LIVELY recent figurative paintings (together with photographic `pop' art which now looks passe) have irrupted into the RCA Galleries alongside the Albert Hall until January 29. These are the contributions of five ex- College of Art students seen at the Paris Biennale for rising talents last year. The best of this allusive imagery is painterly, confident, springing inventive surprises, yet with an urgency underlying the adroitness which secured the Prix des Mines Artistes for Allen Jones with his travelling buses. His flat, waver- ing shapes of luminous colour are stroked on as fluidly as an unguent. In his pictorial pun- ning a bus-wheel will skim off to become an abstract target. The perversities are purposeful, and the ease exhilarating.
David Hockney's brushwork is the skimpiest by contrast. It is his linear fancy which rightly gained the print prize for his etched set of The Rake's Progress now shown again. I have scarcely touched before on the originality of this series showing an unerring sense of spacing and eye for the interplay of scratched line and cloudy patches of tone. We follow the poker- faced artist on his transatlantic passage to perdition, quizzing a negress evangelist or an einbalmment as monstrously Waugh-ish, and finally disintegrating through drink, ear-plugged to pop radio and sporting a sweater legend, `I swing through WABC.' This sets the keynote of the serio-ironic im- pulse which will certainly persist in 1964. Like Hockney, Derek Boshier is a sharp-witted moralist, commenting with feathery, iridescent brushstrokes on the fate of man dominated by high-pressure advertising. Ambiguous images melt and merge in this cartooning style. The often polygonal canvases of this company have, indeed, something of the impermanent air of blackboard figures lightly dusted out and briskly recalculated. The topical point is made, and shrugged off. Time is too pressing, patterns of life and art too fugitive to allow the adven- turer to make a synthesis of discoveries in creating some magnum opus such as a Cubist, say, could find time to deliberate.
Still, it's elating while it lasts. And this realist-abstract painting seems to have sap enough at least to outlast the magazine imagery in which Marilyn remains an idee fixe. Peter Phillips and Peter Blake are the two here who archly utilise the 'pop' material. Blake's elaborate affectation of this faded cult merely reproduces the barrow hoard in a portentous frame without making any worthwhile com- ment. The Edwardian varnished screen, ming-
ling Landseer dog prints with Marie Lloyd and Salvator Rosa's banditti, remains the more beguiling for being the frankest expression of mass idolatry.
What these tendencies indicate more seri- ously, however, is a critical reappraisal of cults of fifty and sixty years ago by this generation. The curvilinear decoration and floral ornament of Art Nouveau, in particular, are influencing some present Royal College students shown as a postscript in the exhibition. This fin-de-siecle system of curvature has affected Allen Jones himself, who reappears, with Howard Hodgkin, in a double show of their recent paintings opening at Tooth's on January 21. From his bus sequence Jones will be seen to have passed on to parachutists and fragmentary figures, as con- trolled and enlivening in their wavering sim- plicities of form spreading out in effulgent designs on white. Howard Hodgkin goes suitably with him. His spry characters are deftly stylised and related to vivid abstract patterning to con- vey a complex of sensations, part visual, part emotional. The vitality accompanying the stylistic curiosity of this school has, indeed, produced today a new mode of Mannerism.