30.06.08 Blitzkrieg Bop, 'Is painting back on the scene?' Guardian Blog, 2008

A new exhibition showcases some of the most exciting contemporary artists – and they’re all painters. Is this much-maligned medium finally back at the cutting edge?

Painting is finally cool again, according to a new exhibition, opening this week, that hails its re-emergence onto the UK art scene in terms more reminiscent of the Ramones than the Renaissance. The Blitzkrieg Bop exhibition currently showing at the Man & Eve Gallery in Kennington sticks a punkish two fingers up at the (not so) Young British Artists with a title which daringly compares the work of conceptual artists with the sentimental pop bands of the 60s. (So who does that make Damien Hirst? Donny Osmond, perhaps?)

Albert Oehlen may have proclaimed that painting is dead, but twenty years on from the Freeze exhibition, we’ve got Cy Twombly on show at the Tate and Tal R at Camden Arts Centre (“As a painter you are a little bit like a guy showing up in a tiger suit at a techno party,” according to the latter artist, “so your dress code is outdated, but you might still have the best moves on the dance floor”). And alongside them are golden oldies like Peter Lanyon and Gillian Ayres – described by Andrew Marr with a “Carlsbergian caveat” as “perhaps the finest abstract painter alive in Britain” – showing next to Ian Davenport, Simon Bill and Factory Records’ graphics hero Peter Saville.

So does the Blitzkreig Bop exhibition do what it says on the tin, or is this just a nostalgic tribute to a long-dead tradition? I reckon it’s the first. This is a show which not only reasserts the value of the painterly but seeks to re-contextualise the tradition. The eclectic mixture of artists being shown here creates disturbing moments of visual dissonance and unsettling juxtapositions. Looking round and seeing Peter Lanyon (leading figure in the 1950s St Ives Group) next to paint-pouring YBA Ian Davenport, I sometimes wondered if Price had accidentally hung Cliff Richard next to Johnny Rotten. Yet somehow it works.

Reflecting the technical accessibility and DIY spirit that was prized by the founders of punk (see Clare Price’s landscapes, violently depicted using toxic materials and a style reminiscent of street art), much of the work on display in Blitzkrieg Bop is aggressively modern and unsentimental (check out Rich Littler’s band of drips, or Scott King’s world map colonised by The Fall’s live tours). It is also often rebellious, anti-establishment and unafraid to be political: don’t miss Howard Dyke’s burka-clad women depicted provocatively in a style reminiscent of the American abstract expressionists of the 50s.

So are we really witnessing the revival of the painterly tradition? Is this really the beginning of a cultural revolt that will dethrone Emin and Hirst and put painters back where they belong – on the anti-establishment throne of British art?

Catherine Bruton