Julia Condon (Long & Ryle, till 11 February) Wendy Connelly (Bernard Jacobson, till 31 January)
Only if it's fun
Last week I quoted the art critic for The Independent as saying many young artists have no interest at all now in the artistic past. Presumably the National Gallery and other great European treasure houses strike them merely as overblown irrelevan- cies. This week the critic of The Indepen- dent on Sunday, Tim Hilton, made an equally doom-laden claim: 'Recently I've heard artists in their 20s (including a Turn- er Prize shortlistee) saying that art is quite The reflection of the goddess, by Julia Condon fun for the moment but that they would go and be successful at something else when the fun ran out'. Small doubt they will prove an adornment to the ranks of sec- ond-hand car dealers and estate agents. It may well be that those who, like the new chairman of the Arts Council, imagine that all is well in the kingdom of living art, are not doing their homework properly.
Where has artistic idealism gone? Per- haps it never existed for many of our younger artists. But, just as damagingly, many of these have also lost the inherent satisfaction of making that was once every artist's birthright. In short, many have been persuaded that significant art can be made now out of all sorts of unsuitable and unsatisfying materials. The joy of making has become a widespread casualty of this creed. Little wonder that those who are not making rapid money or fame from such practices soon cease to see 'the fun' of doing it at all.
In absolute contrast, I had lunch last week with a gentle landscape artist who told me that over a career of nearly 40 years he has sold about 2,000, mostly mod- est-sized, paintings almost entirely to pri- vate clients. He has travelled to and worked in some of the most beautiful areas of our planet and falls asleep at night secure in the knowledge that a good few fellow citizens like his work enough to part with their own money to own it. No doubt those who style themselves as art's cutting edge would despise this man utterly, yet he has done what he wanted in life without obvious compromise. How many of them will be able to say the same?
The work of Julia Condon, at Long & Ryle (4, John Islip Street, SW1) similarly is not short of genuine admirers. It is appeal- ing and well-crafted without being facile. Fish, feathers, flowers and the like are con- scientiously inspected and set down in paint. The technique she employs owes more to the 16th than the 20th century, so what does she think she is doing? I am tempted to answer 'enjoying herself but clearly the artist also works very hard and with a demanding craftsmanship. While unlikely to change the world, she provides pleasure of an unpretentious nature. What is to prevent the next generation of artists from following such a carefully chosen path? Since much of Condon's past income has been derived from portraiture, the lack of technical knowledge and skills common to present-day students could prove a seri- ous obstacle. To our shame, such relatively straightforward paths as Condon's may no longer be open to them. I fear former art students who lack both skills and any knowledge of their heritage and who imag- ine art is simply a get-rich-quick alternative to working in public relations may soon become a serious glut on the market.
It is certainly rare today to find a young artist doing anything so unfashionable as paint small, intensely romantic landscapes — let alone to do so rather well. However, this is just what Wendy Connelly was doing at the time of her first exhibition at Bernard Jacobson Gallery (14A, Clifford Street, W1) just two years ago. In the meantime, the artist has been communing with the sights and spirits of the Lake Dis- trict, to provide material for her second outing at this prestigious West End venue. The dozen or so paintings on view have expanded in scale and possibly in ambition but have also become less specific in the meantime. Titles such as 'Untitled', 'Spirit' and 'Dew' bear out my contention. Proba- bly it is easier to paint the feeling of dew than the fact. Today making art hardly ever takes place in a vacuum — even in the Lake District. Thus Connelly's new paint- ings strike me as more knowing rather than necessarily more knowledgeable — closer, perhaps, to other people's ideas of signifi- cant picture-making than to her own. But we should remember here that this is a tal- ented but still very young (b.1969) artist who could hardly fail to be affected by the insidious pressures of her chosen career. Her work falls squarely now under the heading New Romantic yet seems to me to have lost its edge of outright idiosyncrasy. Nonetheless, the show is well made and put together with real subtleties of colour and texture very much in evidence. But I won- der how I might have been expected to recognise the specific environs of Wastwa- ter — or other areas I know and love?