Abstraction fades in and out of fashion, but figurative painting never goes out of style. As Justin Paton, head curator of international art at the AGNSW, points out, “From cave paintings to now, people have always wanted to make pictures of people.” In the group show Something living, Paton has brought together a rich collection of figurative works; paintings which he says offer “a gooey, meaty and visceral contrast to the forms of abstract painting (sometimes called zombie formalism, sometimes called post-internet painting) which have been prominent in recent years.”
The exhibition features recently purchased paintings by Mernet Larsen, Arlene Shechet, Dana Schutz and Ben Quilty. Paton says these works “seemed to call out to each other.” They share, he explains, “intense physicality, shape-shifting forms, visceral textures, a mix of the comic and grotesque, and an absurdist (but also deeply serious) engagement with the human condition.” The show also includes paintings by Georg Baselitz, Neo Rauch and Philip Guston (to name but a few).
“Indeed the title comes from a quote of Guston’s, in which he expresses a desire to make paintings that do more than just illustrate or diagram the world but rather have an uncanny, unruly life of their own.”
At the core of Something living is the realisation that painting may be old-school, but it can still be a risky business. “Paint is a fluid, sticky and hard-to-control medium,” Paton says. “These aren’t images that were pre-planned and executed. Rather they were discovered. That sense of open-endedness and risk is exciting, and so different from the kind of over-controlled and pre- determined imagery that comes at us from every other direction.”