THE fifteenth Young Con- temporaries show which closes in Suffolk Street this Saturday seems to me to have been unfairly slammed in responsible quarters. My impression at the FBA Galleries is far less of slick imitation or empty exhibitionism than of students thoughtfully adapting to individual needs the ideas implicit in post-pop painting, and extending them. Clear-cut and immaculate the flat, brightly painted marquetry may be. But the temper is researchful as well as buoyant and scrupulous craftsmanship comes into its own. Flexible patterning, a wider range of styles, with an outstanding graphic section reveal student abilities far more reassuringly than in the last John Moores junior wing. How then can Mr. Andrew Forge find that the 'only adult works' come from one painter and one sculptor out of fifty artists? Excellent prints and drawings by Norman Ackroyd, Paul Watson and others are as adult and technically advanced as anyone could wish. Clearly Kitaj and Hockney have stimulated some print-makers without overwhelming them.
Like Mr. Eric Newton, who whips the entire class in the Guardian with the fervour of a Dr. Keate, I am no lover of hard-edged patterns of transient effect. But surely poker-faced decora- tion is being turned by young contemporaries to livelier account? Stephen McKenna (Slade) is now animating, all but humanising his type of loose-fitting jigsaw which gained his junior prize at Liverpool. More significant, David Cash- man (RCA) has a monumental design of post- cubist shapes which preserves the surface pattern while carrying the eye zigzagging away over a grid to a formal townscape. Its striking impact on the wall is recognised by an Arts Council award, a hard choice to make in rooms nearer to a laboratory than the former amusement arcade.
Of course, an ambitious contraption may look pretentious here when its anti-art message can carry nothing like the defiant force of Dadaism. I have a strong feeling, though, that the pseudo- scientific environment created by a cockpit seat with more fantastic accessories on a stand, devised by four Slade associates working together under the title Fine-Artz, is addressed to experimental TV production. The aim of these artificers is to escape from the dealer's clutches, out of any art gallery if possible. Anthony Caro waved the rebel banner at St. Martin's and the painted metal sculpture from this school closely follows in his wake. The Fine-Artz experiment deserves equal attention as representing the group projects and 'environmental sculpture' which are gaining a hold in English art schools. The idea of by-passing dealers with on-the-spot subscription lists may spread with it.
Since the first of these shows in 1950 it has perhaps become harder to distinguish between the sincere trial and a preliminary bid in the inter- national stakes. Piche's translations of Bacon's and Davie's erotic imagery into polychromatic sculptures look aggressively demonstrative. But such a fusion was obviously inviting, and the test of Pieties true vigour must come later. The ICA may pounce on flash-in-the-pan wonders, but the British Council shrewdly bides its time. Meanwhile, a well-scored catalogue marks Bryan Ingham. Ian Chance, Beryl Lewis, L. K. Yhap for various (and adult) felicities. Clearly, artistic maturity is not determined by age alone; masters have come to fruition at twenty-one. With so many acute intelligences operating now on a few restrictive fronts, birth- days count for even less. There is no appreciable difference, in fact, between the allusive wit of your brightest student craftsman and Joe Tilson's in his painted carpentry at the New London. The elder has only had the more time to elaborate his enigmas with a fuller, costlier game-box. Tilson is a skilful joiner and painter manqué who satisfies one Most with the kind of heraldic wooden construction which might have been car- pentered by a pioneer American settler. More often he teases with letters, keys, exclamation marks, cut in relief with a balanced distribution and patient labour seeming often incommensurate with the triviality of the abracadabra. With less pretension, the junior show is frankly more enjoyable.
Students should note that the early futurist pioneer, Mario Sironi, has reappeared in an ab- sorbing retrospective at the Grosvenor Gallery. In his highly honourable and intellectual career, the Italian's painting was often overburdened by the complex associations of time, space, move- ment, and the monumentality entrusted to it. But the chunky, sculptural quality of his figures, emotionally heightened during the last war, possesses often a disturbing power which de- manded this extensive tribute.