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EXHIBITION

REVIEW

Margaret Mellis: Paintings and Reliefs 1968-1978 At Austin/Desmond Fine Art, Pied Bull Yard, London WC1, until 2 July These works date from the second abstract geometric or 'Constructivist' phase in the long career of Margaret Mellis (now aged 91) and are from the late 1960s, when such ideas were in the air - an earlier abstract phase having spanned the Second World War in St Ives, writes James Dunnett.

What is noticeable is the robust character of Mellis' work - an interesting contrast to that of the 'scientific' Constructivists either of the 1960s or of today.

Mellis did not aim for the immaculate execution that is characteristic of Gina Burdass' paintings (AJ 19.05.05), and her colour sense too is more direct.

The strength of the compositions springs from their foundation on a square grid, sometimes deployed diagonally, and the canvases themselves are, with two marginal exceptions, also all square, again sometimes hung diagonally. There is even a slight squareness about the circles in which some of the compositions are inscribed. Her canvases are, in fact, felt to be reliefs, and a few of them have further canvases stuck on top, producing a ziggurat-like effect.

The edges of the canvases thus become very important, so, unlike Burdass (who kept the edges plain white), Mellis extends the painted forms over the edge - a very satisfactory resolution. This interest in the three-dimensional quality of her canvases can now be seen to foretell her subsequent move into the non-orthogonal assemblages of driftwood and other detritus washed up on the beach, with which she is usually associated today.

James Dunnett is an architect in north London

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