VISUAL ARTS: PICK OF THE GALLERIES Shiny pools of paint, and the Manics

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The Independent Culture
Gary Hume

Whitechapel Gallery, London

's paintings are almost unbearably elegant. Who would have thought that garishly coloured gloss household paint on aluminium panel could be so gorgeous to look at? Hume's technical mastery of his humble medium is now complete, and on one level this exhibition is a confident display of sheer virtuosity. We see a host of different effects, ranging in scale from the gigantic to the quite modestly sized. Most of the Dulux colour chart is there, laid on in great shiny lakes or thin rivers. But so too are we introduced to large chunks of art history, both literally in works which quote from Old Masters (particularly portraits), to more indirect homages or quotations from everything from such Modernist abstractionists as Hans Arp and Jackson Pollock to pop graphics, fashion magazines, comic books, Sixties and Seventies design, and so on.

Hume is 37 years old and is clearly into his stride. Having managed to extricate himself from the dead-end irony-burdened kind of works that made him very popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and which looked like minimal hard-edged abstraction but were actually derived from doors in such places as hospitals, Hume has gone on to exemplify a kind of painting which is brazenly willing to break all the rules laid down by the art police.

So his work is stylistically promiscuous, unashamedly beautiful, and utterly personal. This exhibition then, is no retrospective; instead it shows us the products of Hume's activity over the past three years, with the bulk being from 1999. The British representative at the Venice Biennale, this is a consolidated version of that exhibition.

But while Hume's star has continued to rise, something has happened to the work recently. Initially Hume's embracing of a quirky figurative style seemed motivated by the desire to invest his work with some kind of emotional meaning. Mostly this came over as a profound unease, a sort of late 20th-century expressionism-meets-comic-book. Now there seems to be a far more superficial attitude to the subject matter he works with. Angels, multiple outline images of naked women, blackbirds - these images, discovered in a wide range of places, become the raw material for a voluptuous series of variations in glossy shape and colour. And while the recent paintings certainly command attention, they lack the slightly unsettling weirdness of the earlier work. Hume clearly has a restless imagination; looking at the many works in the Whitechapel is a bit like being with a hyperactive child. This kind of marvellous energy pushes him to run variations on themes and to head off into new stylistic territory. But there is often the sense that he thinks that the content will look after itself, that anything he latches on to will, through the alchemy of his technique, be transformed into significant images. It's not that easy. But in the meantime, there's certainly a strange beauty to be enjoyed.

'': Whitechapel Gallery, E1 (0171 522 7888) to 23 Jan

SIMON MORLEY

Eilis O'Connell

Arnolfini, Bristol

There can't be many artists able to look through the gallery window of their exhibition and watch people walking across their very own bridge. O'Connell's Pero's Bridge - designed by the artist in collaboration with Ove Arup Engineers - spans the harbour of St Augustine's Reach. The trumpet-shapes that act as weights for the bridge's upward swings find a satisfying echo in O'Connell's smaller-scale studio works.

Born in Londonderry in 1953, O'Connell is one of Britain's most pre-eminent sculptors, with a growing list of large public commissions sited all over the place. A chance to see her less monumental but perhaps more personal work is therefore welcome. That the result should be quite so impressive, however, comes as something of a shock. Though the exhibits range from monumental-in-miniature 6ft steel constructions in stainless steel to domestic-sized objects such as Nest - a bird's nest cast in clear resin - everything is all of a piece.

It's all good, but a few images in particular stand out: the second part of Eixample from 1998, whose interlacing of rubber pipes and steel cables creates a kind of cross between a beehive and the cross-section of a human heart; Abandon, a Brancusi-like sphere made of goose feathers; Moss Shoes, whose delicate pumps are sewn together from Lapland lichen.

'Eilis O'Connell': Arnolfini, Bristol (0117 9299191) to 29 Jan

PHIL JOHNSON

Unconvention

Centre for Visual Arts, Cardiff

Two years ago, the artist Jeremy Deller showed a collection of words and pictures created by fans of the Manic Street Preachers as part of the Arts Council touring exhibition "VoiceOver". Now he's gone a step further, curating a whole show of artworks whose inclusion has been inspired by the group's range of textual references. It's a very mixed bag, with contents borrowed from the Tate Gallery, the Imperial War Museum and the British Museum. There are paintings by Picasso and Bacon; a Warhol photographic self-portrait; a Jenny Saville nude (once used as the cover for a Manics album); a lithograph by Jackson Pollock; photographs by Robert Capa and Don McCullin, and much else. That the disparate parts hang together at all surely owes more to Deller than it does to the self-consciously radical Welsh popsters, but it makes for a truly educative experience all the same.

Previous Deller interventions have included Acid Brass, an album of rave anthems performed by a brass band, and T-shirts with slogans such as the tabloid-imitating "My Drink Hell" depicting Robbie Williams, which the singer subsequently wore. With an art historian's training in the baroque, and an interest in various forms of folk art, Deller seems to have latched onto the Manics in order to popularise his otherwise rather esoteric concerns. Whatever the intention, "Unconvention" is an extremely effective piece of agitprop for the Manics fans it is presumably aimed at, successfully making links between art and lived experience. Spanish Civil War posters are accompanied by a deeply moving display of artefacts documenting the experience of International Brigade volunteers from Wales, many of whom died. For the show's opening, Arthur Scargill gave a talk, the 100-strong Pendryrus male-voice choir performed, and a Welsh bard sent along a special poem. You don't get that at White Cube.

'Unconvention': Centre for Visual Arts, Cardiff (02920 394040) to 16 Jan

PJ

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