Until Spring 2017, London’s Saatchi Gallery plays host to Painters’ Painters, a coming together of nine practitioners who remain unmoved by the inundation of modern methods embraced by today’s contemporary art world.
It’s easy to presume that painting is falling by the wayside when the likes of Helen Marten and Philippe Parreno are in town. But in the contemporary landscape it can also seem spurious to single it out in this way, in this particular show connecting an at times incongruent group purely by their choice of media. Overall, the collection of artists exhibited doesn’t quite give the impression of being the trailblazing group which the name of the show suggests.
I wended my way around the first seven of the nine artists’ rooms thinking just the above but was hit with a proverbial knockout blow upon entering the eighth, that of Ryan Mosley. The Chesterfield-born Royal College of Art graduate literally leaves it to the imagination insofar as his methods, employing the de tête process by which the painter allows imagery to well up and flow, guided by his mind’s eye. What is not left to the imagination is a breath-taking array of dramatic scenes and figures, full of icons, narratives and fantasy.
There is one particular work displayed which typifies all of this – Tag Team. The painting focusses on two characters reminiscent of a pair of wrestlers who are midway through a typically acrobatic move. They are both depicted side-on like an Ancient Greek vase painting, and, like the Greeks, Mosley has packed the scene with immediately recognisable iconography.
This is where the similarities end though as these icons range from the modern to the prehistoric, the mundane to the fantastical, with one figure jumping naked out of a giant gramophone sporting the bald, moustachioed head of an East Asian monk, and the other with tights, a cowboy boot and an afro. Added to the mix are a monopod smoking a pipe, several serpents and a bearded human skull.
Mosley is unassuming in conversation, and as I attempt to grill him about the mythic nature of his scenes it quickly becomes apparent that it is this de tête process which is at work. The monopod was a failed knee, the tights a failed leg and the gramophone a spontaneous addition — the list goes on. What I find truly wonderful about Mosley’s paintings is that despite the richness of their content, they don’t seem pre-planned; everything is organic, growing out of what came before.
Elsewhere, highlights include David Brian Smith’s psychedelic portrayals of reality, with his Great Expectations – A Windy Day looking not unlike an acid-induced day at Latitude music festival (land of the multi-coloured sheep and the bourgeois). Nonetheless, on the whole, it feels unconvincing that this is the future of painting. It seems for many that sticking to this most traditional medium is increasingly difficult in an age where technologically advanced flying fish inhabit the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern. However, the vitality of Mosley’s work not only reinforces, furthers and inspires the painterly tradition; it makes it appear effortless.
‘Painters’ Painters‘ is showing until 28 February 2017 at Saatchi Gallery, London