Clare Mitten, Cara Nahaul and Corinna Till: Jerwood Painting Fellowships, Jerwood Visual Arts, London.

Review by Laura Bushell

Jerwood Visual Arts’ support for painters has morphed over the years from an annual cash prize through to the group show format of Jerwood Contemporary Painters to the inauguration of the Jerwood Painting Fellowships this year. These awards afford three selected early career painters the time, funds, guidance and exposure to undertake some sustained professional progression, developing and contextualizing their practice under the guidance of a mentor before exhibiting their work. Jerwood have sought to address exactly what it is today’s upcoming painters need to progress, and the results are now on display. As such, this collection of works by the three graduates – Clare Mitten, Cara Nahaul and Corinna Till – does feel slightly disparate. Walking into the gallery we encounter three separate mini solo shows, each to be encountered each in their own right. This will obviously be coloured by the viewer’s familiarity (or lack thereof) with the artists’ work, deciding whether the work displayed is viewed as a product influenced by the Fellowship’s developmental aims or as a snapshot of an upcoming artist deemed outstanding enough to receive the award.

Cara Nahaul’s stripped back portraits of people hailing from her father’s homeland of India line the bright open space of the Jerwood foyer. There’s a recognizable image of Benazir Bhutto along with family portraits and a group of men lined up as if for a school photo. Each face is pared down to minimal strokes of pale thin layers of oils and contrasting inky darks for hair and eyes. Up close the edges look feathered, the planes of the face undefined, yet from afar they resolve into high-contrast visages with striking gazes all looking in on the viewer – flashes of warm orange in Nahaul’s otherwise subdued palette uniting them across the walls of the gallery. Although Nahaul’s decision-making when it comes to palette and paint application is distinctly subjective, the images themselves, or at least the sense that they came from photography, lend a documentary form to the works.

Clare Mitten takes recognizable mechanical forms – a watch, a car, a tank – and utilises painterly representation to process them into abstraction. Her paper and card maquettes ditch the slickness of their mechanical counterparts in favour of a characterful handmade cardboard construction and soft, dirty pastel hues. The form of these objects is then abstracted again into flat planes of colour; blown up and modified to create wall-sized collages that displace their source material into geometry whilst still retaining just enough formal resonance of their original. Less indexical to the real world than Nahaul’s paintings from photographs, Mitten’s collages deal with the notion of equivalence in the flattened representation of the painted paper surface. There’s no shading, texture or visible brush marks to be found here, it’s more about the shape of the painted plane and the interplay of colour.

Corinna Till’s painted representations of front gates don’t actually appear in the exhibition. Instead, the painted image is repositioned back into the site of its inspiration, held in place between the two gateposts by a person crouching behind it with only their fingertips giving them away. A photograph is taken and these are displayed, large scale and propped against the walls of her space. Nearby, a desk, complete with reading lamp, invites viewers to sit and flick through a sketchbook of ideas that eventually occupied those spaces between posts, inspired by the suburban architecture that divides public thoroughfares from private property, marking the threshold to a person’s territory. Thresholds, both metaphorically in her work and also stylistically between the media she uses, are mutable in Till’s work as she slides between the real and the represented material world.

The Jerwood Painting Fellowships exhibition is really a portrait in itself of three contemporary practitioners rather than a show on a theme. It radiates with ideas, some of which cross over between artists, others that don’t, and of course some which are stronger than others. Only time will tell what happens to these three after the award, as more painters fill the ranks of Fellowship graduates, and it’s an exciting prospect both for painters and those who enjoy looking at their work.

Jerwood Painting Fellowships is on display until 26 June.

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Surrogate A, 2011 by Corinna Till