In a season when the Turner prize— to greatcritical grumbling— was all video and installation, our January walk explored exciting new work in oil-on-canvas. We looked at two pairs of painters: first, at Pippy Houldsworth, we saw work by a painter fresh out of art school, named Aimee Parrott, whose experimentation with raw, textured canvases, thinned pigments and printmaking techniques drew inspiration from the late Helen Frankenthaler (1928 – 2011), one of the few women central to the American Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s and 60s.
Parrott wasn’t so much quoting or referencing Frankenthaler explicitly, rather, she was learning from her techniques, carrying Frankenthaler’s thinned, staining effects further. We saw a fantastic show of new work by Belgian painter Luc Tuymans (b.1958) at David Zwirner , a painter so successful in the early 2000s that people spoke of the “Tuymans effect”— young artists imitated his fast, figurative paintings often after photographs, clippings, and film stills. This particular group of new paintings by Tuymans challenged the idea of “appropriation art” — art that reuses pre-existing images— as ironic or detached. They were meditative, some even grave and dark.
The Shore, was the central work in the show, a large-format painting of a film still from the opening scenes of a 1968 film called A Twist of Sand in which soldiers come into view on a shore, blurry figures unaware they’re about to be gunned down. We got up close to the canvas, seeing how Tuymans covered it entirely in a dark aubergine and then wiped into it, creating his ghostly figures by a process of erasure. We ended the tour at Sadie Coles, whose exhibition of new paintings by Polish artist Wilhelm Sasnal was painted proof of the “Tuymans effect”— we saw similar use of source material from art history and popular imagery, similarly fast, wet, figural canvases, and to prove the point, we saw Tuymans himself at the Sasnal exhibition, checking out the competition, or who knows, maybe drawing inspiration from his own acolyte. This really drove home that oil painting, going back to its formation in guilds and academies, has tended to encourage continuity and tradition, remarkable to see even in an era of explosive technological change in how we make and use images.