I’m delighted to be showing new work at this year’s Feria de Arte VIII in Valencia, hosted by arts collective Sporting Club Russafa. You can visit the art fair from Friday 21st - Sunday 23rd December, with eleven invited Valencian and international artists participating. I will present new small works, including my latest series of drawings.
Women as the artist of their own image
The paintings you see here began as portraits. I am fascinated by women who use their own image in their creative work, from painters to actresses to social media photographers. So I seek them out, in our current time and in our history.
But then the portraits change. As I discover the story of each woman, layers of symbolism and narrative build across my canvas. I find myself referencing our shared female histories, maybe the motifs of crewel embroidery, or the themes in a fairy tale. And then, above all, I paint the relationship between their image and my own. How did society respond to these women’s use of their images? And what does this say about the freedom I have to use mine?
The first paintings in this new series 'All Our Stories' were shown in Valencia at a pop-up exhibition in February 2018. (With many thanks to Cristina at Vortex Valencia and Aislin at Jameson Whiskey for making it happen.) You can now see the paintings in London at the Affordable Art Fair, 8-11 March 2018 represented by UK gallery Edgar Modern. Read on for more about each painting and story....
Tamara de Lempicka was celebrated for her Art Deco paintings of 1920s aristocrats. Her iconic self-portrait ‘Autoportrait (Tamara in a Green Bugatti)’ was used for the cover of a fashion magazine. In its time it was known as the “hymn of the modern woman” yet is now widely criticised as ‘style over substance’.
Leonor Fini was a surrealist painter and author, known for her depictions of women. She was ‘Queen of the Paris art world’ from the 1940s to 1960s, and one of the most photographed women of the 20th century. Her work is now largely forgotten, but Cartier-Bresson’s photograph of her nude in a swimming pool sold for $305,000.
Artemisia as a Bride
Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi is now seen as one of the most accomplished painters of her generation. There has been huge interest in Artemisia since the 1970s feminist publication "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?". For me, her power is that she used her own likeness in religious art. Would a female painter be able to do that today?
Mary with Apples
Actress Imogene Robertson began as a 1920s Zeigfeld girl called ‘Bubbles’. She fled to Germany after an abusive relationship with a married comedy star left her hospitalised, then returned to Hollywood as leading-lady ‘Mary Nolan’. She modelled for artists and signed for Universal, but after being beaten unconscious by another married man, became addicted to morphine and died at 46.
Valeria Boltneva is an Estonian photographer who releases images of herself under a ‘CC0’ license. It means her images are completely free to be used for any legal purpose. Her self-portraits are showcased alongside photographs of cakes and hotel sofas. I am interested in Valeria's relationship with her own image - does she see it as without value or her key to a creative career?
Also shown - Qandeel (in progress). Images to follow when the painting is finished.
New work in this series
Las pinturas que ves aquí empezaron como retratos. Me fascinan las mujeres que usan su propia imagen en su trabajo creativo, desde pintoras hasta actrices y fotógrafas en redes sociales. Por eso las busco, tanto en nuestra actualidad como en nuestra historia.Read More
Facing up to our ideals of beauty
This moment, as you read this, are you beautiful? Is your beauty something you can change... and would you want to? These questions are both culturally important and achingly personal. As an artist I explore female beauty through my work, but as a woman I face up to its expectations every day.
Over ten thousand of us googled ‘how to be beautiful’ last month. We care. But our ideals of female beauty remain a cloudy mix of subjective experience, media marketing and relics from our evolutionary past. Beauty is not an objective ‘universal’. It’s something we collude with our culture and fashion to create.
Questioning the authority of our ideals
Images of women shape our ideals of beauty. These are the images sold to us through cinema, fashion and social media. Are you beautiful? Am I? The images tell us no, but we must question their authority to say. By painting them I unpick and take ownership of their influence, while accepting that they are an indelible part of who we are.
Our images of Audrey Hepburn are largely created by two men, photographer Bob Willoughby and artist Robert McGinnis. McGinnis designed the Breakfast at Tiffany’s poster, as well as the heaving-bosom book covers for James Bond. He recalls he gave Audrey “a little more through the hips and bust, to idealise her just a little more. But the art director wanted more leg showing”.
