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LETTER FROM LONDON

Richard Shone

ONE OF THE STRIKING features of current British art is its predilection for imagery that is violent, life-and-death obsessed, grungy, or plain unpleasant. In several other countries such imagery has been prominent for centuries, but in Britain, where art, even at its most adventurous, has long been of front-parlor politeness, this is defiantly new. Here there is no tradition of writhing Crucifixions, erotically pierced St. Sebastians, or corpse-strewn battle paintings. In the two world wars, for example, the best state-commissioned works by British artists were mostly landscape inspired—we had no Goya or Guernica, no Otto Dix or George Grosz. Only Francis Bacon in this century has captured something of the physical violence of the age—though often in a palette more redolent of a smart Mayfair boudoir than the charnel house decor of our times.

In the current rash of body parts, crime scenes,

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