7 Interesting Contemporary Art Paintings


Notoriously difficult to understand and intimidating for some, contemporary art don’t lend themselves an easy categorization. Produced in a globally influenced, culturally diverse, and technologically advancing the world of the 21st century, contemporary art paintings are distinguished by the very lack of a uniform, organizing principle, and ideology.  Unlike the art movements of the past, the range of artistic styles of this diverse and eclectic genre hasn’t been digested by critics and curators.

Here is an interesting selection of eye-catching contemporary art paintings from the twenty-first century.

Painted by Peter Doig in 2000, this contemporary art depicts a ghostly figure of a long-haired, bearded man on a canoe and glancing towards us. The sea around him is impossibly still while the sky is a vivid pink and on the horizon is an island. The eerie feeling of the composition is amplified by Doig’s application of thin washes of paint, in fact, in some portions of the work he has left the paint to run down the canvas. The image of the canoe is a recurring motif in Doig’s paintings owing his upbringing in Canada. The source for the figure in this painting was taken from the cover of ‘An Anthology, the compilation album by Duane Allman, which featured the band’s bassist sitting in a canoe. While the inspiration for the background was derived from a separate photograph depicting Carrera, a prison island off the coast of Trinidad, where Doig lived for a short span of time in his childhood.

  • Uphe by Tomma Abts

Created by Tomma Abts in 2011, this painting depicts sculptural shapes floating on of teal blue and green planes. The impossibly interlocking forms silhouetted by shadow, highlights, and line makes the work more dynamic. Like all the other works of Abt, this painting is intensively non-representational, wherein the strict geometries and its pattern do not symbolize or describe anything else. In fact, it is an exploration of colour and space, in which subtle shifts of both these elements create unexpected effects of movement, stillness, depth. Taking a cue from the works of the famous American painter Jasper Johns, she creates art where both image and object, represent nothing but itself. She was born in Germany, and hence, the titles of her works are mostly derived from German first names. She usually creates small canvases using a labour-intensive technique involving the application of thin layers of paint like strata and over-painted again and again often for months as she changes her mind and works intuitively.

  • Dispersion by Julie Mehretu

Painted in 2002 by Julie Mehretu, a densely layered kaleidoscopic constellation of colour explodes across the canvas of this artwork. Behind the calligraphic swooshes and monochromatic geometric forms swirling around lies an elaborate linear structure. Combining pre-existing architectural plans and designs, Mehretu’s paintings suggest astounding new maps that represent both space and time. Born in Ethiopia, her paintings bring together formal investigations into colour and line featuring abstract marks and shapes, addressing the social issues related to power, history, and the development of personal and cultural identity in the globalized world.

  • Event by Brice Marden

Featuring rhythmical serpentine lines, this painting is a work of Brice Marden created between 2004-07. Pushing up against the edges of the rectangular panels of the canvas, the uncoiling ribbon-like forms and shapes are suspended in carefully balanced tension. Though colours seem to overlap, each of them occupies a defined plane within the pictorial space. One of the most respected abstract painters of his generation, Marden made his mark in the art world in the 1960s with his minimalist monochrome paintings. Later, drawing inspiration from the Chinese and Japanese calligraphy, he introduced linear motifs into his creations in the mid-1980s. Using a long brush which helped him to paint at some distance from the canvas, he created a set of compositional and formal rules and patterns for each of the series of his works, with each painting becoming a subtle variation of a specific theme.

  • The Blindfolded Man by Marlene Dumas

A portrait artist, Marlene Dumas’ portraits often emphasized the head or face. Drawing her subjects from politics, news reports, and popular culture, most of her creations were mostly inspired by photographs featured in newspapers and magazines. The themes in her work are often harrowing, The Blindfolded Man (painted in 2007) is one of a series of paintings portraying torture victims. However, she also painted the portraits of controversial or complex public figures, including the militant Osama Bin Laden, record producer, and convicted murderer Phil Spector. Working with oil paint, watercolour, and ink, her style is often simple, with the features of her portraits minimally expressed. Her choice of muted colours further adds the melancholic tone to her work. She was born in Cape Town in 1953 and raised in rural South Africa, later she moved to Amsterdam in 1974 and continues to live there.

  • Krankenhaus (Hospital) by Maria Lassnig

Painted by the celebrated figurative painter, Maria Lassnig in her eighties in 2005. Split horizontally, the top half of the painting features three heads resting on pillows depicting the expression of fear and pain – one of the face bears semblance to Edvard Munch’s famous The Scream (1893). Her work suggests the patients’ misery, lying helpless and anxious in the hospital dress lying beneath the institutional lights. The bottom half is like an X-ray of what lies under the bedclothes, revealing two grotesque, misshapen bodies with no limbs and gaping wounds. Indeed, it is a powerful depiction of the wretched reality of illness and incapacity in old age. Popular for her ‘body-awareness painting’ many of her later works portrayed the ageing body and the frustration the one experiences at the physical limitations imposed by age.

  • The Tree by Ibrahim El-Salahi

Beginning his painting studies in Khartoum in the 1950s, Ibrahim El-Salahi traveled to London and studied at the Slade School of Fine Art. Appointed undersecretary for culture under the Jaafar Nimeiri regime in Sudan, he was wrongly accused and later imprisoned in 1975 for anti-government activities. Once released, he moved to Qatar in 1977 where he established a culture ministry and later settled down in Oxford. Throughout this itinerant and strenuous life, he captured Islamic, African, Arab, and Western traditions and cultures into his paintings. The Tree series painted by him in 2003, takes its inspiration from the Haraz tree, which grows along the Nile River in Africa. The rigidity of vertical lines is softened by the horizontal forms and bands of colour that seem to float across the canvas surface.

“There is no painting without drawing and there is no shape without line … in the end all images can be reduced to lines.”  Ibrahim El-Salahi