ART BRYAN ROBERTSON
There's a good deal on at the moment worth serious, sceptical or glum attention. At the Hanover, the American lady sculptor, Marisol, has presented us with some large, painted and mildly fantasticated dolls depicting Our Royal Family, General Franco, Mr Wilson and General de Gaulle: a personal view of Europe, all right. Marisol's work has a certain style, like corrupt folk art, and its obsessiveness should be riveting, or at least rousing, but it's all yours. Its bland jokeyness makes me despondent: give me honest Ed Kienholtz any time, bloodstained sheets and all. At least something is said, with considerable formal grandeur and attack, about reality. The lack of formal interest in Marisol's work is not compensated by evidence of any kind of feeling : distaste, liking, derision or warm approval. I wouldn't mind a ceremonial burning of all grown-up dolls, stuffed or solid: none of them seem to display many insights into our walking, talking breed—let alone affection.
At the Tate all is solemnity because of Kupka, who is always supposed to have been a forerunner etc., but if he was he was running the wrong way. He is a Czech artist 'due for re- appraisal' and I leave it to you. The context is fine: a resounding group of unfamiliar cubist paintings by Braque and Picasso and others from remarkable collections. But the title Cubist Art from Czechoslovakia is an odd portmanteau.
Survey 67 of groups of paintings and shaped canvases, or sculptures in other materials, is an absorbing and pleasurable show at the Camden
Arts Centre (Arkwright Road, off Finchley Road, near the tube). Don't start beefing about the distance, it's quick and easy, and remember that Parisians will travel vast distances to see an exhibition without a murmur, where Lon- doners swoon with shock and terror if a show is more than eight minutes' walk from Bond Street. Anyway, it's an encouragement, I hope, to say that the Camden exhibition is well worth the trip and will divert you for at least an hour, maybe rather more than divert, for this work is serious, if uneven. But seriousness these days comes in bright singing colour and clear un- fussed shapes, and a tonic air hovers over the assembly of work by fifteen artists.
My only doubt is that practically all these artists, like most others nowadays, are using the new (ten years ago) acrylic paints. These have many practical advantages: interesting colour range, for instance, of great intensity, which is easily subdued or modulated; quick-drying properties so that thin glazes of colour can be built up without several days for drying between each layer and the attendant seething im- patience; or the fact that they can be used almost as watercolour as well as an impasto. The trouble is that all paintings executed in this seductive medium tend to look similar, and sometimes disconcertingly alike. There's good old cranberry, then a kind of dry, slightly chalky brown, a dismal monotony in the yel- lows, lemon or ochre, and so on. Visiting a mixed show, by many artists all using this plastic paint, is rather like wandering around a collec- tion of Dutch seventeenth-century landscapes which have all been cleaned by the same master restorer. After a while you notice with a cer- tain unease that the same Reckitt's blue sky beams over all the pretty little scenes, harvest- ing, skating, the distant view of village and church spire across the dykes . . . It's hard to believe that all those artists stood in a long row, at identical times of the year, dipping happily into the same palettes. So it is with the new painting. See one, see 'em all.
It's the same when the American use these paints. Great variety of handling, naturally, and a formal range which travels all the way from flat, solid colour to sprayed dots to broad stripes to floating clouds to jagged, broken edges. But at this point I begin to feel bothered. I've quite often fastened on a painting, thinking 'at last, good old oil paint, there's richness for you,' only to discover that it is acrylic or polymer again. I hold no brief for traditional procedures or materials and I have no Ruskinian sense of virtue in oil paint per se, but the blanket-cover- over-all which undermines the independence and personal expressiveness of so many painters right now makes for dullness.
Now perhaps the Survey artists can get a look in : Jennifer Durrant, very good, skips between flat and solid, modelled shapes with authority, discipline, and an unforced feeling for a large scale. Margot Perryman has learned a lot from the austerity, concentration and slow movement of Clyfford Still, the American painter, but is evolving a commanding and dramatic imagery of her own. Sharply concen- trated areas of colour are trapped, hemmed in, by big masses. Black is beautifully used; the scale, again, is unforced and quite majestic. Situations are described, it seems, rather than landscape. Durrant seems interested in an in- terior-exterior interplay.
David Saunders is good, too, and likeable with fresh, light colour and meandering streamers wandering across coloured grounds and stopping short of contrastingly coloured edges—which shift in colour and tone as the
'edge-strips move round the boundaries of the imnvas. Willetts, Knowles and Fielding are also weighty, spiritual (a word to make any artist writhe)—and beautiful. Camden's the place to live in. What an enlightened borough.