13 MAY 1989, Page 42


If you could implement a single, simple step aimed at improving overall standards of thought and execution in contemporary art, what would you recommend? My own modest suggestion is that all who hope to make a career as modern art historians should be obliged to spend some reason- able proportion of their years of study trying their hand at the practice of art. Whether they had talent or not would not matter in the slightest. The essential point, since they will effectively be running the visual arts one day, is that they should understand that drawing, painting and carving, for example, are extremely de- manding arts. The huge gulf between their own efforts and the work of experienced professionals would become known to them as a practical reality. Armed with this appreciation we might get less of the irritating assumption in future that art is simply a question of ideas rather than of their execution. We may all have amusing and novel ideas but this does not make us — or those who fill our modern art museums with vacuous objects — into genuine artists.

The vital part played by quality in art is overdue for reappraisal and this reapprais- al must extend now to our modern art museums and public exhibitions and collec- tions before final descent into chaos takes place. Look what Herbert Read — an arch-apologist of modernism — wrote


Leonard McComb: Paintings from the South (Gillian Jason Gallery, till 9 June) David Tindle (Fischer Fine Art, till 15 June)

Reaching fresh heights

Giles Auty

prophetically about what he described kindly as 'informal art' fully 30 years ago: `The notion of an absolute standard to which all artists should conform has been lost, or deliberately sacrificed; and with this goes the competitive sense of crafts- manship, a deprivation which is one of the most dubious aspects of this whole de- velopment.' With the benefit of hindsight, we may all add 'Amen'.

'Mont Ventoux Range', 1988, by Leonard McComb This week London is privileged to host two excellent exhibitions, both at private galleries, by experienced painters of out- standing quality. That both should have reached their late 50s without adequate national, let alone international recogni- tion is typical of an era wherein contem- porary art has been controlled for us by a hierarchy of modern art historians ignorant of what truly constitutes quality in art. We have seen in art that it is jackanapes who promote other jackanapes; supposed inter- national mega-stars such as Julian Schnabel enjoy little or no credibility among their fellow practitioners. Any country in the world should be proud to acknowledge two such talented painters as Leonard McComb and David Tindle, yet we have rewarded them so far in Britain with relative critical indifference. They have five works between them in the Tate Gallery's Modern Collection whereas their exact contemporaries Joe Tilson and Robyn Denny, say, are represented by scores of works. Those unacquainted with the precise nature of Mr Denny's contribu- tion to our culture may be familiar never- theless with his curious decorative scheme for Embankment underground railway sta- tion comprising a handful of bars of colour placed seemingly at random. The `faults' of McComb and Tindle, in terms of wider recognition by museums, have simply been that they have pursued their own rather than other people's ideas and that both are excellent craftsmen. The latter quality provokes those who are artistically ignor- ant and untalented themselves; craft and skill represent the threat of the unknown to them.

McComb has been better known so far for his large watercolours and drawings' festooned in complex and delicate traceries of line. Last summer he spent 14 weeks working from a camper van in the South of France in an area east of the city of Orange, near Mont Ventoux. Paintings from the South at Gillian Jason Gallery (42 Inverness Street, NW1) is a direct result of this sojourn and also of a working holidaY spent in Cyprus the previous year. Living day by day on the edge of fields and woods, McComb struggled to distil the essence of the experience and re-present it pictoria11Y. His chosen medium this time is oil paint, which he uses with tactile richness in a series of grand conceptions of mountains, clouds and trees. Still-lifes of fruit and vegetables burn with a deep fire that recalls Matthew Smith in its splendours. Those who compare paintings rather than names should appraise McComb's new works against recent highly priced fruits of the Scottish Colourists' labours or with those of the elite of living British artists. Those who bother to look at paintings with both eyes and minds open may agree with me that McComb's monumental 'Oranges in a Glass Compotiere' gives ground to neither.

While weeks pass frequently when one cannot wholeheartedly recommend any- thing, we now have two outstanding shows, McComb's and that of David Tindle at Fischer Fine Art (30 King Street, SW1), where the artist weaves his familiar magic more richly and poignantly than ever. I find rare occasion to employ superlatives when writing of contemporary painting but urge any who can walk, ride, drive, or even crawl to witness Tindle's extraordinary subtlety and sensitivity in paint for them- selves. Tindle uses tempera in a manner fashioned solely for his own expressive needs. The delicate complexities of hue in his still-life and figure studies are such as to defy accurate reproduction. The exact nature of Tindle's colour can be described best, I think, by comparing it with that found in fragments of glass seen on beaches, where the action of sand and stone frosts the colour to a cooler echo of its former intensity. The quiet power of these paintings recalls for us the height- ened significance of objects and rooms in the lives of children. A vase of heather on a lace table-cloth and a bunch of dried seed-pods from the plant honesty, laid across a table, form typical subject matter for the 39 little masterpieces on view. The botanical is just one of the kinds of honesty clearly apparent.