A Refreshing Take on Figurative Painting at JD Malat Gallery

Pictured: Georgia Dymock ‘Submerged, Chewing Emerald’ (2023). Courtesy JD Malat Gallery

‘Contemporary Figuration: Between Body & Metaphor’ opens at JD Malat Gallery.

Featured Artists: Georgia Dymock, Emily Gillbanks, Andrew Litten, Ayanfe Olarinde, Yann Leto, Celine Ali, Cathy Tabbakh, Richard Wathen, Han Ji Min, Sophie-Yen Bretez, Natalia Ocerin, Tega Tafadzwa, Mark Metcalfe, Erin Holly and Ur Kasin.  

An intriguing new group exhibition at JD Malat Gallery in Mayfair offers a fresh perspective on figurative painting. Contemporary painters whose work explores the body, both as a tangible material and as a representation of the intangible are featured, and the curatorial premise has been guided by each artist’s personal response to the overriding theme of ‘Body & Metaphor’. In a welcome diversion from the outdated figurative painting of art history, which was traditionally executed by male artists and dominated by the male gaze, the artists selected for the JD Malat exhibition are dissecting and subverting outmoded depictions of the body. ‘Contemporary Figuration: Between Body & Metaphor’ explores notions of ‘self’, identity, critical race, queer theory and the technological body, and a cleverly curated selection of established and emerging artists illustrate the diverse ways in which various artistic styles can engage with the challenge of portraying the modern human subject.       

The exhibition features guest artists and represented artists from the gallery’s roster, with emerging artists exhibiting alongside more established ones. JD Malat has developed a reputation as a gallerist who discovers and nurtures new talent, and this new group show is no exception. Malat was featured in Sunday Times Style who describe him as ‘art dealer to the A-List’ and spotlight his mission to promote emerging artists. The artist-centric model of the gallery means that it provides a platform for upcoming artists rather than simply acting as a mediator.

JD Malat: It has always been my objective since I launched my own gallery to promote young, emerging artists while fostering a dynamic roster that integrates emerging talents with established artists. I believe the synergy created by this combination, along with our thought-provoking programmes—such as the recent artist talk— is a very effective way to promote emerging artists on an international scale. Also, when it comes to guiding collectors in building their art collections, my mission is to help them diversify their collection with works from artists at different stages of their career. On the artist’s side, I’m equally dedicated to helping them grow and for example, build their presence in prominent collections in the world.” 

Highlights of the exhibition include; Mark Metcalfe’s exquisite, hyper-real portrait ‘Melancholia: After Durer’ (2023), with its Caravaggio-esque chiaroscuro; Georgia Dymock’s surreal ‘Submerged, Chewing Emerald’ (2023), which features Goddess-like siren figures; and Ur Kasin’s vivacious ‘Beach Scene’ (2023). Ur Kasin’s ‘Beach Scene’ captures the Gen-Z experience of a holiday with an abstracted image of a holidaymaker on a beach, surrounded by the detritus of modern-day life, with a laptop and other bits of tech juxtaposed with a beach umbrella, a beer bottle and cigarettes.  The result is a truly contemporary painting evoking the chaos of Hunter S. Thompson’s iconic 1971 novel ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’  and Ralph Steadman’s hallucinogenic illustrations.


Pictured: ‘Melancholia: After Durer’ by Mark Metcalfe. Courtesy JD Malat Gallery  

Ur Kasin: Yes, so the painting is, in a way, the culmination of my relationship with the sea, or rather the seaside. As we had the Black Sea so close to us, my family would always take me there, and year by year I felt it changing. Of course, what was actually changing was not the sea, but me. While speaking with my girlfriend one night about the sea (when I was painting this piece), she put all my thoughts on paper. It helped me see where I was going with the painting, maybe it will also help here! 

A collection of memories, 1998-2023

How many years have passed since 2004? A few, right?
I hope the summer goes as slowly as possible, the school starts soon.
My ears are burnt and my eyes are red from the salt.
I have sand in my shorts.

It’s lunchtime. I don’t want to sleep after lunch!
Although I’m kinda tired, my mother woke me and my dad to catch the morning sun.
How strange yogurt feels on the ears. 
I see some older children reading on the beach.

“They’re studying for Baccalaureate (our final high school exam)” says my mother. What a long word. ‘Will I be like that too?’, I asked.
“Yes”, answers the mother.
My dad was smiling as he smoked a cigarette.I will never smoke!

You could feel the autumn breeze coming.I feel like eating corn.What were we talking about? Yes, the baccalaureate.Anyway, that’s like a lifetime away.I will make new friends at high school.After high school, I will finally be an adult.What can be better than being an adult?High school went by so quickly, it seemed like a lifetime ago.No, I don’t know for sure when I finished school.I will never be a child again. I want to go swimming, I’ll put my phone and car keys here.The sun is so hot at this hour, next time let’s wake up earlier.I have sand in my underwear.Oh shit, I forgot that I have to finish something at work until Monday.Why did you lie to me about leaving the laptop at home?Where are my cigarettes?” 

Pictured: Ur Kasin ‘Beach Scene’. Courtesy JD Malat Gallery

Curator Catalin Necula gives some insights into the theme of the exhibition and selection process:

“The title was selected by the gallery manager, Annie Pereira, with whom I collaborated in curating the show. Her exceptional skills and our effective teamwork were pivotal. The entire team at JD Malat Gallery is truly outstanding. My longstanding friendship with Jean David has been invaluable, and I am very grateful for the trust he has placed in my artistic judgment and instinct to discover emerging talents. Exploring and uncovering artists whose works resonate with me brings immense joy. The thrill intensifies when a show garners widespread appreciation, a testament to the harmonious balance achieved by the diverse talents of all participating artists.Each artist was carefully selected for their unique artistic lexicon, distinct yet converging to convey a shared message encapsulated in the show’s title: “CONTEMPORARY FIGURATION: BETWEEN BODY & METAPHOR.”

In an age where questions of embodied experience are continually accentuated by our relationship with cross-cultural exchange, media, new technologies, and socio-political change, the body has come to signify the transcendental. Different painterly styles that range from realism to abstraction, and technologically informed practices, will demonstrate the expansive breadth of contemporary figurative painting and its capacity to tell the stories of diverse bodies and their connotations – the polarised, the ‘ideal’, the natural, the technological, the liminal, and more – and help situate them within the nuanced frameworks of posthumanism, feminism, Otherness and diasporic memory. 

‘Contemporary Figuration: Between Body & Metaphor’ is at JD Malat Gallery until 27th January, 2024: https://www.jdmalat.com/exhibitions/77-contemporary-figuration-between-body-metaphor/ 


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