Arts: The Independent Collector

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The Independent Culture
GRANNY AND mummy have learned how to pretend. They present forced smiles, as if to a camera. But the look on the face of mummy's little girl reflects the horror of it all.

For the American-born visionary artist, Laurie Lipton, now living in London, life's like that. Her pencil drawings show an eternal nightmare of seething, unspeakable desires and fears pent up behind white picket fences and the thin walls of respectable suburbia.

In Generations, the three generations melt into the same eternity. The little girl has already glimpsed life's horrors. Her jowls dropping, her hairstyle prematurely ageing, she is transmogrifying into the same doll- like, dark reality of her mother and grandmother. Lipton is 44, unmarried, and New York Jewish but Woody Allen never expressed neurosis with the same fastidiousness and precision. Although she was inspired by Flemish egg-tempera painting - "you believed in the angel in the sitting room" - she uses soft B pencil and hard H pencil as if they were colour. The sepia-like, photographic tonality draws the eye quickly into a false reality. Brushwork would be a distraction.

There are recurrent themes in her work, such as the open-fronted doll's house in whose sanitised and polished rooms the hapless inhabitants act out fears or sit in lonely solitude. Some rooms are empty but eerily illuminated, resembling compartments of the brain, each containing a social taboo. Lipton writes in an introduction: "My work should hit you in the head, then slither slowly towards where you live. Do these images seem cruel, bitter, ruthless? Come closer, still - in the corner, under the bed, wrapped in the very fabric, something lies hidden. Spend more time. Work at looking. Search in order to find."

In her world, the women wear prim, floral-pattern dresses and sex raises its ugly head. In When Evening Hits the Suburbs, mother, with camera-friendly smile, kneels on a grass verge balancing a child wearing a bonnet. The child holds a pull-string, on the end of which is a monstrous juggernaut bearing down upon them. It carries a naked couple crouched in ecstacy; pyrotechnics explode from the woman's nipples and the ruins of a skyscraper city emerge from between her legs.

What happens when dark desires pop out of the closet is almost too ghastly to relate. But Lipton shows it in When She Told Her Parents, They Had Her for Lunch. They did, too. Father, in suit and tie, hair immaculately parted, is at the head of the table, carving a naked, pubescent girl. The far wall of the dining room is an ecclesiastical clerestory. Mother and the girls' siblings eat in subdued silence while outside, a child- like smiley sun shines on neat, cardboard houses.

The tablecloth is embroidered with: "We only want what's good for you." But for the breathtaking delicacy of the drawing and the humour, Lipton's drawings would be heavy going. Instead, they have a therapeutic quality, simultaneously exposing and banishing the hidden horrors of 20th-century suburban life.

Prices pounds 500-pounds 5,000. Laurie Lipton, `Remote Control' at the Chamber of Pop Culture, The Horse Hospital, Colonnade, London WC1, 13 Nov to 5 Dec (0171-833 3644). Lipton is represented by the Henry Boxer Gallery (0181- 948 1633)