16 MARCH 1974, Page 26


Confidence trick

Evan Anthony

Confidence, as Barrie never said, is a kind of bloom on an artist. Take the Roger Hilton tribute at the Serpentine Gallery as an example. This spread-eagle exhibition emerges as an 'informal' sampling of the works of the man who, along with William Scott and Terry Frost, represents the British entry into the abstract-expressionist sweepstakes of the 'fifties. The Waddington Galleries have dusted off their basement holdings to supplement the loans by private Owners, and a remembrance of things past joins gouaches present, showing Hilton to be the amusing, intelligent, abrasive artist his friends and fans have long considered him. It is possible to confuse abrasiveness with confidence, but in Hilton's case I suspect them of being one and the same thing. The heavily pigmented and roughly torn out sections of paint suggest a man with a passion for his medium and a determination to make it bend to his will — and whim. The colours are reds and whites and blacks, and a range of 'earth' tones. If you do not feel

capable of sharing his passion unreservedly, you should at least be able to respect his grunts and groans, and even be amused by them.

Figurative elements have a way of popping up unexpectedly in Hilton's work; they are quickly swallowed up whole, without any sign of a self-conscious striving to integrate them into the scheme of things. 'Primitive' and 'childlike'are inevitable complaints applied to Hilton's paintings. Where they are used as praise, 'sophisticated' is mentioned in the next breath. Some of the 1973 gouaches are a bit too free-wheeling for my taste, threatening charm in place of confidence, but there is little doubt that the fires still rage, and it is good to see the Serpentine. open again, using its space to advantage with so solid and purposeful an exhibition.

There is nothing spontaneous or suggestively primitive about Max Bill's latest show at the Marlborough Fine Art, but there is plenty to dazzle in this fine collection of paintings and sculpture. The precision and planning is quite breath-taking and it is a show recommended to those who do and don't appreciate geometry in art; for the former, it will enhance that appreciation, and for the latter, it will help them to understand how exquisitely mathematics and art unite when a first-class practitioner is at work. The technical brilliance is all too rare in this day when materials often seem tortured, proving to have the permanence of a stage set, with the work wilting as soon as it leaves the exhibition chamber.

Rory McEwen's True Facts from Nature show at the Redfern Gallery, Cork Street, is another example of first-class precision painting; here the subject Is figurative and the leaf studies are remarkable. That McEwen can do for the leaf what Audubon did for birds is not in doubt, but the smartness of the presentation almost undoes him. These immaculately rendered studies compete with the handsome mounts and frames that enshrine their. The calfskin vellum is a most impressive surface, and the offcentre placement of the single leaf gives it an importance that underlines the effect with all the subtlety of a drum roll. But, des-. pite the vulgar good taste, they are damned good pictures.

Somewhat less portentously (Or pretentiously) presented, Francis Kelly's latest English Landscape

Etchings are on view at the William Weston Gallery, Albemarle Street. They are among the best he has done — and, indeed, there are four or five that are among the best anyone has done in recent years. Kelly has at' times indicated a difficulty !ri controlling an impulse to be satis

fled with the merely pretty picture there are examples of that ten: dency in this show; but 'Cliff Top 'Tracks' and 'Low Tide' promise to provide deep and abiding pleasure even after the first easy impression of 'how nice' dies away. They are absurdly low priced.