The late 1980s in London was a time where the momentum of the contemporary art scene was at a new high. A group of young, restless artists, known as the YBAs, emerged out of art colleges from around London and began exhibiting together, showcasing their provocative, head-turning painting and sculpture to the masses. Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst, Jenny Saville, among other YBAs, breathed new life into the London art scene and in turn went on to lead prolific careers that are still thriving 40 years on. While many view this period as the heyday of British contemporary art, a similar sense of excitement is brewing across the streets of London with a new generation of graduates coming to the forefront. 

London has long been an incubator of young talent, in part due to the sheer strength of its art colleges. Five major colleges, the RCA, Royal Academy School, Royal Drawing School, Goldsmiths and City & Guilds, have together built a flourishing ecosystem of young and ambitious artists across the city. Among the latest set of graduates from the Royal College of Art, Francesca Mollett and Pam Evelyn have already sparked particular interest with gallerists and collectors.

Two paintings by Francesca Mollett, and Mollett in her studio. Images courtesy of W Magazine and Micki Meng Gallery.

Mollett and Evelyn are both abstract painters: Mollett explores ideas surrounding nature, the body, and the mind, while Evelyn opts for unpredictable, shifting patterns spreading across her canvases. Just this past December, both artists debuted works at auction, each selling for over 10 times their estimate. Mollett’s and Evelyn’s sudden rise is not by coincidence. Abstract art by women is having a moment — galleries and museums around the world are tapping into the blossoming interest surrounding female abstract painters and their continued reinvigoration of the medium. It’s no surprise that both Mollett and Evelyn have already secured representation at internationally-renowned galleries.

Another recent graduate, Emma Prempeh, has made headlines this month after securing a solo booth at Frieze New York. Prempeh’s paintings are both cinematic and personal – scenes depicting family members and friends emphasise an appreciation of ancestral time and relationships, selfhood and transformation. However, it’s Prempeh’s unique choice of material – in particular schlag metal, a material similar to gold leaf, which oxidises over time, allowing colours to change as time passes. London-based gallery, Tiwani Contemporary, announced representation of Prempeh as soon as she left the RCA, highlighting increased risk-taking by galleries in hopes of securing young talent as early as possible.

An installation shot of an Emma Prempeh exhibition, and Prempeh in her studio. Images courtesy of Tiwani Contemporary.

While the majority of this new wave of graduates seem to have a particular affinity to painting, they are continuing to push the boundaries of the medium. One particular graduate, Emily Kraus, works inside a metal cubic structure around which she stretches a raw canvas loop with no end, allowing for space to move around her body. She first invented the apparatus to reconfigure the spatial constraints of her assigned eight-by-eight foot studio at the RCA, but has since recognised how its restrictions have served as the starting point for an entirely new approach to her practice. Her method is characterised by a continuous oscillation between periods of impromptu, active mark-making and moments of meditative rumination. Kraus currently has a solo show at The Sunday Painter, featuring a selection of her monumental Stochastic paintings.

Emily Kraus in her studio, and an installation view of her solo exhibition at The Sunday Painter. Images courtesy of The Sunday Painter.

The sheer speed at which London graduates are evolving into international-recognised artists is staggering. Issy Wood and Rachel Jones, two notable London graduates from 2018 and 2019, have gone on to become two of the most desired artists on collector’s wish lists, both exhibiting internationally within just a few years of leaving school. As a result, the summer graduate shows across the city continue to brim with collectors and gallerists, all vying to discover young, fresh talent. Upcoming London graduate shows include: Royal Academy Schools (8th June - 25th June), Goldsmiths (23rd - 26th June) and the Royal College of Art (TBA, September 2023).

At LVH Art, we constantly monitor graduate shows to discover and educate our clients on the best young artists on the rise.