The Cynthia Corbett Gallery and the Young Masters Art Prize – founded by the Gallery’s eponymous director – have dressed The Coningsby Gallery in perennial eye pleasers, watch-worthy newcomers and mod miniatures by last year’s much-deserved winner Juergen Wolf.
Tapping a rich vein of talent in all mediums, this year the gallery’s walls are slick with oils as painting takes centre stage (accentuated by a Versailles mantlepiece’s worth of cutting-edge china from the Young Masters Maylis Grand Ceramics Prize). Andy Burgess‘ geometric, David Hockney-homaging works; photorealist figures steeped in von Honthorst light by Charles Moxon; and slap-dash delicacy in Cecile Chong‘s wax-splattered and embroidered, Xieyi-style canvases, head up a colourful crop of works that doff hats to the old guard while chattering in a patter that’s decidedly now.
Deborah Azzopardi‘s is one of the louder voices – and palettes – on show. Her heroines recall Lichtenstein’s primary-hued damsels in distress, but more strident in their sexuality; they revel in erotically charged moments, and their obscured faces allow viewers to project their own desires onto them (I liked the impressive painted rack on Azzopardi’s business card). There’s an inverse nod to nostalgia too; Tom Farthing‘s paintings of fleeting summer moments recall Seurat and Renoir, but capture the unpracticed immediacy of a hurried snap from a 1970s family photo album too.
Ceramicists have subverted porcelain’s norms, wrangling the most genteel of 18th-century crafts into twisted and comedic forms. Winner of the ceramics prize, Matt Smith, creates figurines ripped from the nightmares of Royal Doulton whimsies; his Feast Part I seems to recast Silent Hill’s Pyramid Head as Mr Darcy in a disarming culture clash. Chris Antemann‘s orgiastic tableaux vivants were created in collaboration with 300-year-old, German porcelain masters Meissen, bestowing an air of authenticity and refinement to the lascivious figurines. In more abstract fashion, Korean artist Jongjin Park creates vases from thousands of porcelain-coated sheets of tissue paper – a nod to painstaking artisanal practices of the past.
History’s dredged up here, but there’s little hand-wringing over past wrongs; grandstanding is largely eschewed for respectful tributes and dedicated craftsmanship instead, such as Burgess’ lovingly rendered miniature of Lois Welzenbacher’s Heyrovsky House or Eleanor Watson‘s Vermeer-inspired domestic scenes. However, a quieter message does little to dull the medium; razor-sharp precision, astute broad strokes and covetable colour schemes have us eager for the finishing touches on next year’s expectant canvases.
The Cynthia Corbett Gallery’s Summer Exhibition 2015: Focus on Painting is on at the Coningsby Gallery until 13 June 2015.