Anish Kapoor is one of the most influential sculptors of his generation. Perhaps most famous for public sculptures that are both adventures in form and feats of engineering, Kapoor manoeuvres between vastly different scales, across numerous series of work. Immense PVC skins, stretched or deflated; concave or convex mirrors whose reflections attract and swallow the viewer; recesses carved in stone and pigmented so as to disappear: these voids and protrusions summon up deep-felt metaphysical polarities of presence and absence, concealment and revelation. Forms turn themselves inside out, womb-like, and materials are not painted but impregnated with colour, as if to negate the idea of an outer surface, inviting the viewer to the inner reaches of the imagination. Kapoor’s geometric forms from the early 1980s, for example, rise up from the floor and appear to be made of pure pigment, while the viscous, blood-red wax sculptures from the last ten years – kinetic and self-generating – avage their own surfaces and explode the quiet of the gallery environment. There are resonances with mythologies of the ancient world – Indian, Egyptian, Greek and Roman – and with modern times.
Chantal Joffe brings a combination of insight and integrity, as well as psychological and emotional force, to the genre of figurative art. Hers is a deceptively casual brushstroke. Whether in images a few inches square or ten feet high, fluidity combined with a pragmatic approach to representation seduces and disarms. Almost always depicting women or girls, sometimes in groups but recently in iconic portraits, Joffe’s paintings only waveringly adhere to their source – be it a photograph, magazine page or even a reflection in the mirror – instead reminding us that distortions of scale and form can often make a subject seem more real.
Imbued with an appearance of scientific rationality, Conrad Shawcross’ sculptures explore subjects that lie on the borders of geometry and philosophy, physics and metaphysics. Inspired by different technologies, the artist’s structures may retain in appearance the authority of machines – yet, they remain enigmatic, filled with paradox and wonder. Some have an absurdist melancholy feel, while others tend to the sublime, substituting the purely functional for phenomenological experience. In the end, Shawcross’s art questions what we take for granted and encourages us to see beyond the physical.
Edmund de Waal’s art and literature speak to his enduring fascination with the nature of objects and the narratives of their collection and display. A potter since childhood and an acclaimed writer, de Waal has a long-held obsession with porcelain, or “white gold.” This fascination has led to encounters with many people and places that have helped deepen his understanding of the nature of the material. De Waal is best known for his large-scale installations of porcelain vessels, which have been exhibited in many museums around the world. Much of his recent work has been concerned with ideas of collecting and collections, and how objects are kept together, lost, stolen, and dispersed. His work comes out of a dialogue between Minimalism, architecture, and sound and is informed by his passion for literature.
Gary Hume is known for figurative and abstract paintings on aluminium panels, which often features startling colour combinations made with paints purchased premixed from a hardware store. Using broad planes of colour and household gloss paint to suggest familiar objects (such as hospital doors), his artwork came to be championed by international art dealers like Charles Saatchi as an innovative contemporary minimalism. He represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1999 and the Bienal de São Paulo in 1996, the same year he was nominated for the Turner Prize. “The edge is the only thing that matters,” he explained of his paintings. “I used to think of the areas of colour as tectonic plates meeting, so in the paintings it’s like there are these molten plates that would hit each other and dry. I wanted one of those plates to be higher than the other, and I wanted the hit to be more abrupt.”
Keith Coventry is a British artist whose work featured in Charles Saatchi’s controversial Sensation show in 1997 at the Royal Academy of Arts. Coventry paints in a number of very distinct styles, and seems to embody the stylistic plurality so typical of our age. He makes what look like minimalist abstracts inspired by the layout of housing estates; he paints white-on-white abstracts which are actually scenes of typical Englishness, such as the royal family at public functions; he makes sculptures of snapped-off saplings or destroyed park benches from inner-city no-go areas; he paints black-on-black abstracts based on flower-arranging or bright Mediterranean scenes by Dufy; and he reinterprets Sickert in a series of figurative paintings called ‘‘Echoes of Albany’’.