This is my take on iconic Audrey. The beautiful flowers are hellebores, painted after a friend advised me to handle them with gloves (they burn).
Frida Kahlo was a painter who was the author of her own image in her lifetime. Over the last ten years we’ve appropriated this image through photoshop, student posters and pinterest memes. Yes, she influences our perception of beauty - she’s the pin-up girl for monobrows and flowers in our hair. We’ve conspired to reduce her to another ideal.
My painting uses five different photographic sources for her face, and I entirely imagined her eyes (on my source they were closed). And yet I still call it ‘Frida’ and add my image to the digital hoard.
Gene Tierney was a Film Noir actress, photographed in the ‘40s by George Hurrell. Hurrell developed the iconic, high-contrast portraiture that turned women into Hollywood Stars. He’d shoot them with dark eyes and lipstick but entirely bare skin, preferring to remove their every blemish from his negatives with powdered graphite and a blending stick.
Gene suffered from depression, and in 1957 stepped onto a 14th floor balcony intending to kill herself. But what saved her “was vanity. I thought of what I’d look like when I hit the ground—like a scrambled egg. That didn’t appeal to me.”
Hedy Lamarr was another actress photographed by Hurrell. She was billed as ‘The Most Beautiful Women in Films’. She also co-developed a radio technology for WWII torpedoes, now used in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. She said of her first marriage, ”I was like a doll. I was like a thing, some object of art which had to be guarded—and imprisoned—having no mind, no life of its own”.
In later life, Hedy turned to plastic surgery with shattering results. She locked herself away until the end, talking up to six hours a day on the telephone rather than seeing her family or friends.
Louise Brooks was a silent actress and the original 1920s 'It Girl'. She made short hair and a boy-like figure desirable after three centuries of corsets and waist-length hair. Louise married millionaires, slept with Greta Garbo, and eventually became a noted film writer but “found that the only well-paying career open to me, as an unsuccessful actress of thirty-six, was that of a call girl”. She began to “flirt with the fancies related to little bottles filled with yellow sleeping pills”.
“What did she do to her face? Bella Hadid is almost unrecognisable from six years ago as it's claimed she 'went to town with her father's credit card'” - Daily Mail, March 2016
In the 17th century, blue veins were a sign of youth so women painted them on. Today, Bella Hadid is a social media star creating fashions of beauty that will be just as unfathomable in the future. But I love her face as a triumph of global marketing and a determined act of self-creation. The birds are lilac-breasted roller birds, which “perch conspicuously at the tops of trees... to spot lizards at ground level”.
I painted Kate Moss after seeing her Vogue cover in April 2017. Vogue-Kate in April 2017 looks exactly like Vogue-Kate in 1997. The audacity of the photoshopped image was almost a political act. Here was Vogue preserving marketable female beauty like jam in a jar, re-spreading her for new generations.
My painting of Kate is the Kate I absorbed as a teenager, based on a still from a Galliano show. The flower is a tree peony, used in Japanese art to symbolise female beauty.
Further reading on the ideals of female beauty
You'll find some useful reading on the historical context of beauty, and the creation of its ideals, below. Do share any additional links with me via twitter or email. I'll share a more comprehensive source list shortly.
Great first reads:
Front Row was a solo show of my new paintings on fashion for the Saltaire Arts Trail 2017. This yearly arts festival is held over three days in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Saltaire Village, West Yorkshire.
We opened the show with a drinks reception on the hottest night of the year. Thanks to all of you who braved the soaring temperatures and Yorkshire trains to join us! Read more for photos and the inspiring conversations shared at the event...Read More
I'm delighted to be exhibiting my latest paintings in a solo 'pop up' exhibition for the Saltaire Arts Trail 2017. This yearly arts festival is held in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Saltaire, West Yorkshire.
The exhibition, 'Front Row' will present my paintings on the recent Dior and Balmain fashion shows, alongside large-scale canvases exploring themes of image, adornment and transformation. Held at Saltaire's newest space, Tambourine, it will run just for the duration of the May Bank Holiday festival - Saturday 27th to Monday 29th May 2017.
New work will be for sale, with a Private View on Friday 26th May.