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The Galleries

Venice

February 12, 1988|WILLIAM WILSON

"The British Picture" is an ambitious sampler of current English painting by some 20 artists, renowned and obscure, run up the pole in celebration of the UK/LA festival. Although inherently superficial, such shows do offer the hope of a few good pictures and the opportunity to make silly, self-gratifying generalizations about the theme.

It looks here as if British art exists about 20 years behind the times in a state of cozy and humanistic depression, punctuated by perky fits of graphic pizazz and stylistic hysteria all made somehow OK by a quality of sympathy, lack of pretense and personal sincerity that has made British art historically a chronicle of unexpected giants rather than a thundering operatic choir of talents like the Italian Old Masters. Boils down to the realization that British art never ceases to be oddly interesting in personality and recurrently astonishing in accomplishment. After all, three of the chaps here have been repeatedly nominated to the informal ranks of Greatest Living Painter.

Francis Bacon is on hand with one of those pictures that reminds us a nude human female on a dun-colored couch sometimes looks to him like an unshelled snail. Lucian Freud's drowsy manager has a middle-age blowsiness attesting to our estate as sacks of meat, guts and blood that manage to miraculously walk about. If David Hockney doesn't look so well here, give him a break; the County Museum is full of good goods.

Among lesser known artists looking well here are John Walker with his paintings of hollow heroism, Avis Newman who draws lines with the elegance of collapsed Borzis and John Virtue who taps the odd poetry of night in the suburbs. (L.A. Louver Gallery, 55 N. Venice Blvd. and 77 Market St., to March 5.)

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