CROW OF MINERVA - blog about women in art. Created by Georgie Wren.
Favourite woman artist and why/how has she/her art or life inspired you?
I don’t have a single women artist of influence but several for different reasons. Eva Hesse, for her intelligent and intuitive response to materials, she interpreted the reductive aims of minimalism towards a more affecting empathic result.
Therese Oulton - When I was on my foundation course we travelled to London and I saw a show of Therese Oulton’s work at Marlborough called Lachrimae. These paintings drew you into sweepingly romantic spaces, with rhythmical, seductive surfaces, and intricate colourwork pressed into the canvas. A tutor at the time dismissed them as being a bit crocheted, and I thought, on the contrary, that was the most wonderful effect, to crochet paint into form.
Looking further back Rachel Ruysch for the sheer intensity she manages to bring to those small yet breathtakingly powerful flower paintings, and in contemporary art, Pipilotti Rist for immersing you in a world of epic sensuality.
I was also very fortunate to have some exceptional women tutors at Cardiff and the Slade
Tess Jaray, Carol Robertson and Mona Hatoum. I am also currently reading ‘Ninth Street Women’ Lee Krasner, Elaine De Kooning, Joan Mitchell, Grace Hartigan and Helen Frankenthaler are all incredibly impressive.
Women globally are far less represented in galleries and museums than their male counterparts. Have you yourself found the art world difficult to navigate as a woman or have you come up against any particular obstacles and how did you deal with them? Do you support all-women shows etc..? Why/why not? Have you noticed any changes?
I think the ‘art world’ is difficult to navigate for many people, especially if you have little experience or connection to its workings. How to make your work visible and how to sustain your practice are pressing issues to deal with but also who to approach and how to do this ‘appropriately’ seems at times, shrouded in mystery. Many artists do not arrive at art school with connections to or knowledge of this system and start by supporting each other in group shows.
It is not only a question of women’s shows but what themes are represented within the work. In 2007 I was involved in a project called Birth Rites focusing on the politics and practice of childbirth. I was focusing my research on the hospital experience, the relationship between technology and the body in child birth. I know the curator, Helen Knowles had a lot of trouble finding a venue for the work that was produced from 5 different artists. Childbirth, one of the most common, everyday experiences was just too difficult a subject to deal with for many galleries and still provides challenges for public presentation.
I think women are still hugely under-represented in many collections but I feel that right now there may be some momentum to be showing more women’s work, and in the last year I have been to quite a few all women shows. The test I suppose if this is sustained and not just a fashionable moment.
When did you first discover art? and when did you realise that you wanted to pursue it professionally?
I was always busy making things and drawing things as a child, before I knew I wanted to be an artist . I was also very interested in dance, and I suppose that physical, performative aspect of painting is something I still value.
Can you tell me a bit about you/your background? (eg where are you from/based? What has your educational path been like or are you self-taught?)
I initially studied art a few years after leaving school in Birmingham. The subject really opened up for me on foundation at Bourneville College, Birmingham. I had spent a couple of years working in industries in 9-5 jobs and realised that I needed to spend my life making art. There were no role models or any idea of what an artist is or how an life in art could function. And so I just took a leap of faith and enrolled. I don’t really remember conversations of ‘career’ as such I just wanted the opportunity to think about and make art. I studied BA Fine Art at Cardiff. I then spent some time in Kenya and returned to do my post-graduate at the Slade. I think you are always in some kind of education as an artist. I more recently have done off-site programmes with Turps Art School – the motivation is to continue to be in a dialogue about painting generally – particularly at times of change, renewal and transition in my work.
What themes or ideas do you explore in your work?
At the moment the themes seem to be dark musings on folly and misfortune working from grand painterly narrative. My paintings depict dreamlike, illusory scenes where the boundaries between people, place and things are uncertain. Nothing is meant to stay still and the viewer is encouraged to keep the eye moving across the visual field, to experience a kind of sensory restlessness. The aim is for the surface images continue to gather, shift and disintegrate. I try to embrace a sense of theatricality and improvisation.
In the ‘Dreamweaver’ series I have taken Velasquez ‘Spinners’ as a starting point. These paintings present a flickering vision of female artistry and industry. More recently in a ‘Distant Skirmish’ fleeting brush marks are built up to suggest a disturbance, a glimpse of a brutal event.
What is your process like? (Do you do a lot of research? Do you favour an intuitive approach? Do you do a lot of preparatory studies? Do you use photography/digital media? Do you concentrate on just one piece or do you work on several at the same time? How long do you spend working on each piece?)
I make a lot of daily drawings from museums and small sections of paintings in particular from Rubens, El Greco and Velasquez. These fragments then get reformed into larger charcoal studies with a particular structural idea. These charcoal drawings form ideas for larger paintings. From there the paintings begin but there are a lot of changes that take place – everything is in play and an element of improvisation or intuition is built into the painting process. I never really know how they will develop and this tension, I have learnt, is an essential if nerve-wracking part of the process. They are developed over weeks and months, I work on a few at the same time.
What have been your influences? (Anything in history? A particular work of art? Other artists? Landscape? Movies? Family/friends? Literature?)
I have researched disparate and wide-ranging things over time in my artistic interests, ranging from Swahili art, differences in perception in autism, painting strategies in early modernism, museum collections and Baroque paintings. Different periods of work have often been initiated by things that have just happened in my life. The wonderful thing about making art is you end up wandering into unplanned, surprising territories.
Could you name a book you would recommend to every artist? (Not necessarily art-related)
Austerlitz by W G Sebald– simply a brilliant book; layered, complex, and visionary. It is sweepingly ambitious and concerned with fragmentary, disorientating historical narratives.
Do you have any advice for other artists? Particularly students/emerging?
Do you have any exhibitions coming up? Where/when?