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Salient. Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 26, No. 7. Tuesday, June 18, 1963

Artists Hibernating — Art Critic Read Rubbished

page 7

Artists Hibernating

Art Critic Read Rubbished

There's been a marked fall in the barometric pressure of the Capital's fine arts world: It's pretty dull and overcast at the moment.

Poor showing by Leonard Mitchell and John Loxton, a lowering of tone at the Academy and a singular lack of activity in the Centre and Willeston Galleries have all contributed to an unwelcome lull.

Acting on the assumption that in the kingdom of the colonies the Englishman is king, our erudite and ivory - towered overeign, Herbert Read, arrived on a blaze of glory and departed without trace. Still, we can read his books as well as he can, and those of us with a modicum of common sense hardly view him as that saviour his enamoured adntrers would have him painted.

Although us Colonials may lack Sir Herbert Read's old-world sophistication and veneer, we are less inclined to clamber aboard that author's band-wagon—a band-wagon which, one might add, has conveyed its unwitting English passengers down the garden bath to nowhere. Although Sir Herbert managed to jump off this vehicle of the 1930s, that thick fog of intellectualism which is his constant companion has caused him to lose his way.

In espousing early in his career the cause or modern art, Sir Herbert Read backed some of the right horses; but this year's winners are often next year's "also rans." The shifting sands of public and critical opinion are indeed treacherous, and in the last few years Sir Herbert has become bogged down: no longer does he hold sway over critical opinion in England.

In fairness to Read we must point out that he works in difficult times, and that he is not so much a practising critic as a philosopher and aesthetician: a polymath de nos Jours.

All the same, Sir Herbert Read places an alarming reliance upon the crutches of ratiocinative reasoning and psychology in his work, crutches which, in my opinion, bear about as much relationship to art as logic to the law.

Apart from a patronising nod to Mr. Peter Tomory, Sir Herbert Read was singularly reluctant to comment publicly on the standard of New Zealand painting (apart from an approving salute to that sure-winner Prances Hodgkins).

Moving on to the artists, Leonard Mitchell's exhibition at James Smith's was extremely disappointing; and not unexpectedly so. One cannot but concur with the comments of Russell Bond on this showing. I think that contrary to the suggestions of Mr. Leo Panning, Bond did more than justice to Mitchell.

This artist's work is uniformly flat in its tone; there is little or no feeling for perspective, and Mitchell's colour sense can only be described as "peculiarly enlightened"—but enlightened in a horrible manner. Harsh, incongruous and poorly thought out colour combinations are hardly likely to find favour with the buyers.

On the other hand, Mr. Loxton did find such favour. Unfortunately the publicity build-up describing this man as "one of Australia's leading painters" was complete eye-wash. However, he is a technically competent artist whose water colours are far superior to his oils studies. The latter were really quite trite: they did not hold for me the depth Mr. Bond saw in them.

This year's autumn academy showing was very patchy. Thirty or so works from the exhibition were recently shown in the Centre Gallery which, apparently, has now a new set of people running it. There's been nothing in that Gallery worth noting since we reviewed Sylvia Lovell's work.

One work included in the Academy's showing was Evelyn Page's Lambton Quay study, a work by an artist of considerable competence and originality but not, I felt, a successful painting. The large spreading tree which takes up the great part of the picture does not seem to be a coherent part of the overall design: it obtrudes in an unwelcome manner. However, I gather this work was bought by the Dunedin Art Gallery (or was it already their property?)—G.L.E.