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"I Cheer a Dead Man's Sweetheart: 21 painters in Britain" on view at De la Warr Pavilion
Sophie Von Hellerman, Field Day 2013. Acrylic on canvas, 230x320 cm. Courtesy the artist and Vilma Gold, London.

BEXHILL-ON-SEA.- I Cheer a Dead Man’s Sweetheart*is both a celebration and an exploration of painting in Britain today, presenting the recent work of twenty-one living artists whose practices span six decades. Iconic figures such as Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff are presented next to other established, mid-career and emerging artists such as Gary Wragg, Phoebe Unwin and Joella Wheatley revealing intriguing, surprising connections, contrasts and underlying preoccupations.

The exhibition brings together a diverse range of artists whose achievements arise from protracted periods of time spent in their studios, looking, considering, making, revising and finally producing richly complex works of art. It aims to highlight the concerns, challenges and desires – both formal and conceptual – which preoccupy the artists or energise a body of work - and which are of evolving significance to contemporary painting.

The works in I Cheer a Dead Man’s Sweetheart reflect a dizzying array of influences from Rembrandt and Turner to Picasso and Gilbert & George, and from mass media to Tai Chi Chuan. The paintings are created using a range of techniques and materials: beginning with a single dot, or multiple drawings; utilising ornamental mirrors or tin foil; by dripping paint, applying it ultra-densely or adding pigment to a sea-soaked canvas; using sculpture, photography or collage; and through acts of destruction.

Frank Auerbach and William Daniels use very different and specific ways of applying paint to capture the effects of light; Christopher Le Brun uses symbolism as a ‘way into making painting’ and Hayley Tompkins uses everyday objects such as a table knife as support for painting. Bruce McLean and Lisa Milroy show painting installations that move away from the wall and into the realm of sculpture and performance; Katy Kirbach applies layers of painted and incised card to her canvases to create depth and interrogate the gestural brush-stroke, and Andrew Kerr’s collage paintings are structured using existing, disregarded works on paper from his studio.

Reinforcing the idea of painting as a living form, De La Warr Pavilion’s upper gallery space presents a changing series of displays during I Cheer a Dead Man’s Sweetheart. During Easter, the space transforms into a painting studio with workshops, talks, performances, events and master-classes in painting by artists participating in the exhibition; and in June, Jessica Warboys creates one of her monumental ‘sea paintings’ on the beach in front of the Pavilion.

* I Cheer a Dead Man’s Sweetheart is taken from Is My Team Ploughing, one of sixty-three poems in The Shropshire Lad by A. E. Housman. It is an allegory for the unsentimentally eclectic nature of contemporary painting practice. The poem is a conversation between a dead man and his still living friend who is now with the girlfriend he left behind. First published in 1896, A Shropshire Lad became very popular during World War One.

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"I Cheer a Dead Man's Sweetheart: 21 painters in Britain" on view at De la Warr Pavilion

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