Kevin Francis Gray combines the conventions of Neoclassical sculpture with the sartorial sense of urban youth to depict disaffected men and women in various dejected poses. Sculpting in fibreglass, bronze and marble, Gray’s signature style involved obscuring the faces of his figures with floor-length frontal veils or glittering strings of beads, providing stark contrast to the figures’ otherwise contemporary garb and drawing attention to the figures’ physical forms.
Maggi Hambling is a British painter and sculptor. She is best known for her expressive portraits and sublime depictions of landscapes and seascapes. Aside from painting, the artist has made a number of public sculptures, including a tribute to Oscar Wilde in the centre of London, and Scallop on Aldeburgh beach. Hambling is known for her choice in painting the dead. She states that it is her way of grieving for those who are gone, particularly her way of coping with the death of those she held close like Henrietta Moraes, her mother, father in their coffins. Her work is spurred through anger—for the destruction of the planet, about politics, for social issues.
Mark Wallinger has created some of the most subtly intelligent and influential artworks of the last thirty years. Wallinger is known for his career-long engagement with ideas of power, authority, artifice and illusion. Using epic narratives, lyrical metaphors and ardent punning, the artist interleaves the mythological, the political and the everyday. His work has dealt with religion, nationalism and class, explored urgent social issues, and pondered Einstein’s theory of relativity and Freud’s concepts of the nature of the human mind.
A principal figure of British conceptual art, Michael Craig-Martin probes the relationship between objects and images, harnessing the human capacity to imagine absent forms through symbols and pictures. The perceptual tension between object, representation, and language has been his central concern over the past four decades. In the 1990s Craig-Martin developed his hallmark style of precise, bold outlines demarcating flat planes of intensely vibrant colours. Through exacting draftsmanship, he uses composition to explore spatial relationships by juxtaposing and layering colour.
Nari Ward is known for his sculptural installations composed of discarded material found and collected in his neighbourhood. He has repurposed objects such as baby strollers, shopping carts, bottles, doors, television sets, cash registers and shoelaces, among other materials. Ward re-contextualizes these found objects in thought-provoking juxtapositions that create complex, metaphorical meanings to confront social and political issues surrounding race, poverty, and consumer culture. He intentionally leaves the meaning of his work open, allowing the viewer to provide his or her own interpretation.
In Rachel Whiteread’s sculptures and drawings, everyday settings, objects, and surfaces are transformed into ghostly replicas that are eerily familiar. Through casting, she frees her subject matter—from beds, tables, and boxes to water towers and entire houses—from practical use, suggesting a new permanence, imbued with memory. The processes of looking, emptying, and filling run throughout her work, revealing how the surfaces of daily life can disappear and reappear, bearing the traces of their previous lives.
Raqib Shaw’s gloriously opulent paintings suggest a fantastical world full of intricate detail, rich colour, and jewel-like surfaces, all masking the intense violent and sexual nature of its imagery. Populated with a wealth of hybrid creatures, Shaw portrays a dizzying scene of erotic hedonism, both explosive and gruesome in its debauchery. Shaw’s unique technique, where pools of enamel and metallic industrial paints are manipulated to the desired effect with a porcupine quill, meticulously enhances numerous details within the paintings, such as coral, feathers or flowers.
Richard Deacon’s voluptuous abstract forms have placed him at the forefront of British sculpture since the 1980s and, hugely influential, his works are visible in major public commissions around the world. Known for an imaginative and sometimes unexpected use of materials (leather, concrete, laminated wood, steel, marble and ceramics), Deacon has been surprising us with sculptures of supreme beauty and controlled structure for many years. It is often the tension between these two aspects, the unusual, perhaps organic, shape with a surface skin that is both of the work and alien to it, that makes Deacon’s art so striking.
Sean Scully is considered to be one of the world’s leading abstract painters. Scully’s commanding, internationally recognizable style of abstract art – based on repeating and steadily adapting arrangements of discretely nuanced blocks of colour – combines considerable painterly drama with great visual delicacy. It is an art of tremendous vigour: Scully is a forceful, physical artist, who creates intentionally monumental spaces. But it is also an art of acute concentration and care: his work involves an ongoing negotiation between the monumental and the intimate. Scully’s work is noted for its impressively controlled abstract power, but at the heart of each rigorously composed work is a near-infinite number of expressive, emotional fluctuations.