Art Term

New spirit painting

New spirit painting is a term which refers to the resurgence of expressionist painting around 1980

Stephen McKenna, ‘Venus and Adonis’ 1981
Stephen McKenna
Venus and Adonis 1981
Tate
© Stephen McKenna
Paula Rego, ‘The Dance’ 1988
Paula Rego
The Dance 1988
Tate
© Paula Rego
David Salle, ‘Satori Three Inches within Your Heart’ 1988
David Salle
Satori Three Inches within Your Heart 1988
Tate
© David Salle/VAGA, New York/DACS, London 2017

A New Spirit in Painting was the title of a major exhibition at the Royal Academy in London in 1981. It attempted to sum up the state of painting at that point. It was an early response to the new currents that appeared in both painting and sculpture around 1980, and acted as a launch-pad that brought these developments to public attention.

The term new spirit painting became used particularly in Britain and is useful in that it also embraces aspects of new painting at that time that do not fit quite comfortably into the category of neo-expressionism, such as the American painters David Salle and Eric Fischl and in Britain Paula Rego, Stephen McKenna, Steven Campbell and the abstract painter Sean Scully.

In Britain particularly, the renewal of interest in painting in the early 1980s, especially figurative painting, brought into fresh focus the work of older artists such as Howard Hodgkin as well as those often called the school of London.

The term is virtually synonymous with neo-expressionism and its sub groups of Neue Wilden and Transavanguardia.