Forget about young British artists. The YBAs of the late 1990s and ’00s, made famous by Damien Hirst with his pickled cow and Tracey Emin with his unmade bed, are now supplanted by a new youthful art movement.
It is now the Young British Painters who are attracting attention and money, with some of their work reaching over £ 1million per canvas. And not only are they young – around 30 – most are female, and many are black.
The last days, I will have what she has, a painting by 31-year-old Flora Yukhnovich sold at auction for £ 2.3million. Still, its guide price was only £ 80,000.
Youkhnovich was inspired by the Rococo style artists of the 18th century. “I want people to have this ‘a-ha’ moment – a familiarity that gives you access to a work,” she says.
Another painting, Myths of pleasure, by 28-year-old black artist Jadé Fadojutimi, has won £ 1.2million, while his The barefoot house was bought for over £ 800,000. From April 2022, two dozen of her works will be on display at the Hepworth Wakefield Gallery, where she will be the youngest artist in the Yorkshire space to have her own exhibition. “Of course, the auction prices are now staggering,” says Pippy Houldsworth, who deals with Fadojutimi through her Mayfair gallery. “The market is crazy, with, it seems, no ceiling for collectors with deep pockets. It has also been almost impossible for two or three years to get hold of a work by Jadé. The waiting list is in the hundreds.
The Pippa Houldsworth gallery mainly represents women. “They have been ignored and under-represented for too long,” she says. “But now they have powerful voices. One need only look at the recent auction records for young painters, and they are almost all women.
It’s not just collectors who love paintings. Witness the success of two major exhibitions currently underway in London – the annual RA Summer Exhibition (held this fall, after Covid) and Mixing It Up at the Hayward Gallery, where 31 UK-based contemporary painters exhibit their work. Both exhibitions, full of vivid colors, have received critical acclaim and attract large numbers of visitors.
Some at Hayward are well-established artists like Peter Doig and Rose Wylie, but most are less well-known, like Fadojutimi, along with others in their thirties including Louise Giovanelli, who works in Manchester, Kudzanai-Violet Hwami, who was born in Zimbabwe. and grew up in South Africa from where she came to the UK, and Issy Wood, born in the US and now based in London, one of whose works, Eggplant / Car Interior, sold this month for £ 327,000.
Ralph Rugoff, director of Hayward, points out that more than half of the paintings in his exhibition are women. “Yet if I had put on this show 30 years ago, it would have been mostly made up of white, male, England-born artists. My feeling is that the public and buyers love what I would call the magical quality of painting – the relationship between color and scale.
Eliza Bonham Carter, director of schools at the Royal Academy, agrees. “Perhaps there is a longing for something brilliant in the times we live in. Additionally, during the lockdown, people went online to view art and found it easier to look at paintings. “
Rachel Jones, who was on the RA Schools Postgraduate Course and is one of the artists on Mixing It Up, herself talks about the “emotional opportunities of color and the way color communicates”.
Still, it’s intriguing, Rugoff adds, that many of these young artists were discouraged in art school and college from drawing and painting because these skills are often seen as rather bourgeois. “They went out against all odds. “
It is also interesting that, despite the woes of Brexit and Covid, so many talented young painters are working in the UK. Rugoff draws an analogy with 1960s pop music in Liverpool and Manchester a decade later.
“Like then, it’s one of those times when people seem to come together in one place and then inspire and nurture other similar talents. This generation of artists has all the tools of painting and knows the relationship between colors. They also treat the canvas as an airstrip.
Ironically, with Covid having eliminated some of the smaller galleries, it’s the larger ones with weight and money that have often picked up and promoted much of this young painting talent.
But is this renaissance of painting a passing trend? “Well, the painting has been declared dead several times before,” says Bonham Carter, herself a painter. “But then he was always resurrected.”
Tell that to the Turner Prize judges, who for the past decade and more have largely ignored painting. This year, they consciously chose five different collectives for their ridiculed shortlist. Are they unaware of the current huge success of the Young British Painters?