Hayward Gallery, London
Ghosts, fetish-wear, smokers, swimmers, monks, aubergines, birds, lots of cats … and Saddam Hussein. Our writer is overwhelmed by this attempt to survey contemporary painting

Paintings have people in them. There is always someone, somewhere, even in the most terse abstraction; the painter for a start, the viewers who look, and all the painters and commentators and viewers who came before. If we didn’t already know what paintings were, we wouldn’t know how to begin to look. There are 31 painters in the Hayward’s Mixing It Up, subtitled Painting Today. What an uneven exhibition this is. Tightly hung and divided into seven sections or chapters, there is too much here to take on board in a single viewing. Painting is supposed to slow you down. It is impossible.

Here are paintings with cats, dogs, monkeys and cockerels in them. Paintings with Spitfires, stealth bombers, a painting of a room whose door is barricaded by a chair. A painting of a city in winter under a snowfall of rice. We move between paintings of shirts, curtains, venetian blinds, a fetish-wear raincoat and a transparent plastic mac, a fish on a dish, ghosts, apparitions, false memories and invented scenes. Paintings whose every touch and deviation and change of heart is exposed, and others where all effort is hidden and suppressed. Paintings that need big studios and assistants and others that require nothing much more than a table to work at and a sheet of paper. You tailor your needs to what’s possible or plausible.

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