REALITY: Modern and Contemporary British Painting

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Bacon, Freud and Hockney on show at Walker Art Gallery

REALITY: Modern and Contemporary British Painting is a vibrant new exhibition which runs at the Walker Art Gallery from 10 July until 29 November 2015. Curated by artist Chris Stevens and organised by the Sainsbury Centre, the exhibition brings together more than 50 works celebrating the strength of British painting, with some of the best and most influential artists of the last 60 years. 

Major 20th-century artists are represented, such as Walter Sickert, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and LS Lowry, alongside contemporary painters including John Keane, Ken Currie, Paula Rego and George Shaw.

Uncompromising and direct, the work of each artist represented retains a strong reference to the real world, ‘the stuff of life’. While, some might argue, painting has been eclipsed in the media in recent decades by minimal and conceptual art, installation, photography and film, REALITY testifies to the survival of painting as a medium and reveals the impact of British painting today.

Commenting on the exhibition, guest curator Chris Stevens, whose work also features in the exhibition, said:

“It is an enormous privilege to bring together in one exhibition a group of artists who have been a major influence on my personal development as a painter.

“The painters in this exhibition have been selected under the banner of Realism through their interest in everyday subject matter. Each painter is figurative or representational in nature and yet REALITY will present an extraordinary overview of artists, all with highly individual approaches towards the making of a painting.”

The artists tackle a diverse range of subjects, referencing the body, relationships, history, politics, war, the urban environment and social issues.

The changing British landscape is a dominant theme. From the coastal areas of Great Yarmouth and South Wales to the urban landscapes of London, Coventry and North Yorkshire, the artists in REALITY have continued to explore the transformative impact of the landscape upon British identity over the last century.

Each painting also conveys human presence or absence, investigating the empty voids that people have left behind or the everyday objects and spaces with which they engage. Some of these sights are so routinely visible that they can become invisible and overlooked. Through painting, the artists show the potential for art to transform that which is sometimes mundane.

Ann Bukantas, Head of Fine Art at National Museums Liverpool, said:

“REALITY presents a superb selection of modern and contemporary British art which we’re really looking forward to showcasing at the Gallery.

“The Walker Art Gallery has a long history of championing British painting, notably through the John Moores Painting Prize, which has provided a stage for some of today’s most renowned contemporary artists – some of whose work features in this incredibly exciting exhibition.”

From the earliest painting in the exhibition, Walter Sickert’s Ennui of 1917, to the wide range of works made over the last decade, REALITY reveals how passive observation has remained a powerful quality running through British figurative painting.

George Shaw’s depiction of his home town, Coventry, reveals the absence of human life with great subtlety, almost tenderness; his streets and buildings are deserted, allowing his own emotional response to the ties of suburbia to creep in and take hold.

David Hepher’s expansive urban landscapes capture the hopelessness and decay that emanates from these buildings, capturing the lives of the inhabitants who he has chosen to omit from the canvas.

Caroline Walker’s paintings, in contrast, are voyeuristic; her women appear to be in limbo and seem unaware that they are being observed, either half-clothed or naked. Meanwhile, the figures in Chris Steven’s works challenge the preconceptions we have about people – exploring identity, class, race, gender and the environment.

Despite their different references, the works are all united by two things: the harsh realities that have concerned key British artists over the decades, and the simple act of painting.

Notes to Editors

REALITY: Modern and Contemporary British Painting was organised by the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia.

The exhibition features works from the following artists:

Francis Bacon, Tony Bevan, John Bratby, Cecily Brown, Katarzyna Coleman, Graham Crowley, Ken Currie, Dexter Dalwood, Lucian Freud, Anthony Green, Gwen Hardie, Philip Harris, Clive Head, David Hepher, David Hockney, Luke Jackson, Sam Jackson, Chantal Joffe, John Keane, L.S. Lowry, Alan MacDonald, Jock McFadyen, Paula Rego, Ray Richardson, Terry Setch, George Shaw, Walter Sickert, Chris Stevens, Caroline Walker, Alison Watt, Carel Weight.

About Chris Stevens, curator of REALITY: Modern and Contemporary British Painting

Chris Stevens studied Fine Art at the University of Reading and has exhibited regularly since graduating in 1978.

REALITY is a personal reflection of figurative painting over the past 50 years, which have been a direct influence on his development as a representational painter.

His solo exhibitions include the PM Gallery, London, Smelik & Stokking and Galerie Rademakers in Amsterdam, the GlynnVivian Museum & Art Gallery, Swansea and the Howard Gardens Gallery, Cardiff. Group shows include Fussball in Der Kunst, with Andy Warhol and Marcus Lupert in Germany, the BP Portrait Award at the National Gallery London, and Heads at Flowers East, London. He has been a prizewinner in the BP Portrait Award, 50 over 50 and more recently in the Painted Faces exhibition organised by the Saatchi Gallery and Windsor & Newton. He has also undertaken Arts Council residencies at Sunderland Football Club and Birmingham International Airport. He has work in public and private collections including the Victoria & Albert Museum, The National Gallery of Wales, Unilever, Galerija Portreta, Bosnia & Hertzegovena and many private collections in UK, South Africa, USA and Europe.

About National Museums Liverpool

National Museums Liverpool comprises eight venues. Our collections are among the most important and varied in Europe and contain everything from Impressionist paintings and rare beetles to a lifejacket from the Titanic.   

We attract almost 2.7 million visitors every year. Our venues are the International Slavery Museum, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Merseyside Maritime Museum, Museum of Liverpool, Sudley House, Border Force National Museum (Seized! The Border and Customs Uncovered), Walker Art Gallery and World Museum.

About the Walker Art Gallery

One of the finest art galleries in Europe, the Walker Art Gallery is home to renaissance masterpieces, Tudor portraits and one of the best collections of Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite art in the country. An outstanding display of contemporary art includes work by David Hockney, Lucian Freud and Bridget Riley.

Walker Art Gallery William Brown Street, Liverpool, L3 8EL
Open 10am-5pm daily
Admission FREE
Information 0151 478 4199

About the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts

The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts is an inspirational public art museum situated on the campus of the University of East Anglia (UEA) in Norwich. The Centre is housed in the first public building designed by Norman Foster, a world-renowned example of 20th century architecture, which was awarded Grade II Listed status at the beginning of 2013.

One of Britain’s leading institutions for the study of the arts of all nations, the gallery was placed in the UK’s top ten cultural attractions by the Independent on Sunday. Gifted by Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury to the University in 1973, the Sainsbury Collection brings together art from many cultures around the world, dating from 4000BC to the present.

Among works by prominent European artists are important collections of ceramics by Hans Coper, a significant collection of early works by Francis Bacon, multiple works by artists such as Henry Moore, Giacometti, Picasso, Jacob Epstein and Lucie Rie, all of which are displayed alongside material both ancient and modern from across the globe. The Centre also houses The Anderson Collection of Art Nouveau, one of the most significant of this period in the UK which was featured in the 2012 BBC4 documentary Art Nouveau: Sex & Sensibility.

From 18 April , 30 masterpieces on loan from the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg will go on display for the first time in the UK as part of Francis Bacon and the Masters at the Sainsbury Centre (18 April – 26 July 2015).