Visual Arts: The Independent Collector John Windsor's Guide to Collecting Contemporary Art. This Week: David Thorpe

AT LEAST one critic made the error of describing David Thorpe's pictures as "paintings" when they were shown in Martin Maloney's Die Young Stay Pretty exhibition at the ICA, in central London.

Closer inspection reveals that they are collages of coloured art paper whose contours are half a centimetre deep in places. He cuts out shapes with a scalpel - it took him a day to cut out each tree in his big 5ft by 5ft 6in After the Rain, shown right - then puts them under the mattress on the floor where he sleeps. After several nights they are well and truly stuck.

Paintings they are not, but they are certainly about painting. Their hard-edged segments of flat colour seem to mimic the cool new realism in painting that has caught Charles Saatchi's eye, and to carry it a stage further. Thorpe's greatest influence is on the featureless and beguiling paintings of fashionable women by the American Alex Katz, one of Saatchi's favourites.

Two years ago a rudimentary two-tone Thorpe collage cost pounds 500. Now his prices range from pounds 1,000 to pounds 3,000. Some of those early collages, of nocturnal urban architecture, will be shown in the Saatchi Gallery's Neurotic Realism later this year - and he is negotiating a commission with Saatchi for a 8ft by 10ft collage. His gallerist, Maureen Paley, of Interim Art, will be taking After the Rain to next month's international Armory Show of new art in New York.

The ICA show was the first of Maloney's to include Thorpe's work. Maloney was his tutor in art theory on his MA fine arts course at Goldsmith's College.

Thorpe, 26, began making rural scenes when he realised he was making landscape. He started looking at the silhouettes in the highly polished landscapes of Claude, Friedrich and Fragonard. There is a back-to-basics feel about his work.

If Claude were alive today, would he have dwarfed his flat, seemingly cut-out trees with electricity pylons instead of classical temples? He would certainly not have lost the romantic blend of sylvan simplicity and monumentalism that Thorpe's work echoes. Art paper and spray-on photo- montage glue would probably not have appealed to Claude's 17th-century French taste. In Thorpe's work, the collage technique - a craft skill - underlines the humility of his vision.

There are few people in Thorpe's collages (and no nymphs or shepherds). But there is a sense of narrative - a bit like Raymond Carver's novels, he says, in which nothing much happens but you sense that a lot is going on.

Thorpe's three-room flat in south London is a bit like that. The fine spray of glue settles everywhere, trapping dust and small objects in a glutinous immobility. Several flatmates have quit rather than get trapped in it.

Interim Art: 0171-254 9607

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