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.
Women's History Month 2022
Miriam O'Connor Perks
[ Artist in Focus )
Assistant Curator Miriam O’Connor Perks explores five women represented in the Gallery’s collection for Women’s History Month.
In part two of our celebration of International Women’s Day 2022, assistant curator, Miriam O’Connor Perks, explores five of her favourite women artists in the collection.
Miriam will discuss the lives and work of Pauline Boty, Elisabeth Frink, Gillian Wearing, Cathie Pilkington and Rachel Jones.
Pauline Boty, Untitled (Seascape with Boats and Island)
“All over the country young girls are starting, shouting and shaking, and if they terrify you, they mean to and they are beginning to impress the world.”
One of the founders of the British Pop Art movement, and arguably one of the first feminist artists, Pauline Boty’s collage presents us with an alarmingly giant woman rising out of a crochet mountain; a quaint version of Attack of the 50ft Woman.
It is a witty and ridiculous image hiding more serious undertones. The work is a subversive take on British man’s dominance of the sea, collaged using wood engravings from the Victorian era, an age defined by the ultimate power of the British Empire.
Boty studied at the Royal College of Art, where other young artists including Peter Blake and David Hockney were also responding to the cultural revolution of the 1960s.
She began creating collages and larger canvases using images taken from mass media on bright, bold abstract backgrounds, portraying cultural icons such as Marilyn Monroe, Vladimir Lenin, Elvis Presley, Albert Einstein and Jean-Paul Belmondo. Her painting, Scandal ’63, presumed lost, is known only by a photo of the artist with the work and makes reference to the Profumo Affair. By choosing the iconic image of Christine Keeler by photographer Lewis Morley, Boty provides her own perspective on the cult of celebrity, and how it represents and manipulates women’s bodies.
Up until the 1990s, Boty has been left out of dominant discourses of art history in the 20th century. More focus has been given to her striking looks, her celebrity status and her frank sexuality, due to the outdated notion that a woman can’t be taken seriously because of her appearance or behaviour.
Boty is now gaining the reputation that she has always deserved, exhibitions such as The Sixties Art Scene in London (1993) at the Barbican and Pauline Boty: Pop Artist and Woman (2014) at Pallant House Gallery, have contributed to a re-evaluation of Boty and her work.
Elisabeth Frink, Christ, 1983
There was a renewed sense of spirituality in Elisabeth Frink’s works in her later years. There is a clear increasing interest in both pagan religion, as seen through her Green Man works, and a return to Christian iconography, including this head of Christ, a version of which was originally a commission for All Saint’s Church in Basingstoke in 1983. Her depictions of Christ allowed her to further delve into her fascination with ideas around masculinity, including strength, vulnerability, pain and violence.
The simplicity of the bronze head presents Christ as a universal figure, in order to convey a sense of humanity and relatability. His eyes are closed and contemplative, a stark contrast to her sinister series of works inspired by Generals in the Algerian War of Independence earlier in her career, the Goggleheads, whose obscured eyes contribute to the feeling of violence in these works.
There is an immediacy to her sculptures. Frink worked quickly and directly with her materials, which brings rawness and emotion to her work. Christ was part of a gift of sculptures and drawings made to the Gallery in 2020. It reflects religious themes within the collection and is a significant addition, by a major British sculptor from the 20th century.
Gillian Wearing, My Man
‘for me, it has always been listening to people and understanding how our stories shapes us…we should never look through the lens of someone with any preconceived ideas. Because ultimately everyone is interesting.’
In Gillian Wearing’s print My Man, we are given a glimpse into a young woman’s inner monologue. The text written by the teenager in multi-coloured handwriting is printed below Wearing’s photograph of the girl. It is an expression of love, happiness, anxiety and vulnerability within her relationship.
Gillian Wearing’s work records everyday experiences; the ways in which we hide and present ourselves to others. The subjects she approaches by chance are often candid, revealing their private and innermost thoughts. Influenced by ground-breaking documentaries such as Michael Apted’s 7 Up, Wearing’s works in some ways pre-empt the blurring distinctions between fact and fiction in varying formats such as reality TV and social media. These mediums allow individuals to construct personas and question ideas around selfhood and society.
Works on paper purchased through the Golder-Thomson Gift have considerably contributed to a greater representation of women artists in the collection, and Gillian Wearing’s print is currently on display in Hockney to Himid: 60 years of British Printmaking.
Cathie Pilkington, Pietà 4 from Good Bed, Bad Bed
Cathie Pilkington calls herself ‘a sculptural bag lady’. Her work draws on many traditions, materials and modes of display to engage with and subvert the established history of figurative sculpture. In Pietà 4 from Good Bed Bad Bed, she references the representation of the Virgin Mary and Christ after the Crucifixion, which is a notable theme in the history of Western art.
Pilkington confronts this universal theme of grief by creating a work from doll-like forms. This connects it to childhood memories and the legacy of Surrealism that sought to disrupt and fragment images and language to expose an inner subconscious. Pilkington’s work also makes subtle reference to British Surrealist artist, Marion Adnams (1898 – 1995), whose haunting landscapes were filled with figures resembling silhouettes, or paper dolls.
Pietà 4 was part of an exhibition at Pallant House Gallery in 2018, entitled Cathie Pilkington RA: Working from Home. Pilkington worked in the gallery to create an immersive installation across the top floor galleries of the 18th-century townhouse that is part of the gallery. Pilkington brought together her own work with that of Pallant House Gallery’s collection to explore the tension between public and private display, domestic spaces and the production of art. This represented an incredible opportunity to provide a different perspective on Pallant House Gallery’s collection, and commission new works in response to it.
Rachel Jones, A Sliced Tooth
Rachel Jones’s diptych A Sliced Tooth consists of layers of oil paint and stick which at first appears to be an abstract exploration of mark and gesture, however as the title reveals, is a close-up depiction of a pair of teeth.
Representation of the mouth, and teeth, frequently feature in Jones’s work, symbolising a myriad of social, cultural and emotional references. The thick application of oil pastel and stick is almost visceral with a strong sense of physicality behind the mark-making.
Jones uses these motifs and colours as a way to communicate ideas about the interiority of black bodies and their lived experience. Her titles often make use of familial colloquialisms, using language as another way to connect to a black audience.
The mouth, as a site of both pain and pleasure, has a plethora of significations, including language and expression, decorative adornment including grills and gold tooth caps, and more horrific associations around the Atlantic slave trade.
Jones’s work plays between the boundaries of figuration and abstraction, citing the ways in which form and colour can be used to express feelings beyond spoken language.
A Sliced Tooth was acquired by the gallery last year, an exciting and important addition by an early career contemporary artist, which will soon be on display in the House.
These are just five of the many fantastic women artists in the Pallant House Gallery collection. If you enjoyed your read, make sure to check out Part 1 by Assistant Curator, Lydia Miller.