Art: Bosom studies

Malcolm T Liepke's work is selling out fast.
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Indy Lifestyle Online
A trip to the National Gallery bears out Malcolm T Liepke's placing of Velazquez amongst his influences. Room 29 at Trafalgar Square shows you that the great Spaniard does indeed hover in the eye, mind and hand of this modern American, whose work at the Albemarle is his first British outing. The show is dragging in lunchtime businessmen, tempted by the bosom and frank stares the painter's models throw out.

Born in Minneapolis in 1953, Liepke's work is sombre. He seems to lay paint on vigorously, in what look like almost declamatory strokes. But the canvases and prints (on show until Saturday 28 March) are also frankly sexy: these pale, underclothed young women look hungry, and a tad insatiable. They look cross, and you'd not want to cross them. But sobered up, they'd probably be quite larky. There is a gleam of joy in this stuff.

According to an interview and profile by the artist Kathleen Anderson, in American Artist, Liepke is a successful illustrator in New York, and he often exhibits there. The paintings in London have mostly sold, and it's not surprising. Liepke is showing us a complicated world, but does it with charm. And it may be that being an illustrator encourages in him a certain modesty: he is happy to declare several influences and we are happy to hunt down those and more. There's the Degas love of strong light and shade and whacky angles and cropping. There's an element of John Singer Sargent's swagger portrait flirty-dirty in the women. There's Whistler's fuzzy, visionary illumination.

There are also qualities which the artist didn't mention to American Artist and which may be coincidental. But it's hard not to compare the man with Thomas Eakins, America's awkward, brilliant, anguished portraitist: here's the same discussion of the potency of women and the same mixture of pride and resentment with which women regard men regarding them. And then here, too, is a great dollop of Walter Sickert, with his snapshots liveried out in oil and his claustrophobic suburban scenes and his back bedrooms glimpsed with a mixture of horror and fascination.

It's not necessary to pity Malcolm L Liepke for being so rich in influences. He seems delighted not to be straining after the empty new. He tells his students to study how to draw before attempting artistic revolutions and himself left art school because he wasn't being taught the basic skills. He now works surrounded by books of his favourite painters. When one's stopped name-dropping, the walk round these images feels as though it is done in the company of an individual with a secure touch of his own.

Albemarle Gallery, 49 Albemarle Street, London W1X 3FE 0171 499 1616, until 28 March.

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