16 JUNE 1979, Page 24


John McEwen

Being the height of the summer season this is a bumper time for gallery exhibitions, but pride of place must go to House, which celebrates its three years of existence with a retrospective sample from all of its shows to date, 'House at Home' (till 1 July); and the happy news that is has been granted Plan; fling permission to operate as a business all intends to expand its exhibition space and programme accordingly. By supporting younger and neglected older artists House has admirably filled the role formerlY played by the Grabowski Gallery, as this exhibition forcefully demonstrates. Cathol; icity is the show's strength, derivation or necessity its weakness. John McLean's painting adds the poetry. Here's to the next three years. One of the best exhibitions for some time by a new American artist is Bryan Hunt's (Bernard Jacobson till 24 June). Fltine,is work includes delicate etchings and ruggeu, drawings of waterfalls, two lakes made nu' of bronze and some balsa-wood airshiPs, papered and delicately painted, beaking our into space from high on the walls. ObvionslY he likes reversals. The dark blue lakes. solid bowls with rippled tops — find then contradictory equivalent in the drawing,..sci which treat waterfalls as hardly less shapes, rather in the manner of MVP' when he drew the sea's reflections of sun; and moonlight. And form too is the point (3' the airships, which are an imaginative steP or two from modelled reality. Throughrillt craftsmanship matches the breeziness of the subject-matter. Hunt is already something of a name in New York and there is enough here to show why. Breezy too, though in a rather different way, are the suspended models of 00:girls that mark Anthony Donaldson s return to the Rowan (till 5 July). Smaller than life-size, deliberately dummified, rheYd hang in ecstatic poses from the velvet chains of their trapezes. Parts of their fig:t ures are finely sprayed with lacquere t acrylic paint lending a silvery sheen rhad adds to their movement by turning matt an t gloss as the spectator alters position or, be,. of all, sets them swinging. But, like slinvi. girls, they would look better in spotlit date ness rather than all-revealing dayligil'i Their jolly hedonism is an adorntriert nonetheless. No respectable boardroom Should be without one. Less successful are some fibreglass basreliefs that prop against the wall. Casts of four women have been taken from the life and mounted on wood. The colour is predominantly grey. One is a back-view, three are frontal and only protuberances show, islanded to different emphasis. Success, however, is really all down to the beauty of the originals. Patricia of the back-view is stunning, the rest as grey as their colour. This is disappointing. Many must have hoped Donaldson would persevere with the beautiful photographs of showgirls that most distinguished his last show. Jeffrey Smart, one of the distinguished band of Australian painters who have set tled in Europe, is showing his latest realist Paintings at the Redfern (till 4 July). Smart d. elights to show the world as it is, though it Is the surreality of reality that haunts him and the abstract concerns of painting that are his true subject-matter. Living near Arezzo he has been profoundly effected by the geometry and, perhaps more than anything, the colour of Piero della Francesca. In Italy he has, like so many Italian film directors, been impressed by the spectral World of the motorways and the new hous ing estates, shimmering cliffs under threatening skies. Both his abstract inclinations and the encapsulated lifelessness of such places are best conveyed when his Pictures are devoid of human-beings. Prunella Clough is, for many, the best English female artist. She is also much respected by her fellow painters. But neither of these indisputable facts can save her new show (New Art Centre till 23 June) from being a disappointment. They only emphasise it. Clough was a cartographer in the War and she is also the niece of the rare Modernist architect and designer, Eileen Gray. Her work at its best marries a formal ised sense of landscape with the precision of one and the subtlety of the other. The eurrent show displays all the old precision, in the silted greys of Untitled with Four Elements it retains some of the subtelty, but formalised landscape, the bones of composition even, have almost disappeared. Worse is to come. Downstairs there are some lamentably arty-crafty wooden reliefs of limp trees. No artist can be expected to serve up a good exhibition every time and Prunella Clough's energies in the past year Or two must have been sorely taxed by the demands of her aunt's memorial exhibition. The masterpiece of that show was a lacquer screen that she had helped repair and sub sequently presented to the V & A. It had rough and smooth areas, and was blocked into areas of inky black, smudged silver, textured browns. Clough could become a first-rank painter if she would make the Pictures her aunt always seemed to aspire to. But to do so she will have to come out from the cosy security of the trees and give vent to her most outrageous refinements. The lack of risk in her present work does not suit her.