ART: PRIVATE VIEW

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The Independent Culture
Art shopping at Christmas

Various London venues

Galleries are always appealing places at this time of year. It's often a time for mixed exhibitions, sometimes with a theme, sometimes not - a dressing up of "gallery artists" in the hope of a few seasonal sales. Certainly, whether you're in a position to shop or not, they can offer a blessed relief from the mad traffic of the Christmas crowds.

In London, I'd always recommend a trip to the Fine Art Society in New Bond Street. I worked there for quite a few years, so I know what a safe haven it is, and there's always something surprising to look at. This year's mixed bag includes Hylton Nel's slightly wonky and endlessly endearing painted plates and figures. I'd be very pleased to find any of these in my stocking.

Exhibitions of smaller works are always popular at this time of year and no one does it better than Flowers East in Hackney, where the "Small is Beautiful" show has become an annual institution. This year's millennium theme strikes me as rather vaguer than most, but with a line-up that includes such diverse talents as Roger Ackling, Gillian Ayres, Peter Blake, Ian McKeever, John McLean and Patrick Proctor, it promises to live up to the usual standard.

Another theme that emerges in more than one place this Christmas is "Painting", as opposed to all the other ways of making art that are so prevalent these days. The Stephen Lacy Gallery has a show called simply that, which ought to be worth a look, as should "Painting at Purdy Hicks" in Hopton Street, Blackfriars (above). It's a reminder of the strength of this excellent gallery, seen here particularly in the work of Estelle Thompson and Felim Egan.

At the Alan Cristea Gallery in Cork Street, the theme is printmaking (not surprisingly, as he is also one of the leading print publishers in the country). This exhibition celebrates the fifth anniversary of Cristea's split from the Waddington empire across the street. Happy birthday to him - and Happy Christmas to the rest of you.

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