15 MARCH 1975, Page 25


Indelicate balance

Evan Anthony

There may be the odd picture or two in the Fuseli exhibition where a face or_body is seen in repose, but it easily escapes memory, replaced by a vivid impression of figures in a state of perpetual emotion. Going through the show at the Tate is not unlike walking through an amusement park, shying away from the darting swoop of a facsimile aeroplane or roller coaster or some such diverting mechanical device, designed to scare you but ultimately causing you to giggle. So extreme is the fervour of the (self) exiled Swiss's visions, that you may

be forgiven if you emerge slightly dazed, if not absolutely exhausted., Fingers point, bodies charge or swoon or cling.

Taking their inspiration from the literary giants of many ages — Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Milton — the pictures strike an indelicate balance between grand opera and low 'comedy; sober reality eludes Fuseli and it is all too obvious that we are not in the presence of a mere illustrator. Perhaps students of Freud will make much of the variety of hairdos sported by his wife in a series of drawings of that good woman, but despite the superabundance of half-hidden images and erotic attitudes in many of his paintings, where characters grope and grasp for one another, it is, after all, only good unclean fun, perhaps with the occasionally disturbing idea of, say, a nightmare in which an incubus sits on the pit of the stomach of a sleeping girl.

The movement and sweep of the paintings, with shafts of light illuminating or hinting at dark provocative deeds, strike at you over and over again. If you allow the waves of excessive passion and exaggeration to wash over your 1975 rational sceptism, you will probably find a fair measure of admiration teased out of you. Ar,a of course, Fuseli could draw extremely well.

I shall have to think of what may be the saving grace of the Bruce Lacey display at the Whitechapel Art Gallery. His '40 years of assemblages, environments and robots' is a self-indulgent grab-bag of inventiveness and tedium. Present in person, he plays pied piper, surrounded by the kiddies brought to the Whitechapel to see for themselves, I suppose, that 'art' can be fun. One lad was told that people are robots along with a speech about why it was all right to wear make-up. Other similar profundities were explored, and then of course there was the visual rubbish, which you may find to be either amusing or grotesque, depending upon how you feel about limbs and bodies and a general air of tattiness. There were many admirers who grinned at the photos, the assemblages, the philosophy. Go see it for yourself and discover whether you are the kind of robot that responds to another man's collection of junk.

Meanwhile, in another part of the Whitechapel called the Ideas Gallery, Norman Mommens, Flemish by birth and English by adoption, treats us to 'Figures in Stone and Drawings from Spigolizzi'. Actually, the figures areIn stone and marble and aluminium: attractively small sculptures, sophisticatedly 'primitive' and reminiscent of totems. Mommens handles his materials well, and his drawings are interesting ideas related to his sculpture. At first look, Barrie Cook's 'Large Paintings from Black to White' in the Experimental Gallery (also at the Whitechapel) is such stuff as headaches are made of, but the spray-painted patterns, with 'controlled' bleeding eventually managed to dispel the irritation I felt looking at them. After all, it is the Experimental Gallery.