IT might be seen as setting a dangerous precedent to offer the right

of reply to an artist whose work is being exhibited in the city, but the

presence of Zimbabwean artist George Nene in Glasgow, whose paintings

can be seen at the Art Gallery and Museum in Kelvingrove as part of the

Frontline States exhibition, seemed too good an opportunity to miss.

Many have commented on the freshness and vitality of the African art

that Mayfest has brought to Glasgow. At the same time, however, there

are many examples of contemporary and recent Glasgow art being given

special festival and year of culture showings in city galleries.

Yesterday, Nene and I visited a few of them to allow him to cast a fresh

eye on Glasgow art.

For a (relatively) historical perspective, the first port of call was

William Hardie's new gallery in West Regent Street, directly across the

road from Cyril Gerber's Compass premises. Under the title Independent

Painting in Glasgow 1943-56, the exhibition gathers together some of the

work of J. D. Fergusson's New Scottish Group.

Established by Fergusson and Margaret Morris, the group was a reaction

against the academic stranglehold on Scottish art at the time, according

to another founder member, Louise Annand.

Nene was struck by the variety in the pictures on view. Fergusson's

own Martha in Pink is a commanding presence in the main gallery space.

Nene thought it was typical of the main movement within modern art.

''Human bodies in classical art are perfect, heroic and religious. The

change has been from myths to reality -- seeing the self in realistic

surroundings. I have a preference for figurative art that is a sober

reflection of reality.''

He thought it a very impressive picture, drawing particular attention

to the painting of the hands, short on detail but accurate in form and


From his perspective, he saw a recognisable European tradition sharing

much with French art -- particularly in the surrealist influence on

pictures like Andrew Taylor Elder's Initiation. Another of his

paintings, Figure Study, Nene thought to be more a search for a new

realism in a different style from that seen in the old masters.

''European artists are fortunate in having so many ideas to pick up on

or reject. Sometimes they may be radical to the point where critics

might say it is not art, but it is healthy to see an artist searching

for change.

''Some work I know I can do well, but it becomes boring to continue

with and right to do other work that I might not be so happy with.''

In Flora Wood's cubist The Outcasts, Nene saw an attempt to creat

something concrete from the devastation of the war-time situation. It

shows a family unit -- father, mother, and child -- protecting one

another in that sequence. From a post-feminist perspective it looks

dated, but set in its time it makes much more sense.

Marie de Banzie's Tiger Tiger Burning Bright is a Scottish example of

the kind of ''naive'' art that can also be found in the Frontline

exhibition. For Nene, such work is always valid where it is a deliberate

simplification by a superior technician or the work of someone with a

love of art but a lack of technique. The picture is made by the

reflection of the sun on the water in the foreground -- and the absence

of a reflection of the gold-bellied tiger itself.

William Crosbie's watercolour Seeing Is Believing contains some of the

same elements with references to both the classical and the naive, in

what is a collage of a number of subjects. What could have been a

hotchpotch, Nene liked for its balanced composition and use of colour.

He had already seen Peter Howson's paintings and prints at the Glasgow

Print Studio, but was quite happy to go back. In ten days, Nene has

become a fan.

''I didn't know anything about him before I came here, but he is a

great artist. He has shocked me out of the complacency I had about art

here. He has a very brutal approach, but I can also see a positive side

-- it is well used for emphasis.''

Besides the dominant, impressive triptych Stairway to Heaven, Nene was

particularly impressed by the studies of figures tied to poles. ''True

to humanity and its search for scapegoats,'' he said. That

vindictiveness was also present in the monotype Death of Innocence.

Howson's Glasgow, Nene reckoned, was advancing towards decadence and

immorality and degenerating into violence, alcoholism and drugs. The

various pieces under the title Negotiations he took as a reflection of

the recent prison riots in Britain, but he found the last painting in

Stairway to Heaven touching, if paradoxical.

''Technically, he is very good. His exaggeration of forms gives him

manoeuvrability in expressing detail and his portrayal of the emotions

is universal. He is also very good in all media -- technically, I have

learned a lot from his work in the use of crayon and charcoal.''

Nene works primarily in acrylic and watercolour, lacking a stable,

permanent base for working in oils. It is one of his paintings which

adorns the Frontline States poster and leaflet and at home he sells as

much of his work as he

can produce, supplementing his income with some commercial work and


After Mayfest, he hopes to work in London for a month before returning

to Bulawayo. He also hopes to make contacts in Glasgow to exhibit more

of his work here in his own right. It would sit happily amongst the

varied work that makes up the Compass Gallery's massive retrospective at

the Tramway, 21 Years of Contemporary Art. Nene liked the eclecticism

but felt that there was ''nothing very strange going on''. ''Like music,

everyone has their own tastes and every artist has the things he does


Alison Watt's Hunger and the Horse's Head had the same strengths as

Howson, he felt -- a particular approach to the human form, good

technique and command of colour. ''It looks like a good story,'' he

said. He also admired Margot Sandeman's stylistic approach to the

environment in her Arran landscapes, and the execution of Ian Scott's

surreal Wind Quartet.

The recurring facet in the art he has seen in Glasgow that presented

Nene with most difficulty was the use of symbolism, for example in the

four works by Edward Summerton that greet the visitor at the entrance to

the Tramway. ''I like this consistency of style, but I do not understand

the subjects.''

It is to be hoped that Glasgow's artists are taking advantage of the

opportunity to see African art, just as George Nene is keen to discover

his European counterparts. For myself, there is a clarity in the work on

show from the Frontline States which is missing from some of

the busy canvases in the Compass exhibition.

Which is not to say that the arts editor will necessarily entertain

further right of reply.