Iain Gale on exhibitions

Exhibitions
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The Independent Online
Ray Richardson is well known as the artist who paints bull terriers. In realist, figurative paintings leavened with a touch of caricature, he chronicles the every day highs and lows of his native south London. Richardson's distinctive demi monde has been likened by many - in a not entirely unreasonable parallel - to that of Peter Howson. But to see Richardson as being to London what Howson is to Glasgow, is to some extent to miss the point.

His current show at Beaux Arts makes this plain. Richardson's concern is not, like Howson, the grandiose, Hogarthian set-piece allegory - but an Impressionist-like storybook narrative redolent of the cinema of David Lynch and at times, Jean-Luc Goddard. But, wandering among the crop-headed heavies who line the walls of the current exhibition you are abruptly met by something quite different. Hidden away downstairs (one suspects out of the gallery's misguided sense of propriety) you will find several paintings on black velvet. The subjects are dogs - Alsatians and bull terriers; the style a competent realism; the effect, pure kitsch.

If you're baffled, take a return trip upstairs and there, in the corner of one of the large oils - a pub interior - you will find, hanging on the wall, one of the very dog pictures in the basement. Take a look at the artist's CV and you might detect another clue. Richardson studied at Goldsmith's, where he was a contemporary and acquaintance of those darlings of New British Art, Damien Hirst and Michael Landy. Surrounded by such neo-conceptualists, he rebelled into his present figuration.

Now, in his witty little paintings on velvet, he is in effect making two important points. Through this neat device Richardson bridges the apparent gap between painting and conceptualism. It is easy to take his paintings as fictional narrative. But, says Richardson, if you really want to engage with them, you have to realise that these are images of reality - a reality that might one day, like his dogs, emerge from the world of the paintings and walk straight into your own life.

Beaux Art Gallery, Cork Street, London W1, ends tomorrow

Left: detail from Richardson's 'Front'

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