhere there is a keen awareness of the heavy weight of white patriarchal art history that sits at the tip of every brush.
Over the past year, Lindsey Mendick has garnered attention with her installations featuring debauchery and coruscating ceramics and she doesn’t disappoint here with a series of splayed-legged basin pots and a trio of ceramic wall reliefs. that rekindle a gloriously abject celebration from the debris of the party: queers end in the food platter, are you tempted? Now residents of Margate, Mendick and her partner Guy Oliver recently opened their own non-profit Quench gallery, alongside their studios in the town which is already establishing a reputation for a hard-hitting, prisoner-free program.
Seattle-based Jeffry Mitchell is best known for his exuberantly patterned ceramics. But here he produced a large monochrome textile wall piece that from a distance resembles a richly adorned depiction of the elephant-headed Hindu deity Ganesh. Up close, however, it is brimming with detail, revealing a mass of inky cartoon faces, some smiling, some with spiky mustaches, some of which appear to have been spray painted. The entire surface is further enlivened by silver flashes of aluminum foil.
The multiple forms of sensuality are a dominant theme. In a crisp graphics painting by veteran British feminist Caroline Coon, the sunny street of Ladbroke Grove in west London explodes with a hard-bodied crowd of naked men and women dancing with energetic abandon. There are more fantastic frolics in a series of Coon designs receiving their first screening. Here, hermaphrodite humans frolic with a Boschian cast of strange creatures in a benevolent libidinous paradise.
There is a languid sensuality in a great work by Doron Langberg, born in Israel and based in Brooklyn. where two young men in underwear and their large Labrador dog bask in the shade, bathed in a dazzling pink light. A smaller canvas, also by Langberg, concocts a more energetic fuck via a series of rhythmic, undulating brushstrokes. More austere is Jon Key, who grew up in the countryside of Seale, Alabama and is now based in Bushwick, New York. He presents stylized images of himself and his friends enclosed in flat planes of vibrant crimson, scarlet and golden ocher, and identifies the themes of “Southernness, Blackness, Queerness and Family” as “the four pillars. of the foundation [his] job.”
Another rising star of the queer New York painting scene is Ana Benaroya, whose color-saturated and explosively executed figures sparkle with power and female domination, and who in the work on display spit fire. There’s also a small, richly painted canvas by Salman Toor, who recently had a solo show at the Whitney Museum, which features a contemporary riff on Watteau. Country Parties (1719-21) and the sexy outdoor side of Manet Luncheon on the Grass (1862-1863). In Toor’s painting, young men bend, stretch, and wield weights in an incredibly verdant bucolic setting, all rendered with rudimentary and masterful lushness.
One of the many joys of this show is the mix of more well-known names, such as Coon or Toyin Ojijh Odutola, or Hannah Quinlan and Rosie Hastings, showing off their big picture. Sleepers– with a job that I knew less well, or not at all. I first encountered the intimate and dreamy queer visions of Nigerian Brit Sola Olulode at Infinite traces, the UK-based black artists exhibition by Ekow Eshun at the Lisson Gallery earlier this year. Now it’s a treat to see another of her tender and romantic scenes in ink and acrylic in which two couples, their bodies painted in her signature glowing indigo, are locked in an intense moonlight embrace. But what is completely new to me are the painstakingly composed group portraits of New York-based Oscar yi Hou or Mozambique-born, US-based Cassi Namoda, who moved here home to ‘Edvard Munch. Dance of life (1899-1900) in his native Namacurra.
The curator of Breakfast under the tree is Russell Tovey, who in addition to being an award-winning actor is also an avid art collector, co-host of the Talk Art podcast and a judge for this year’s Turner Prize. This stimulating and beautifully set up show is a testament to his boundless eye, energy and enthusiasm. Well worth a trip to the seaside, whatever the weather.
• Breakfast under the tree, Carl Freedman Gallery, until September 5
• Appau Jnr Boakye-Yiadom — During: Behavior Modifiable / Behavior Change, (here soon), Quench Gallery, until August 14