Andrew Lambirth

Fine Arts Special

Something for everyone

Over in Notting Hill, at England & Co., 216 Westbourne Grove, W11 (until 12 June), is a fascinating retrospective of that underrated painter Albert Herbert (born 1925). Herbert studied at the Royal College of Art with the Kitchen Sink painters, Bratby, Middleditch et al., but was less drawn to gritty social realism than to an art altogether more symbolic and concerned with states of mind. (‘Art is not about meanings but feelings,’ he has said.) An early dose of Surrealism was compounded by the influence of Francis Bacon, briefly a tutor at the RCA, and Herbert began to explore his own intensely personal narratives through shared stories, many of them taken from the Bible.

An intuitive painter, whose dialogue with the paint might result in an image changing radically again and again as he works on it, Herbert searches out the marvellous through favourite stories such as Jonah and the Whale or God speaking to Moses from the Burning Bush. His style of painting is direct and lyrical, with shapes often cropped and isolated in a sea of broken brushstrokes, like collaged images. Although not strictly speaking a religious painter (nor a card-carrying member of any specific Church), Herbert returns to the Bible stories again and again with renewed enthusiasm and intensity, plumbing their depths for resonance and metaphor. Recent paintings have become more autobiographical, dealing with memories of his own childhood or soldiering in the war, yet two new depictions of Mary Magdalene show that Herbert has lost none of his skill with the great archetypes.

A painter of a very different stamp is Felim Egan (born Ireland 1952), who orchestrates the subtlest accents of colour-change over vast areas of canvas into piquant suggestions of landscape, summoning up the night sky, ocean or a glimpse of light between trees. Egan is a master of texture and subtle modulation, his predominantly square and rectangular forms perfectly pitched in an equivalence of emotion recollected in tranquillity.

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