1 FEBRUARY 1963, Page 20


The New Images


`WHAT 1 have set out to give is a view—admittedly a highly

personal one—of what British

art looks like now.' Thus Edward Lucie-Smith, in in-

troducing his selection at Tooth's Gallery of British paintings and sculpture pro- duced during the past year. In fact, no highly personal taste is revealed in his heterogeneous assembly of youngish artists who have generally aroused attention. Less expected, perhaps even by the anthologist, are some very recent twists of direction, so that the anthology fairly represents our art in 1961 as so many can- vases of a regatta tacking in strong side-winds, with their alignments continually unstable.

Prevailing winds blow strongly from Francis Bacon and the New Yorker Larry Rivers, leaders

of irrational and wryly allusive figuration. An

opposing current sweeps across the Channel from Vasarely, whose compressed or distorted checker- boards inspire the optical illusions of Bridget Riley here. These painters provide the absent clue to the exhibition as well as a pointer to trends which seem certain to continue this year.

The impulse of loosely termed `pop' art shows no sign of slackening outside the Royal College, if it has now waned among students. Peter Phillips's

elaborate puzzles of magazine idols alongside painted devices make no pungent comment on

the mass-media imagery paraded by himself, and by Peter Blake with his dolls suspended in Cellophane. Such artists have appropriated a commercial language, but found nothing signifi-

cant to say. Some sense of layout to produce a droll mystification is too lightly acquired, while

the inconsequent poetry that may be devised with patchwork belongs to the inventive surge of the Surrealist heyday.

The wavering, cartooning style of allusive 'pop' painting, on the other hand, seems to hold more in store. The artists are still torn between giving

us literary clues to their reveries (Eliot's lifted phrase 'fancy is partly verbal' is suggestive here), and allowing their meandering human imagery

to be self-sufficient. The question is whether their passages of sensitive brushwork, which may be as fine-drawn as a fly-whisk, together with the strange tonal relationships of colour areas set against bare canvas, are sufficient to sustain in- terest. In R. B. Kitaj's canvases they can. But Mr. Lucie-Smith has preferred a slighter ex- ponent in David Hockney, whose freakish en- counter here between a Berliner and a Bavarian makes me want to share his private joke, its treatment leaving one in every sense in the air.

A scatter-brained school this, if you like, but that it has brains to scatter is abundantly clear in Kitaj's fantastic amalgam of motives, which the Tate has just acquired.

One could dwell on several stylistic changes here such as are apparent in a Jack Smith and a Frank Auerbach, but this review may more appropriately close with a word about the decorative Surrealist paintings of the American, Bill Copley, at the Hanover Gallery. His art sig- nifies less in itself than as striking the keynote

of various endeavours over here. To reconcile humanistic and abstract elements in provocative pictures which parody the culture of this day is Copley's achievement, no less than that of some rising English painters.