England always somehow manages to produce highly individualistic painters the moment things start getting dull. At the time it was producing mile after mile of elegant formula portraits, it came up with Blake, Constable, Palmer, and Turner. When the Royal Academy seemed about to stifle British art entirely, the always fascinating (if seldom first-rate) Pre-Raphaelites came into view - followed at a discreet distance in time by the sophisticated but short-lived Aubrey Beardsley.
In this century, England has seen the likes of Spencer, Sutherland, Bacon, and Freud - to say nothing of one or two youngsters of more recent date.
None has been as successful and popular, however, as David Hockney, superb draftsman, witty satirist, shrewd designer, and painter of large numbers of extremely clever and effective pictures. Hockney, in fact, has replaced Warhol as the darling of the international art set, which I for one see as proof that a bit of good common sense has reentered the world of art.
Hockney has also practically adopted the United States, thanks to the life style and the landscapes of southern California and the American Southwest, and to the fact that this region has provided him with a never-ending supply of subjects for his paintings and prints.
Some of the art that resulted from his American visits can be seen in a small but excellent exhibition at William Beadleston Fine Art here. ''David Hockney in America'' consists of 22 paintings and works on paper, and it documents some of the things he saw in Los Angeles, Arizona, and a few other places between 1963 and 1978.
It's obvious that Hockney really knows how to look at the world around him. And because he does, his drawings are crystal clear and precise, and his paintings present a fresh and original view of life. His subjects may be as commonplace as a chair and a rug, or a rubber ring floating in a swimming pool, but in his hands - and thanks to the direct and open nature of his perception - the paintings that result show us things as we've probably never seen them.
I had never before realized, for instance, how provocative an image the splash made by a swimmer diving into a pool could be. Nor how something as simple as a yellow diving board, blue water, and a touch of green grass could be transformed into an elegant composition. And I would probably never have seen the pictorial possibilities in one man watching another swimming in a pool.
But then, that's the nature of Hockney's very special talent, and the main reason, I suspect, for his considerable popularity. The fact that he is also an excellent artist is something he doesn't push in his work, and so his paintings often appear deceptively simple, slapdash in execution, and obvious in theme to the uninitiated.
His very large double portrait, ''American Collectors,'' is a good case in point.
Although conceived with great care and painted with considerable virtuosity and flair, close attention to this work will reveal some evidence of indifferent craftsmanship. But no matter. This is a work that emphasizes boldness and directness, that projects a peculiarly American perception of art, space, art collecting, and marital relationships, and that was never intended to be studied the way one examines a finely woven rug or fabric.
Both this painting and everything else in the exhibition add up to a fascinating and stimulating show. I highly recommend it.
At William Beadleston Fine Art, 60 East 91st Street, through Dec. 10. Picasso drawings
Picasso's probing, profoundly original spirit is very much in evidence in a remarkable exhibition of his drawings currently on view at Paul Rosenberg & Co. here. All come from the collection of Marina Picasso, the artist's granddaughter , and none have been seen in the United States before.
The works range in time from 1902 to 1966, and they include not only studies in the usual graphic materials, but a few executed in pastels and collage as well. There are 73 drawings in all, and all are at least interesting if not superb.
At Paul Rosenberg & Co., 20 East 79th Street, through Dec. 3.