Now that's what I call a Hollywood fat cat

David Lister ON MONDAY

WHEN I attended the recent Bafta awards I was intrigued to watch the normally cool Gwyneth Paltrow dancing and flirting with a large, cigar-smoking gent seated next to her. Every so often she would laugh at the big man's joke and kiss him on the cheek, the way a teenage girl short of readies does with a rich uncle. The next night I saw the large chap at the premiere of the film An Ideal Husband. This time he was embracing Minnie Driver, one of the film's stars. Again, the cigar never left the versatile man's lips.

The cigar-smoker who has power over women is Harvey Weinstein. The head of Miramax is not just one of the most powerful film producers in the world, he lives the part. And it's no bad thing. Not since Sam Goldwyn has the movie industry possessed a larger-than-life producer, whose face will, I predict, soon become as well known as those of his infinitely prettier protegees.

In the politically correct world of Hollywood, here at last is a movie mogul looking and sounding for all the world like the one played by Robbie Coltrane in Channel 4'sComic Strip. Weinstein is a glorious throwback to the old Hollywood of pomp, power, ruthlessness and lashings of self- adoration.

We need to see more of him, so it is marvellous news that a Mr H Weinstein had been summoned to appear before Uxbridge magistrates for refusing to put out his cigar on Concorde. The accused failed to turn up. Let us hope the court case is rescheduled. It will be the best production of the year - Harvey in the dock, puffing away, Gwyneth clutching her handkerchief in the public gallery, Minnie sobbing in the corridor. Harvey will shout "cut" in the middle of the magistrates' summing up, blow a few smoke rings and walk off with an Oscar winner on either arm.

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ONE OF Britain's most avant-garde galleries is to put on an exhibition of paintings, convinced that the Nineties' wave of video and installation art is past its sell-by date.

Damien Hirst, Gary Hume, Ian Davenport and other members of the Britpack artists have submitted works for the exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in east London. One New York artist, Royce Weatherley, has guaranteed himself a place in the show with an appeal to the hearts of Middle England's amateur painters. He has submitted a still life of two potatoes. The exhibition, Examining Pictures, opens on Friday.

Its curator, Judith Nesbitt, believes artistic fashion has swung full circle: "Right now, painting is what is causing excitement among young artists. They are looking at it with a freshness and curiosity that comes after a period of installation and video and Internet art.

"Installation art is on the wane. You can make an installation with flashing lights and it looks very impressive but there's a simplicity about painting which the younger artists are now picking up on."

One of the artists in the forefront of painting's resurgence is 33-year- old Glenn Brown. He studied at Goldsmith's College in south London, the centre of conceptualist art where Damien Hirst and many of the Britpack studied. Brown now teaches there.

He said: "At Goldsmith's the emphasis was on conceptualist art not traditional painting ... that emphasis doesn't help painting very much. They are not very good at understanding aesthetics or even colour. They talk a lot about the philosophical and sociological aspects."

Meanwhile, the shortlist for the 1999 NatWest Art Prize reinforces the return to painting. All 11 artists on the list for the pounds 36,000 prize are painters under the age of 36.

One of the Whitechapel artists, Hume, will represent Britain at the Venice Biennale. As Judith Nesbitt puts it: "Painting has never really gone away, but it is coming back to the forefront via some of the biggest names in art today." What will they think of next?

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IT IS AN unlikely friendship. The one is a brooding working-class artist at odds with the art establishment. The other is the leader of the Conservative Party.

But the Yorkshire artist Mackenzie Thorpe has forged a close bond with the Yorkshire politician William Hague. The Tory leader sought him out after seeing an exhibition of the 42-year-old painter's work in Richmond, Mr Thorpe's home and Mr Hague's constituency.

Mr Hague and his wife, Ffion, chose one of Thorpe's broody Yorkshire landscapes as their Christmas card last year. The card, entitled Through All Weathers, featured a painting of a shepherd battling through a snowstorm and high drifts to lead his flock home and to safety. Mr Hague said at the time: "Ffion and I chose this painting because it reminds us both of the landscape and the people of the Yorkshire Dales."

Now the Tory leader has chosen to hang on the wall of his room at Conservative Central Office another of Thorpe's works, The Great Journey - also of a Yorkshire landscape, also under a brooding sky, also featuring a shepherd driving his sheep. Thorpe is pleased: "William likes the way I've caught the brooding Yorkshire sky," he said.

But there is more to Mr Hague's interest than aesthetic admiration of landscapes. "We have become friends," Thorpe revealed. "We have had dinner together both here and in America when I had an exhibition on there.

"We don't tend to talk about art. And we certainly don't talk about politics. We talk about feelings. Feelings about life. And I talk to him about my family. I'm married with two children. And he enjoys chatting about that."

What Mr Hague may not have realised is that his friend is one of Britain's angriest artists, despite his considerable success. Mackenzie Thorpe is popular in America; and his pastel sketches and paintings sell well in Britain, as do his prints. He has his own gallery in Richmond. But he has never exhibited in London and recently failed to be accepted as a member of the Chelsea Arts Club.

"In San Francisco there's a banner out on the street when I exhibit.In Seattle they make announcements on the radio. But here there's still this north-south snobbishness. I used to think it's my accent or the way I look. I used to cry and get upset about it," he said.

Thorpe's vivid artworks can show a darker side of life and often return to the theme of unemployment. One called Leaving the Job shows dozens of matchstick men symbolising, he said, unemployment with "men getting thinner, thinner, thinner till they're gone".

His work also has a spiritual side. He says the shepherd in his art "symbolises man on the planet". He adds: "In the hardest child that has been through the hardest pain, through abuse, in there is a flower that can be nurtured. That's why there are flowers in my pictures. It is a sign of hope."

John Walsh is away.

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