ARTS / Exhibitions: One lump or two?: Laura Godfrey-Isaacs is obsessed with the clammy and the viscous. For her new show she even got help from ICI. Plus a tribute to Adrian Heath

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The Independent Culture
LAURA GODFREY-ISAACS is a young(-ish) artist who studied at the Slade, then held a Fulbright fellowship in New York, was artist-in-residence at the Liverpool Tate and has exhibited quite widely in the last five years, both in Britain and abroad. This is the sort of career appreciated by the British art establishment, but Godfrey-Isaacs has an individual way of failing to please. Her last show was named after its largest painting, Slime. Other pictures were called Gunk, Sludge, Gunge, Scum and Bog. Good, accurate titles for the work. One's impression was of a person born to pore over the disagreeable.

That was a first impression only. Many people had the feeling that Godfrey-Isaacs was on to something. The paintings, once you got used to them, were rather beautiful. Then it became clear that they had ecological concerns. They were open, frank about things we normally keep secret, throw away or sanitise. Most importantly, their preoccupation with the workings of the female body as experienced by the owner of that body, and no one else, made Godfrey-Isaacs a feminist artist of a rare kind. I add from my own experience that I have always found her paintings hilarious. And how indeed could her clammy and viscous obsessions be taken seriously if she did not laugh at her own discoveries?

The new works at the Rebecca Hossack Gallery are not as amusing as their predecessors, mainly because of a new emphasis on natural form - or on nature itself, rather, for these strange works are in a slippery way without definition. The paintings are now like sculptures. They are not rectangular, nor on stretchers. They hang from the wall but protrude from it. They are not made with paint but with a mixture of resins and industrial media developed in collaboration with John Graystone, a research scientist at ICI.

There are two series of works in the Hossack Gallery, collectively titled Padded Paintings and Alien Blobs. The padded paintings are the earlier set. Entering the room in which they are hung one feels as if in some outer-space archaeological museum. Here are artefacts apparently - but not definitely - made by the human hand. One cannot tell their purpose, age or provenance. Godfrey-Isaacs seems to have taken cushions which have a broadly rectangular shape and coated them not with paint but with a medium that dries hard and looks both new and dirty. The buff colour is quite subtly modulated. The impression is of something soiled, which is yet being treated as precious. This is not like the old idea of junk sculpture, which used things that people throw away. It's a wholly contemporary conceit.

These are intriguing, but not as successful as the second and larger series of works. The Alien Blobs fill the larger room and do so with great assurance. They are more or less circular, the largest two and a half feet across, the smallest a little less than a foot. All have a different character, depending on their outlines, their crinkles and the way that they are built up away from the wall. Colour plays some part too, but there isn't really a palette. The shiny, resinous surfaces are liquid, pearly and brown, quite often mottled or stained. Though they are not like paintings, these works were surely made by a person who values painting's effects. Godfrey-Isaacs has invented a personal and useful form.

The blobs retain some of the lush and excessive half-secrecy of the slime paintings. They also take in much more of the natural and human world. The blobs have many connotations. The most obvious is that they resemble breasts and nipples. But one is like a swollen, pregnant belly, another like a helmet, another like a shield, others like sea anemones, molluscs or shells.

It's as though we were examining matter through a microscope. The blobs could be magnified cells, bits of plasma that are studied for signs of life or disease. The scientific air is reinforced by the obvious artificiality of the resinous medium. Godfrey-Isaacs has always been a painter who likes thick and gooey pigment, paint so lavishly applied that it trickles and seeps over the framing edges. Collaboration with a scientist is an obvious way of making her medium do more and more, and the newly devised recipes have worked. There is, however, a hardness in the new textures. The paradox is that Godfrey-Isaacs wants to embrace the world but has ended by making brittle additions to the world that might have come from outer space.

In a brief show that closes on Thursday, the Redfern Gallery has a tribute to the late Adrian Heath. Nine paintings by Heath are in the central room. Elsewhere are pictures by friends and contemporaries: Terry Frost, William Gear, Keith Vaughan, Victor Pasmore, Roger Hilton and Gillian Ayres. Heath's work looks commanding among this company: if not so instinctive or ebullient as Frost or Hilton, he was certainly more thoughtful. These works tell us of the deliberate way he used brush and palette-knife. Often he scraped off his first application as though with renewed desire to consider his initial programme for a picture. Composition with Orange and Yellow of 1955 is the best of the present company, followed by Dark Composition with White (1957-58), a brooding and funereal picture. RIP.

Laura Godfrey-Isaacs: Rebecca Hossack Gallery, W1, 071-434 4401, to 14 May. Adrian Heath: Redfern Gallery, W1, 071-734 1732, to Thurs.

(Photograph omitted)

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