Nick Hackworth

Being Present: Eight Painters, Jerwood Space

Essays & Reviews Evening Standard

In their aims and ambitions, the organisers of this exhibition are to be lauded. They have brought together eight successful, British figurative painters, aged between 29 and 45, most of them prize-winners in the BP Portrait Award, to show that figurative painting can be as vital and as contemporary a medium as any other in the representation and interpretation of modern life.

The most vocal member of the pack is the youngest, Stuart Pearson Wright, born in 1975, who won the Portrait Award in 2001 and used his victory as a platform from which to harangue Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota for his narrow championing of the so-called avant-garde and bias against more traditional work.

Critic William Feaver’s observation in the Jerwood’s catalogue, that “the resourceful painter may well look more to 14th century Siena than to 21st century Hoxton Square”, would appear to support Pearson Wright’s position.

Certainly, long after the deluded ideologies of modernism and postmodernism that have shaped art for the past century have faded away, the human form will remain the same and people will still be painting it.

Unfortunately, judging by this show, they are likely to be doing it pretty averagely, for the work of these artists is itself symptomatic of the decline they have sought to arrest.

There is some good here: Pearson Wright is a talented painter, though his theatrical elongation of the human form often teeters into caricature; Carl Randall shows some controlled and competent drawings;

Phil Hale is adept at depicting the tones of human skin in his dark works and Brendan Kelly’s The Doorway is an excellent painting, well observed and full of mood.

However, given the status of these artists in their corner of the art world, this show is too full of mediocrity, poor draughtsmanship, crude handling of paint and limited ambition. To a great extent this is not the fault of the artists, for all were taught long after the art schools abandoned the serious teaching of skills in favour of instituting a more conceptual approach to learning.

They are exponents of a tradition that was deliberately killed off rather than dying of natural causes.

Until 4 July. Information: 020 7654 0171.