15 MAY 1964, Page 15

Bride in the Bath

LEGS hunched and head ducked in a modern bath bristling with overhead gadgets, the human as- sumes a monstrous other-

ting of enamel. But Brett Whiteley's sudden revelation of his wife appear- ing like some dehumanised, faceless creature of Bacon masked by washing appliances has in- spired his remarkable series of paintings and drawings at the New London Gallery. Affecting the spectator's every sense with the stew of tactile flesh, now inert, now grappling with sinis- ter metal, the artist has hit on the exact formal equivalent of his idea. A couple of years ago the Sydney-born painter of twenty-five was giving us tawny patterns of landscape, in which boulders became phallic emblems and his legendary terrain seemed strangely animate. That meandering, sinuous style With large areas of flat but expressive colour as unmistakably serves his bathroom. In the humps of raised knees and breasts may be a landscape connotation still. In this carnal ritual such pro- tuberances as bath-taps appear naturally phallic. Every sense is engaged. This is the imagery of a romantic with a rare sense of spacing, using steep-angled or multiple viewpoints of the bath and its occupant. A serpentine limb echoes the curve of the bath-rim. Like a cockle sheltering its half-drowned survivor this image floats in a lower corner, adrift in a green ambiency. Sensa- tions of impulsive movement, of wrestling with refractory metal coils, are conveyed as power- fully through flesh-tints and buffs, off-white and Wedgwood blue. Occasionally some effect may be over-contrived with fussy abstract elements. But all said, Whiteley's is-an imaginative achievement quite outstanding at the outset of a career.

Some things need to be said about Larry Rivers, the gentle, modest, and also brash New Yorker reappearing at Gimpel's. It is not true that this complex personality comes out of the same box as Rauschenberg. That vanguardist ex- claims, 'Hell, what a marvellous universe,' and with his mixed media extends the whole dominion of loosely-termed 'pop.' Nostalgic twinges Rauschenberg has indeed, but far re- moved from the abiding feeling for the great European heritage possessed by Rivers. His delicate pastiche of a Rembrandt or David por- trait (in some cigar-brand or flip context) is a compound of irony and of reverence for a tradition which, except on such equivocal terms, Rivers knows is beyond recovery. Could he choose his reincarnation, he would not be the bouncing, self-conscious arriviste from the Bronx, I suspect, but Manet's most attentive pupil.