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Painting People

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  • Posted May 2, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Stirring the Pot, but a bit Slight on Ingredients

    Charlotte Mullins is a highly respected British art critic and historian and her contribution to the milieu of figurative painting today is a major one. This book, PAINTING PEOPLE: FIGURE PAINTING TODAY, manages to give enough information about various approach to the figure, including the fusion of vision of artists with societal atmosphere at present to make it an immediately indispensable volume for students and art lovers and collectors. She writes very well and manages to stay comfortably away from the Artspeak that so often alienates the casual viewer. For that she is to be heartily congratulated: this book is readable even without images!

    The best part of Mullins' writing is the segments she places beside the many images that generously flood the pages of this finely designed and produced volume. Readers who know the artists well may take exception to some of her 'diagnostic thoughts' about the meaning of some of the paintings, but at least she is making the attempt to pull the viewer into the paintings rather than simply posting images. Unfortunately the sizes of the paintings in this book are not listed, a factor that many seem unimportant to some, but when discussing the potency of standing in the presence of, say, the works of Cecily Brown, Jenny Saville, of Lucien Freud, size matters: the impact of the figures that are larger than life makes a difference on how they are perceived.

    Anyone involved even tangentially with the artists who paint the figure may take exception to many of the artists included in this selection and be even more amazed at the paucity of the many giant figurative artists from the USA: listing the artists not included here would be an entire other book. And on the other hand, while it is informative to be exposed to the myriad types of artists Mullins does include, the quality of many of them beg indulgence with the company they keep! But here is an opportunity to study the thoughts of a well regarded critic about the current status of figurative painting, and for those of us who have been champions of figurative art for decades, this book is gratifyingly comprehensive. At least the Figure is being discussed in depth, even if too many of the artists who have devoted their lives and careers to the figure on canvas are ignored. May 10

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