Visual Arts: IN THEIR OWN ELEMENT Grosvenor Gallery, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
The cartoonist and the illustrator are the poor relations of the art world, consigned, with a few notable 18th-century exceptions, to the limbo of the popular and the temporary. We know that "today's newspapers are tomorrow's fish and chip wrappers", but why should the artist who elicits a laugh be any less worthwhile than the old master? Humour, as Hogarth made plain, is a serious business, and it is refreshing to find the dual tradition he embodies as both satirist and painter in the grand manner underwritten in a show of off-duty work by four leading cartoonists and a duo of distinguished illustrators.

The pocket cartoons of the Independent's Colin Wheeler have enlivened the front page of this newspaper for almost nine years, yet few will be familiar with Wheeler's paintings, which reveal a quite different talent. It says much for the artist that these abstracted, expressionistic studies of human heads, with their marked stylistic difference from the spare lines that characterise his breakfast-table jokes, should be so immediately convincing.

Such a complete contrast does not inform the work of Nick Garland, in whose paintings it is still possible to detect the distinctive caricature style of the Daily Telegraph's political cartoonist. While his fine pen- and-ink landscapes have a distinctly British feel to them, Garland's paintings of similar subjects betray a rather too obvious debt to Cezanne. More successful are his sensitive studies of individual characters and assertive nudes.

Michael Daley's background as an art school teacher influences his extraordinary drawings, populated by fanciful creatures of his own imagining. These are the stuff of an art-historian's nightmare - an ingenious mix of styles and motifs in which the familiar, craggy features of Leonardo's helmeted warrior become those of a warthog, and the Venus de Milo melds into a surreal plant form reminiscent of Mir or Ernst.

Daley's fellow illustrator Mike McGuinness, art director of the Independent, displays a similarly analytical approach to his albeit more prosaic watercolours. He paints a gas burner and a battered red chair with the elegance and precision of Uglow or Coldstream. But it is in the candour of his portrait of Samuel Beckett that McGuinness shows his real talent.

That same confidence informs the disappointingly flat watercolours of the otherwise exuberant Australian-born cartoonist John Jensen. Similarly, although John Glashan's portraits and landscapes display unquestionable competence, they necessarily lack the distinctive quirkiness of his cartoons. With few such exceptions, however, the works on view evince genuine artistic considerations that some may find surprising. We can only hope that none of the artists will be sufficiently encouraged to give up the day job.

n To 26 July. Details on 0171-629 0891