Iain Gale on exhibitions

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The Independent Culture
Graham Greene is an English institution. The man may have gone, but his books continue to sell in their millions. They have become part of the common property of great literature. To attempt to visualise their contents may therefore be seen by some as the ultimate sacrilege. The artist who attempts to do so must either be very brave or very foolish. Happily, John Keane has always been known as the former and his latest series of works, which attempt not only to illustrate the books but to convey something of the claustrophobic world of what has been called Greeneland, do not disappoint.

Keane's characteristic style, well documented in a highly readable recent biography by Mark Lawson, lends itself perfectly to the emotive, sinister, bitter-sweet language of Greene's oeuvre. The high point of the current exhibition of these works at Flowers East is the large triptych Graham Greene and the Jungle of Human Dilemma. In the extraordinarily, tangibly humid central panel, a fleetingly seen European in pith helmet, riding a mule, advances through the South American jungle towards a laptop computer and a masked bandito brandishing a gun. In the trees above, a Virgin in a mandorla provides a reminder of the troubled Catholicism of both the author and the continent of which he has written so extensively. This panel is flanked to the left by a man, presumably Greene himself, standing before a church, and on the right by a hanged man. It says much for Keane's understanding of Greene's work, that while he attracts our attention with these two large-scale characters, it is what is happening in the background that is the real action of these scenes. On the left, two dogs copulate while a crowd of people flock to the doors of a church. On the right, a firing squad takes aim at a besuited man, who stands before another church. Here, in a rare example of artistic sensitivity, is surely the closest we will ever come to visualising the picture inside Greene's mind. To have succeeded in capturing such an elusive image must elevate Keane from his past status, as documenter of war and urban deprivation, to a painter of unique talent.

Flowers East, 199 Richmond Rd, London E8 (0181-985 3333) to 7 Jan

Left: detail from Keane's 'Art and Revolution' (part 1, 1995)

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