7 OCTOBER 1972, Page 24


Burst of gory

Evan Anthony

If you were one of those who prayed for Rosemary's baby a few years back and have been wondering ever since how the poor kid turned out, but lacked the imagination to paint your own picture, you may find a clue at the Surrealist Art Centre in Brook Street. Look at a painting called The Holy Dog and see if Wilhelm Freddie's strange animal perched on top of a mountain (sans pram) doesn't strike you as being a close relation. Freddie, a contemporary of Dali, and acknowledged to be one of Denmark's leading surrealist painters, has finally managed to get a showing in Britain. Banned in 1935 from the International Surrealist Exhibition at the Burlington Galleries, he has arrived on the scene in what might be called a burst of gory. Any recognition he receives from this belated, show is, I feel, richly deserved: it makes a nice change to be able to go along with a publicity handout and award Freddie a place of honour among such other surrealist greats as Magritte, Breton, Dali etc. There are the weak pieces — the cubistic works which look too contrived — but on the whole it is a collection of marvellous horror pictures, an entertaining combination of grand guignol, mild (nowadays) pornography, and the Marx Brothers.

By comparison, Alan Dodd's surreal efforts at the New Grafton Gallery, are pretty tame. The visual gags are too quickly discovered and are reminiscent of soft-cover books of photographs with jokey captions. Pretty blues and pinks abound and Before and After pays homage to Magritte in a fairly obvious way, but cleverness soon palls, disintegrating into coyness. The painting technique is sometimes sloppy, and unless you really can get excited about a hand growing out of the earth, or a tree sprouting from a head, you may find this a tiresomely onenote show. The same could be said of David Hepher's house paintings at the Angela Flowers Gallery were it not that Hepher's singlemindedness is intentional. His art imitating life, he has realistically painted some thirty-two feet of boringly designed suburban house frontage. Mr B, the Occupant of No. 20, Leaving His House One Morning Last January, is the star attraction, with pieces of Nos. 21 and 22 thrown in for good measure. If Hepher were Gilbert and George, or George and Gilbert, he would undoubtedly merit columns of comment from my trendier confreres; but for myself I can note only that the fellow paints bricks and fences and windows remarkably well — and pass Mr B with high marks, too.

At the Alwin Gallery, Ernest Bottomley's Man vs. Technology leaves little question as to the social comment, i.e., you can sell out quickly if you produce a slick collection of pseudo-tortured looking aluminium figures, trapped in plexiglass, representing Mankind in various attitudes of conflict. The sculptures come in crowds: embalmed under a table top, in a drumshaped construction of several layers, or simply encased like totem pole figures surrounded by barriers. The idea has infinite possibilities — a telephone kiosk, a Volkswagen, a bathtub — and the red stickers indicate that Bottomley has won this round.

Peter Logan at the Whitechapel also does reasonably well against tremendous odds. His Water Dances and Mechanical Ballet received an opening night send-off to unnerve any artist who wants people actually to look at his work. The water works turned out to be rather piddling, with two rectangular pools occupying the entire floor of the downstairs gallery, except for a small inadequate bar area. Anaemic sprays of water criss-crossed and the major interest seemed to be concentrated upon wagering when someone Would strip off and jump in. But in the upstairs gallery, despite competition for space behind a barrier protecting the mechanical ballet. Logan's rods and poles moved hypnotically. I found the electronic music provided by Brian Hodgson too determinedly moody, and would like to see the show minus the sound — reserving, of course, the right to change my mind.