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Eccentricity and artistry can go together

Some artists prefer to go their own way, with only a cursory glance right and left to see what the rest of the art world is doing. They belong to no movement, advocate no particular style or formal ideal, and generally create art that is dramatically idiosyncratic.

They seldom achieve major stature. If their work isn't too painfully personal , it's too purely technical or too exclusively designed to draw attention to itself and to its creator. If such artists achieve any success at all, it's usually at the hands of dealers and critics every bit as individualistic as they.

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There are exceptions, of course: Ivan Albright, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Red Grooms - all of whom stubbornly stuck to their guns and made the art world accept them for what they are. And some who are lesser known.

Among the latter is Charles Beauchamp, a young British artist whose first American exhibition is currently on view at Gimpel & Witzenhoffer Ltd. here. It's not a large show, but it's an interesting one, and suggests that England will soon have another intriguingly eccentric artist on its hands.

At the moment, however, Beauchamp is still a bit eclectic and unfocused. There are echoes of Magritte and Escher in his work, and one senses his individual pieces exist more as resolutions of particular problems than as clear steps toward the full realization of a creative vision.

But that doesn't worry me in the least. Beauchamp obviously has what it takes. His technical control over idea and craft is masterful, and his powers of invention easily match that control. If his talent seems a bit too spread out, it's only because he's still flexing his creative muscles and discovering what he can do, still sowing his wild oats. But I think that's all to the good.

Why, after all, should a young and versatile artist prune himself down to fit another's notion of what art should be? Isn't there enough time in later life to harvest and direct the fruits of youthful adventures and explorations?

Beauchamp obviously believes there is, for he does whatever his spirit and imagination dictate and his talents can accomplish. His paintings, drawings, and sculptures range from straightforward studies of simple objects to highly complex and utterly fantastic inventions and constructions, and range in size from the very small to the blatantly huge.

Like many artists who are draftsmen at heart, Beauchamp can imbue even the tiniest object with life. In fact, it is among his smaller and more draftsmanlike pieces that we discover his greatest strengths. Among the finest of these are his remarkable self-portrait; his exquisite study of several small creatures found outdoors and memorialized with the gentlest painterly touch; his subtly executed pencil drawings; and his somewhat academic but oddly disquieting ''Gang of Three on the Run in Westmeath.'' All of these may still be a bit exploratory, but they are also highly effective. Charles Beauchamp is obviously a very talented young man just beginning to realize his potential. One can only wish him well.

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At Gimpel & Weitzenhoffer, 1040 Madison Avenue, through Feb. 26. After that date, these works can be viewed on request.

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