Four on the fringe of the canvas

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 February, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 February, 1994, 12:00am

BRIAN Crouch, the most con siderable painter in the four- person exhibition, The Fringe of the Fringe, is currently concerned with gardens.

This series of works comes after a lifetime of drawing and painting since he finished art school in the 50s, a progression that has included both abstract and figurative painting, collages and a host of drawings.

All this experience has contributed to the lively semi-figurative aspects and to the colourful but carefully controlled chromatics of his current work.

What we see is mostly close-up, even when the angle of vision caught in the painting is ostensibly wider. The effect is of a close personal encounter right among the flowering greenery with its clearly shown textures, its swirling, springing forms as theplants struggle for the light against the neighbouring growth. There is all the joy of abundantly flowering gardens - almost the smell of vibrant growth as much as that of the florescence itself.

Karen Souza is a younger painter, still uncertain of what her subjects might truly be. She is poised uneasily between a weak figuration and patterning. Love offers a sketchy outline of closed lips in a well-ordered composition of patterns and slabs of dull orange and deep, textured purple. The Dance is confused by heavy, not very black line drawing.

Mark Cazalet deals with gardens too, but also with urban situations, each with a rudimentary figure or two. His sense of place is only minimally developed.

Timothy Hyman is an anecdotal painter. Me and Driver and Bus Stop give the clue to caricatured figuration of no great moment. ANYONE with an interest in what is being produced by the painters of contemporary Russia and China will find 8 + 8 a rude shock.

The Chinese contribution is mostly one of crude expressionism without (save in a single canvas, Chen Xi's Winter ) a redeeming feature. It lacks empathy, wit or much in the way of painting talent.

If these works express anything coherent it is disillusion, doubtless reflecting Chinese disillusion at large with what is happening to life in their country, still suffering after years of poverty and now experiencing philosophical bankruptcy also.

The brash, brutal view expressed with such vulgarity in the paintings makes a sad comment on both life and art in China today.

Turning to the Russians, whose talents are of a much higher order, you find a decided shift from reality (even from Socialist ''realism'') to a rekindled, centuries-old fantasy.

Here are works in the half-weird, half-fanciful manner of the 16th-century Bosch. Volkov's The Place of Flights has ordinary neat-suited men swinging from a tree and others flying blissfully on nothing much but fantasy above a Russian city.

Alexander Brovin paints big canvases of a galleon at sea, its superstructure a city of Gothic spires, and of a tree whose branches end in equally Gothic cathedrals.

Alexander Gazhur, easily the best painter of the eight, offers modern icons in the style of the old famous Russians ones - with a dense text to explain what they mean.

Another work by Sergey Volkov shows a city in the form of an old-fashioned merry-go-round.

Lots of talented Russian escapism, amusing but basically confused.