August is traditionally a quiet time at the commercial end of the art world. Some galleries close for the month, others fall back on mixed exhibitions of stock and gallery artists. Not so Flowers East Gallery in Hackney. For the past couple of years, it has mounted ambitious summer shows exploring contemporary abstract art in Britain and now, more appropriately, given the gallery's leaning towards representational painting, it has turned to British Figurative Art. "Part 1: Painting" runs throughout the summer, "Part 2: Sculpture" is scheduled for next year.
Not surprisingly, its gallery artists feature prominently (there are a dozen of them in the 56 pictures that make up the exhibition) alongside a good selection of work trawled from elsewhere. The result is a representative, if by no means exhaustive, survey of the state of figurative painting today.
One of the first works one sees, and one of the best, is also the smallest: Craigie Aitchison's Crucifixion; incorporating Christ on the cross, a small blue bird, an olive branch, the mountain, Goat Fell, and one of Aitchison's beloved Bedlington terriers - a miniature composite of what so much of his art has been about these last 20 years, all rolled into one terrific little picture. It's one of the stars of the show, alongside Peter Blake's Dwarf after Velasquez and Lucian Freud's Benefits Supervisor Sleeping; a familiar painting, but no less impressive for having been seen before.
Among the best of the new work by artists with Flowers East connections are Stephen Chambers' Twins (in Rain) and Head (James Reed) by Tai-Shan Schierenberg, as good a picture by that follower of Freud as I remember seeing. It's a fine exhibition.
EYE ON THE NEW
Another picture by Aitchison, this time a portrait of Gorgeous MacAuley, is also one of the highlights at the Browse & Darby summer show. The same exhibition also has a great interior by Vuillard and a still life of marigolds by Ben Henriques.
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