Contemporary Art Market: Recession brings a windfall for figurative artists

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The Independent Online
THE RECESSION has resulted in a surge of popularity for figurative art, according to gallery owners in London and New York. 'People feel safer with it,' said the proprietor of a woman-only exhibition space in Soho, New York.

An assistant in a London gallery said: 'Recession makes people more conservative. They feel they're getting value for money with figurative art.'

There are three outstanding figurative shows in London at the moment which all close on 28 May. The Maas Gallery (15a Clifford Street, W1) has huge, meticulously painted farm animals in landscapes by James Lynch; the Gillian Jason Gallery (42 Inverness Street, NW1) has urban myths in watercolour by John Napper; and the new Angela Flowers Gallery (5 Silver Place, W1) has gently surreal studies by Stephen Chambers.

Lynch, 37, must take pride of place. He is more or less self- taught, although his father taught art in a school. He takes the plump farm animals beloved of 18th-century naive painters - prize pigs, sheep, cows - and places them in landscapes that speak of Britain's pastoral idyll. He says he is influenced by Samuel Palmer and it is apparent in the way he uses paint to convey the spirit of nature.

He works in bright gouache on paper and in egg tempera on board, the latter being mainly used for pure landscape. The paintings have been selling like hot cakes at prices ranging from pounds 1,200 to pounds 6,500.

Napper, 76, says he has 'come into his own' in the past 10 years and the watercolours at Gillian Jason suggest that he is right. He is fascinated by good and evil and borrows from the Old Masters to depict the behaviour of modern man.

His series of 28 new watercolours is called Notes for a Modern Mythology. Using outline and flat planes of colour, he dissects the nightmare of urban life in understated cartoons. A girl looking at herself in the mirror, a man giving a radio interview on the lavatory, lesbians at play, a fight in the street . . . the images are vivid, humorous and painful. Most are small and cost pounds 950; there are some larger, decorative still lives and interiors at pounds 3,000 to pounds 6,000.

Chambers is a comparative youngster, born in 1960. His surrealism is best compared to the Italian primitives. He uses a surface of dripping brown paint; on top of it figures, objects and textured foliage in a world superficially recognisable but tantalisingly mysterious.

An iron bedstead occurs frequently in the new work; in Room of Limbs a figure floats over it, as do serried ranks of severed arms and legs. The effect, however, is friendly. Most of his oils are priced between pounds 2,500 and pounds 4,000, though there is a tiny one at pounds 750.

(Photograph omitted)