I Cheer a Dead Man’s Sweetheart: 21 Painters in Britain, De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill

The brilliant title comes from AE Housman’s poem “Is My Team Ploughing”, a conversation between a dead man and his living friend, now with the girlfriend he left behind. Here, the line is an allegory for connections between living painting, historical influence and continuing traditions. But how to convey that broad idea on the walls of a gallery?

The Bexhill show is so far-ranging that it is hard to find a focus. Yet the aim is worthy – curators Dan Howard-Birt and David Rhodes aim for “a confluence of different painting styles and skills . . . works which we believe evoke a response to painting and about the practice of painting”.

At one extreme, the project gains gravitas by including two very eminent painters still working from life in the mode of Cézanne – a lovely example from Leon Kossoff’s 2008 “Cherry Tree” series and Frank Auerbach’s “To the Studios”, a vibrant, complex lattice of lines and patches of colour. At the other, the exhibition challenges boundaries of what painting can be: Jessica Warboys will create a sea painting on the beach outside the pavilion, and there are broken mirror paintings by Henry Krokatsis, a painted knife by minimalist Hayley Tompkins, and William Daniels’ inventive tin foil paintings, which seem to fold light and colour.

In between, the show encompasses senior artists just outside the mainstream, such as 90-year-old Jeffery Camp, who paints dreamy, windswept landscapes on oddly shaped canvases, and Frank Bowling, who has pursued a singular American-influenced abstraction; mid-career conceptualists Bruce McLean and Lisa Milroy, whose “Dress Paintings” are suspended from hangers; conservative figurative painters John Wonnacott and Adrian Wiszniewski; and the over-fashionable, including Sophie von Hellerman’s silly girly paintings and Phoebe Unwin’s vapid semi-abstractions.

An irritatingly uneven selection, too content in the second division – no Hockney, Hodgkin, Rego, Doig – yet one far more interesting, ambitious and provocative than Tate Britain’s dreary attempt this winter to pinpoint “Painting Now” as mere conceptualism.

Until June 29, dlwp.com

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