For a medium so fraught with anxiety — is it dead? is it alive?— it should be no wonder that contemporary artists have overcome the ongoing hysteria and created painting purely for its own sake.

Sydney Painting Now presents a broad survey of current contemporary painters. Positioning emerging alongside established artists, the exhibition is presented in two parts; 13 represented and invited artists are exhibited in the larger space of Galerie pompom and 9 invited artists in the artist-run initiative gallery space of MOP Projects. A departure from the typical gallery rationale, the exhibition exists purely for the purpose of painting, possessing no half-concealed political agenda to convey or didactic curatorial premise to expound.

Having forfeited its transcendental qualities, contemporary painting is no longer bound by historical ideas of what art should be — claiming complete freedom of expression. Impulsive and gestural, the showcase of painting is indicative of a resuscitation of the medium. While the multiplicity of painting styles may run the risk of diluting the exhibition, due to the timelessness of the works, they are exempt from such treatment. The atemporal images of the exhibited artists do not represent the time in which they are made, either through content, style or medium. The works characterise the current cultural moment in painting, rather than pertaining to a singular point in art history. The artists borrow techniques and gesture towards an engagement with traditional painting; developing their own distinct approaches to the treatment of the canvas. 

The potency of the exhibition lies in the way seemingly disparate painting practices converge into a singular stylistic vision. The plastic qualities of painting create a sense of immediacy in the process; the intrinsic ability for the medium to be manipulated may well be its greatest strength. As an extension of the thought processing, the gestural action of painting makes evident the presence of the artist’s hand. Perhaps by way of a poetic accident the works included in the MOP Projects space seem to share abstract qualities, using bright colour and a hypnotic use of shape and line to create energetic, almost dream-like paintings. Subtle similarities and affinities arise when viewing the works exhibited by Galerie pompom. Although slightly more figurative — in some works more than others — there is a definite visual throwback to abstract expressionism. The gestural paintings often disguise serious issues within the staged interiors of their created environments or large-scale expanses of colour.

Painting is an activity of seeing, really looking, overcoming the need for the instant gratification of the digital world, instead slowing down and having a close encounter with the intimate details of a painting. Sydney Painting Now doesn’t intend to be directly prescriptive about the state of contemporary painting, rather it aims to present a cross-section of current practice; cultivating a fluid, critical dialogue about the future of the forever-resurrecting medium.

Rachel Ingham, November 2014

Photos: Docqment