15 MARCH 1963, Page 18


Painter and Sculptor


IN the argumentative gather- ings in the cafés about S. Germain-des-Pres I remember listening attentively six years ago to a young American painter with the Viking ap- pearance of William Morris who had roamed about Europe before taking a studio in Paris, and announcing his arrival in 1954 in Arnaud's dazzling basement high up in Montparnasse. With singular penetration Paul Jenkins would gravely discuss the interior phantasmagoria of Blake or Odilon Redon, and dwell rather on Turner's profound dignity than on his vision of light. Accustomed as one was in Paris then to the deluge of international abstraction with vague cosmic references, it was an experience altogether apart to contemplate Jenkins's fluid pageants of cloud and chasm and strange zones of light traversed by meteoric trails. In his perceptive inner sensibility there seemed contained the image of the whole state of a world of scientific discovery.

The latest appearance at Tooth's Gallery of America's foremost painter working in Paris shows how consistent and intense is still that inward vision. At the same time, his fulgent phenomena are now more unified and sharply defined within their white expanses. Veils of purple, crimson and bronze float, merge and spread out with something of the translucency of watercolour, lit with a strange glow from within and animated by a baroque energy. Inevitably one's eye seems to find natural allu- sions, though Jenkins's art is never specific, as it is also never simply decorative. Always one has a sense of exploring the flaring, chemical pheno- mena in an empyrean as vivid to this reflective painter as was his unseen world to Odilon Redon.

These are active weeks which bring, with much else, the armed bronze figures and torsos of Bernard Meadows to the Gimpel Gallery. Pon- dering them, it enters one's mind that the in- creasing cross-breeding of sculptural forms and imagery nowadays arises from the frequency of contemporary exhibitions, and perhaps the insen- sible pressures of cultural organisations which regard sculptures as status-symbols. The strength of Henry Moore lies precisely in his imagination, which ranges over ancient sculp- ture and also relates grandeur to the elemental forces of nature. His juniors really are mistaken in believing they can lift ideas more profitably from one mother than from the age- less surprises in the British Museum. The blockish forms and stalky legs of Bernard Meadows's latest figures are, in fact, as elaborately mannered as contemporary sculpture can become. His fall- ing Frightened Torso cut off by a shield really has no more individual force than Moore's Arnhem warrior rendered in the stumpy, lumpish terms of a Reg Butler.

The most impressive bronze in the exhibition is a breast-plated bust with anvil head which does achieve a taut and sternly classic finality. Like his giant crab series, his top-heavy figures are armour crusted, though the mood is no longer menacing. The bulky torsos are flanked and buttressed by defensive shields whose spikes be- come arms. This enfolded, skewered mass is most

satisfactorily integrated with its support in one or two smaller works, such as a seated warrior. Muffled as the emotion is, there is a suggestion of passive endurance and vulnerability behind the formidable facade. The abrupt presence here of one of his earlier, scrawny birds is a reminder, however, of the tenseness of mood which Meadows shared with his associates in the Fifties. Such nervous, angular achievement greatly im- pressed foreign opinion when the British Coun- cil presented their baleful images together as something fresh and vital in our sculpture. It remains to be seen if Bernard Meadows's sculp- ture will strike with diminished force at the Venice Biennale next year, when he will repre- sent us with Roger Hilton's painting.