Bathers | Saatchi Yates

The work below is called Skinny Dipping. It was painted in 1999 by the British-Jamaican artist Hurvin Anderson. It’s a bathing scene, a place usually reserved in art for explorations of bare flesh in pretty landscapes, for playfulness, for fun. But Anderson’s waters run deeper than that.

His lush tropical background is enclosed by a drab concrete pool and dark water. His diving board teems with (white) bodies in motion, while a few, barely-outlined (black) figures look on from the background. At the centre of the navy blue water, bisecting the shadow of the concrete pier, is a white splash, after a diver has hit the water.

I read it as a darker, deeper version of a much-more-famous painting. The artist behind that hangs on the same wall, a few metres away: the Hockney on show is called The Swimming Lesson, from 1975. It’s just next to a pair of Damien Hirst sharks, and opposite the Picasso, the Cézanne, near the Alex Katz, just along from the Eric Fischl… all forming part of a star-packed group exhibition, which is open right now at Saatchi Yates.

Hurvin Anderson, ‘Skinny Dipping’ (1999) Hurvin Anderson, ‘Skinny Dipping’ (1999)

This new gallery sprung up at a massive location in Mayfair a couple of years back, and has just opened at a second even-bigger space just over Piccadilly. The exhibition’s called Bathers, as the name suggests it’s a compilation of bathing scenes - a neat idea, considering the number of artists who’ve portrayed the bathing figure over time.

Sometimes the conceit’s a bit stretched, and the show has accommodated the famous artist rather than being too strict: the Katz landscape, while beautiful, portrays boats on a calm Maine lake, with not a person in sight. But the six contemporary artists the gallery represents that are part of this show all followed the brief.

Anderson’s not one of them: he’s not an A-lister, but he’s not a newcomer. And he stands out in another way from the Saatchi Yates lineup: with his concrete pier, his suggestion of lush greenery, his dark deep water. It’s not water you’d ever want to dive into, but I’m glad someone, something, did.

Bathers is at Saatchi Yates (London). 01 June - 10 August 2023