London has a pleasant new art gallery at the Jerwood Space, 171 Union Street, SE1. The building looks totally modern from the outside, but is a converted 19th-century school, cleverly adapted for the Jerwood Foundation's present-day purposes. Most of the floor area is occupied by five rehearsal spaces which are used by dance and theatre companies. The one I saw was excellent. Downstairs there's a cafe, a sculpture courtyard is at the back and the gallery opens on the street.
This is a fast-developing part of Southwark. Even though there are not many people in the streets, there are large new banks, surely a sign that the future is waiting to spring on us. The Jerwood Space is quite close to the Globe Theatre and the new Tate Gallery at Bankside. I expect that 171 Union Street will become a popular venue by the millennium. It has started quite well. The first show looks good, if not spectacular. The previously homeless Jerwood Painting Prize is now in its fifth year and has become an established part of the British art scene, not least because its winner receives the sizeable sum of pounds 30,000. The Prize is also popular because it concentrates on painting, a vital contemporary art form that's often overlooked by the conceptual establishment. Furthermore, there's none of the ageism that tends to creep into art competitions these days. Most of the 10 shortlisted artists who make up the exhibition are in their thirties, while two of them, Basil Beattie and Edwina Leapman, are in their sixties. Significantly, both of them are painting with more authority than at any previous time in their careers.
Leapman, as always, exhibits can-vases in which some five or six dozen stripes run horizontally and in parallel from one edge of the picture to the other. These stripes have a variegated touch and muted colour. For some years Leapman used only white - grey, that is, for very few white paintings are absolutely white. At the moment, she seems to be concentrating on maroon and blue. But the colour is not the most important change. Leapman's stripes used to seem exploratory, as though she didn't know when she started on the left of the picture (as one presumed she did) what minor adventures might occur to her brush as she approached its right-hand side. Today, that sense of uncertainty has disappeared. She shows more command, and her paintings are better for being more regulated. Basil Beattie is more obviously commanding, but there's much subtlety in his bravura. Of his paintings (each artist exhibits two, and often they seem like pairs), I prefer Bound in Blackness. A yellowy-cream border encloses two shapes or areas: one is black and at its side is another shape that's almost black and is in fact very dark chocolate. At the top of this area is a sort of architectural motif, roughly painted doorways that give a hint of perspective. At the bottom left of the picture is a white triangle - white because the canvas has been left bare. This triangle contains three strut- like lines, painted thickly with white oil. Here's a bold painting whose dramatic outlines contain some extra- fine colour contrasts and unexpected passages. Such passages may seem nonchalant or casual, but that's because they are the result of experience. And, in general, I don't think that Beattie's painting could have been accomplished by a younger artist. …