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THE ART GALLERIES

Venice

May 31, 1985|WILLIAM WILSON

For decades, modern artists belittled traditional academic skill. Now that revisionist conservatism is in the air, many want old-fashioned technique and find that it's not so easy to come by.

Neo-Realist Richard Shaffer shows a score of oil-on-paper landscape studies executed on a recent Italian sojourn near Lake Como. They capture the general tone of 19th-Century American Manifest Destiny artists like Frederick Church. Sheets like "Visgnola" are panoramic in sweep, combining pinks and grays in a look of lyric virtuosity.

Trouble is, they don't communicate the bracing energy that used to go with bravura art-making. Fluidity that a Church or Sargent took for granted has become lost in time. Shaffer, who works in Texas, tries to revive it but he's not there yet, so the main content of the work is a somewhat ham-handed struggle.

When pictures broadcast the artist's obvious pleasure in open, juicy paint application, they tend to lose form. When shaped up as in "Pescallo," they get blocky and formula-ridden like California landscapes in the '30s. Occasionally, fervid effort blunders into a work like "S. Pietro" where the material power of Abstract Expressionism joins with the sledgehammer sensibility of Gustave Courbet. The result has power bordering on brutality. (L.A. Louver Gallery, 55 N. Venice Blvd., to June 15.)

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