6 JUNE 1992, Page 49


Exhibitions 1

Tough lessons

Giles Auty

Summer Show/Alush Shima (Roy Miles Gallery, till 9 July) Anthony Bream

(Cadogan Contemporary, till 13 June

Barbara Rae (William Jackson Gallery, till 13 June)

In days when I taught regularly in art schools, some of my greater disappoint- ments lay with students who appeared to have low or non-existent motivation: 'That's not a very good drawing, Saman- tha.' It's the best I can do.' If you knew you would be shot in six months rather than merely failing your diploma if you didn't do any better, how would that affect you?' Of course, I'd improve.'

I recalled the aforesaid, surprisingly good-humoured conversation while look- ing, the other day, at the art of Alush Shima, an Albanian showing outside his native land for the first time. This was at Roy Miles Gallery (29 Bruton Street, W1). Until recently Albania was the kind of Stal- inist paradise for which so many in Britain's academic institutions ostensibly yearn. That those who actually lived in such hells were markedly less enthusiastic does not influence our complacent Marxist aca- demics, of course. Alush Shima, who was born in 1942 and graduated from the Alba- nian Academy of Art in 1965, had to hide his innocent-seeming Fauvist still-lifes and landscapes in the roof of his dwelling. Along with the whole of Western art, such paintings were deemed decadent by the state. As in most of Eastern Europe, artists' materials were scarce and of poor quality in Albania. Shima carefully cleaned, stretched and primed sacks on which to paint; motivation was possibly the sole thing he did not lack. Artists such as Shima worked in a virtual visual vacuum with hardly any knowledge not only of 20th- century Western art but of the entire West European artistic heritage. Indeed, the only real contact he has made with it so far 'Shore and River; by Barbara Rae, mixed media on board has been on his present visit to London his first experience, of any kind, of the West. Art students in Britain who love to imagine they live in a cruel, police-run state should be obliged to study conditions in Albania under Hoxha. When that late dictator died, Shima celebrated openly by painting a vase full of irises on a chair: an act of previously unimaginable rebellion.

The rest of the huge Roy Miles gallery features now familiar Russian works paint- ed in plein-air styles with heightened palette. Works such as Sergei Ousik's `Summer Evening, Suzdal' or Mikhail Kupriyanov's 'By the River Bank' would embellish most domestic walls, whereas a huge painting of a small boy lying dreaming on a Georgian tussock can chill the air. It is `Stalin in his Youth', painted in the Soviet `official' style of 1952. Perhaps the small boy has a premonition of the millions of his fellow countrymen he will cause to die.

Tony Bream, the subject of a large exhi- bition, mostly of watercolours, at Cadogan Contemporary (108 Draycott Avenue, SW3), is an example, now rare, of a West- ern artist who attempts to live by the sweat of his brow, tramping the hot paths and pavements of India, Egypt, Turkey and many other baking locations in search of authentic local atmosphere. Bream works on the spot in temperatures that can fry, let alone just try the intrepid wanderer. Often, part of his peregrinatory payload is a bag full of stones to repel packs of feral dogs eager to chew not only the rucksack but its carrier. A far cry from the ivory towers of academe. 'East Gate, Karnak', 'Palace at Minos' and 'Temple of Artemis, Sardis' would be my personal choices from this fine record of journeyings in hot climates.

Barbara Rae, at William Jackson Gallery (28 Cork Street, W1), is also unusual as a present-day woman artist who is neither a virulent Marxist nor feminist. She has tal- ent instead. Like Tony Bream she is willing to travel in search of landscape which prompts her poetic paintings. I think her work is getting better all the time: tougher in structure and edited more rigorously. Space operates more convincingly now in her colourful evocations of the spirit of place. These are felt paintings of a kind I think only only a woman could produce, although their iconography reminds me more of Fred Williams or William Scott than Sheila Fell. There is occasional crude- ness and muddle in the drawing but this is redeemed increasingly by a new grandeur of design. A number of paintings in the current exhibition feature landscape from the Alpujarras and Sierra de la Con- traviesa. As Tony Bream and I can also confirm, the mountain roads there move not only hearts but stomachs, yet reward travellers with sights which first haunted Gerald Brennan and other British visitors 70 years ago. Here is the archetypal Spain of Goya rather than of the piano bar. Unlike Albania of recent memory, there it is the vistas alone which arrest artists.