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Perspectives

Your place to explore new perspectives on British art from 1900 to now. Through interviews, films, image galleries and essays, we uncover the creative lives of the people behind the art on our walls.

A black and white photograph showing a blakc woman wearing a striped haead scarf sat against a canvas backdrop.

Contemporary British artist Sonia Boyce joins our collection

[ News )

An exciting new acquisition of work by artist Sonia Boyce is the latest to join our growing collection of contemporary art.

Christmas has come early to Pallant House Gallery this year! We are delighted to announce that we have acquired an etching by leading contemporary artist Sonia Boyce OBE. As the first Black female artist to represent Britain at the next Venice Biennale, her presence in our collection is another step towards increasing the representation of work by women artists, and artists of colour within the Gallery.

Contemporary artist Sonia Boyce is currently enjoying a surge in prominence since being announced as the latest artist to represent Britain at the 59th Venice Biennale. Nothing unusual in that, plenty of artists have gone before her – except that, in 2022, Boyce will be leading the way as the first Black woman to do so since the International Art Exhibition’s opening in 1895.

 

You could have knocked me down with a feather when I got the call to tell me I had been chosen to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale – it was like a bolt out of the blue.

Sonia Boyce

Boyce explores art as a social practice, a medium that prioritises engagement, interaction and social discourse. Perhaps it’s because of this that she is a multimedia artist – using drawing, print, photography, video, and sound to get her message across. She has also worked closely with other artists since the 90s, and is probably now best known for her collaborative works which often involve improvisation and spontaneous performance.

 

A painting of four young naked girls bathing in a pond surrounded by lily pads, tempting a young man in to the water. The painting is based on the Greek story Hylas and the Nymphs.

John William Waterhouse, Hylas and the Nymphs, 1896, Oil on canvas. Manchester Art Gallery.

Born in 1962, Boyce has had to wait until later in her career for wider recognition of her work. She was appointed an OBE last year for services to art, but her name became more widely known shortly before in 2018. Following a performance in which she temporarily took down J. W. Waterhouse’s painting Hylas and the Nymphs during a retrospective of her work at Manchester Art Gallery, if you hadn’t heard of Sonia Boyce, you were about to!

What the artist had hoped would start a discussion about the display of controversial works, and the role of curation in museums and galleries, instead provoked a ferocious media storm about notions of censorship and interpretation. “The vitriol was really unhealthy,” said Boyce, as her name was thrust into the spotlight. You can read more about the events and the artist’s thoughts on the backlash here.

You may also have come across her excellent documentary for BBC4, Whoever heard of a Black artist? Britain’s Hidden Art History, in which she highlights the trailblazing, yet mostly overlooked and/or forgotten artists of African and Asian descent who contributed to the story of Modern British art. Boyce’s research is extensive and ongoing, and has contributed in no small part to the realisation of a more inclusive narrative. This fascinating documentary is still available to watch online, and we can’t recommend it enough.

A black and white etching by artist Sonia Boyce. Lyrics to the song 'is this love that i'm feeling' by Bob Marley are traced with fine black lines that expand to fill the page.

Sonia Boyce, Is This Love That I’m Feeling?, 2010, Etching. Enitharmon Editions. Pallant House Gallery. Courtesy of the artist. © Sonia Boyce. All Rights Reserved, DACS/Artimage 2020.

For many years now, I have been using words (names, quotes, lyrics) as the starting point for making simple, but meditative drawings, where the drawing activity involves copying and tracing – feeling and following the contours of the previous lines.

Sonia Boyce

We are delighted to add to our collection an etching (pictured above) created by Sonia Boyce in 2010 entitled Is This Love That I’m Feeling?. Boyce was one of five artists invited to create a work on the theme of enslavement, to be included in I Have Found a Song ­– a collection of poems and images commissioned by Arts Council England and published to mark the Bicentenary of the abolition of slavery in the UK.

Works by artists Paula Rego and Hew Locke are also included, alongside 12 poems written by Benjamin Zephaniah, Polly Atkin, and Iain Sinclair among others. The project was commissioned as a way to reflect on historic slavery, but also enslavement in all its forms. Boyce, an artist of Afro-Caribbean heritage, found her inspiration for the work in the lyrics of legendary Jamaican musician Bob Marley’s 1978 hit, Is This Love?. Watch the original video below.

 

Is this love that I’m feeling’ is one of my favourite songs by Bob Marley, who has been a major influence on a generation seeking to find a way out of the legacies of slavery and colonialism. Despite the seductive confidence of the song, the lyrics suggest emotional vulnerability. As ever, I’m attracted to the bittersweet.

Sonia Boyce

Art and music go hand in hand – they’re the perfect, mutually-inspiring couple in an age-old relationship. When contemporary painter Nick Goss was creating works for his first museum show here at the Gallery, Nick Goss: Morley’s Mirror, his studio was filled with the sounds of ambient, fluid electronic music. The watery body of paintings he was working on, based on J. G. Ballard’s seminal book The Drowning World, no doubt subconsciously informed his music choices – and vice versa. You can listen to Nick’s inspired Spotify playlist here.

Boyce’s Bob Marley-inspired work may be the latest to join our collection then, but plenty have come before it. Works with strong musical references are no stranger to our collection. We’re home to a wealth of British of Pop Art, from works by Richard Hamilton (currently on show, Richard Hamilton: Respective), to Pauline Boty, David Hockney and Peter Blake. These artists all had at least one thing in common – they were all influenced by, and drew upon popular culture. Especially inspired by popular music was Peter Blake, who has created numerous works as tributes to his favourite musician including Elvis and The Beatles.

 

Picture divided into four, each corner with a portrait of one of the Beatles. Circle at centre with the legend

Peter Blake, The Beatles, 1962, Acrylic emulsion on hardboard, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (Wilson Gift through The Art Fund, 2006) © Peter Blake. All rights reserved, DACS 2020

A painting featuring female fans in top third with panels of Elvis pictures and paraphernalia below.

Peter Blake, Girls with their Hero, 1959-62, Cryla on hardboard, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (Wilson Gift through The Art Fund, 2006) © Peter Blake. All rights reserved, DACS 2020

As well as connecting with the theme of popular music in the collection, Is This Love That I’m Feeling? also sits within the wider representation of etchings in our collection, adding a contemporary perspective. Most importantly perhaps, acquiring this work is another step towards further improving our representation of women artists and artists of colour within the collection. It also helps to insert the work of Black British artists, whose names have so often been conspicuously ignored, into mainstream narratives of modern and contemporary British art where they belong.

Now all we need to do is get it framed and up on the wall! Can’t wait…

If we’ve inspired you to find out more about Sonia Boyce and see more examples of her work from British collections, check out this Art UK article Sonia Boyce: a revolutionary face of contemporary British art by cultural writer Melissa Chemam.

You can also find out more about Black artists in British art in our blog Black Artists in British Art: A Resource – we’ve pulled together our recommended videos, documentaries, articles and books on the subject.