can’t remember a time when contemporary art in London was as shapeshifting and multifarious as it is today. There have been times when certain media or approaches seemed off the menu or beyond the pale, when certain groups held sway. But in 2022, increasingly, anything goes, and often within individual practices: among the six artists introduced here, Phoebe Collings-James, Vlatka Horvat and Yarli Allison are performers and makers, their practices happily drifting between whatever medium fits. These are my artists to watch in 2022: a smattering of bright young things, like Rachel Jones and Collings-James, alongside those who’ve steadily made great work for years, like Samson Kambalu and Allison Katz. They testify to the ongoing strength of the art being made in this city, whatever is being thrown at its artists.
Essex-based Jones is in a great moment. Her excellent solo exhibition at Thaddaeus Ropac in Mayfair, SMIIILLLLEEEE, continues until February 5, and in March she unveils a new commission at the Chisenhale, say cheeeeese. As the title suggests, we can expect more compositions using teeth as a rack for her distinctive, exuberantly coloured combinations of pastels and oil stick. The teeth are a universal symbol for an artist ambitious to reach as many people as she can: “everyone understands what it is to have pain in your mouth and your teeth, or for it to be a site of pleasure”.
Rachel Jones: say cheeeeese, Chisenhale Gallery, March 12 to June 12, chisenhale.org.uk
Over the summer, Black Jack, Samson Kambalu’s colourful series of remixed flags – reflections on nationhood and political movements – provided colourful backdrops around the South Bank Centre. But Malawi-born Kambalu has a bigger public project on the horizon: his sculpture Antelope will be unveiled on Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth in the autumn. A rather conventional looking bronze at first, it captures a radical moment, where a Malawian preacher and hero of independence, John Chilembwe, dons a hat in the company of a European missionary. Africans were forbidden by colonialists from wearing hats in the presence of white people. Kambalu says he views the sculpture as “a litmus test for how much I belong to British society as an African and as a cosmopolitan”. Amid the ongoing debate about statuary, his sculpture’s appearance couldn’t be better timed.
Samson Kambalu, Antelope, Fourth Plinth, autumn 2022
It’s been a huge few months for Collings-James: she’s part of the Turner Prize-shortlisted Black Obsidian Sound System (BOSS) and had a beautifully presented and hugely powerful show of her ceramics at Camden Art Centre, which closed in December. Meanwhile, she’s part of Body Vessel Clay: Black Women, Ceramics & Contemporary Art at Two Temple Place in central London from January. There, she’ll show works from her series The subtle rules the dense: forms that evoke ancient Roman body armour and yet, with Collings-James’s layers of glazes and oxides, have an erotic delicateness. She also runs Mudbelly, a ceramics workshop with free courses for black people in London, with Black ceramic artist tutors.
Body Vessel Clay: Black Women, Ceramics & Contemporary Art. Two Temple Place, Jan 29 to April 24, twotempleplace.org
Quietly, one of the first landmark works of 2022 could be Croatian-born Horvat’s To See Stars over Mountains, both an artist’s book and show at Peer, the non-profit East End space. Horvat has lived in London for a while but exhibited more widely elsewhere, including in the US, where she studied performance and theatre in the 1990s. She continues to make performances, alongside sculpture and video, but at the core of her Peer show will be a unique record of our extraordinary moment: 365 works, one made each day of 2021, based on photographs taken on daily walks, embellished with drawing and collage. Horvat transforms everyday escapes into flights of the imagination, poetically transforming our humdrum urban landscapes.
Vlatka Horvat: By Hand, on Foot, Peer, N1, Feb 4 to April 2, peeruk.org
Katz was in the Hayward Gallery’s recent exhibition Mixing It Up, and amid that show of 31 other painters, was a distinctive and quirky voice, which makes her Camden Art Centre show, her first solo exhibition in a London public space, a mouthwatering prospect. And, like Rachel Jones, mouths are one of the Canadian-born, London-based artist’s many recurring subjects: gaping ones, with teeth and gums as frames for sundry other images. Among her other frequent motifs are cockerels, monkeys and cabbages. Katz is a latter-day Surrealist, with a knack for the unsettling meeting of objects and sentient beings, a flair for the absurd. And then there’s her materials: Katz regularly uses rice amid the paint, for instance. She’s a true original.
Allison Katz: Artery, Camden Art Centre, Jan 14 to March 13, camdenartcentre.org
Allison uses her background and displacement – she was born in Canada and raised in Hong Kong before coming to Europe – as the bedrock for works of startling visual richness. Using a multimedia collage style with elements of digital technologies, video, performance, drawing and more, she creates a futurism rooted in research into the past – colonial legacies, queer histories and much else. Her multimedia installation at FACT Liverpool (until Feb 22), for instance, reimagines Chinatown in that city, and the lost stories of its Chinese sailors. Allison is one of a number of other emerging artists to feature in Decriminalised Futures, the ICA’s forthcoming exhibition on sex workers’ rights, a collaboration with the arts-social change collective Arika, and Swarm, the Sex Worker Advocacy and Resistance Movement.
Decriminalised Futures, ICA, Feb 15 to May 22, ica.art