Visual Arts: Big is beautiful, and here's the proof

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The Independent Culture
EDUARDO FARADJE is an Argentinian in his early 40s. This is his first London show and he's lucky, as we are, that it is spacious. These 40 paintings fairly pick you up and chuck you against the opposite wall. Stand back 10 feet, and their strength and subtlety get to work.

The paintings are much more luminous than the catalogue can suggest. There is not a smile in the joint. The life-sized women turn their mouths downward and peer down considerable noses in expressions which convey rather more disdain than mere gloom. All this would be unbearable were it not for the occasional gleams of vivid colour, and the passion for light, which pick the spirits up.

Faradje says he spent some time in Madrid, in the late Eighties, and at the Prado he soaked up an adoration of the almost medieval seriousness of the old country. Like Malcolm Liepke and Antony Williams (both featured beautifully at the Albemarle recently), Faradje is deliberately and happily conventional, but properly modern too.

How come? The excitement of good oil painting lies in the way it takes on the same challenges and problems that have been around for centuries. The clever bit is to convey the liveliness which lies in shadow. Low countries and Spanish masters are still the benchmark, and the modern artist picks up the same tools with the same understanding about the job in hand.

Faradje is finding much the same way through this terrain as Walter Sickert, Stanley Spencer, and Lucian Freud. Like them, he maximises the difference between what a streak of paint seems to be doing when looked at closely and the effect it has when viewed at a proper distance. In this way, even the most conventional painter accepts the impressionist challenge.

Faradje's nudes are a triumph. Here is the proper devotion to the reality but also the eloquence of the human form: its capacity to do hard work but also to be an object of worship. There are the required translucent flesh tones on a woman's breast, especially in one of several nudes, Durmiendo. One nude, Desnudo Con Pano Rojo, is that simplest and most glorious of images, a woman's back. The hair is up, the robe distractingly covering half the rump. This is "swagger" painting of which John Singer Sargent (thank goodness for the forthcoming Tate celebration of him) would be proud. Vestita De Negro, one of the few small paintings, is a full-on, simple, piece assembled out of the minimum vigorous strokes in which a semi-naked woman in stockings looks with something like menace at the viewer. Sickert would be envious.

Faradje can convey personality beautifully, though he often sketches in the bare minimum of portraiture. Like the people in a Thomas Eakins, these are far more than simple parcels of studied misery. The thoughtful man in Mujer Durmiendo might have jumped right of an easel of the Philadelphia master.

Albemarle Gallery, 49 Albemarle St, London W1, (0171-499 1616). To 17 Oct, 10-6 Mon-Fri, 10-4 Sat