‘Where Have All The Interesting WomenGone?’…
…showcases three women who are not afraid to express their inner selves through art. Restraint can be no bad thing, but raw expression, and its remnants and residue, can be exhilarating to behold – Polly Harvey; Florence Welch; Janis Joplin; Kathe Kollwitz. We are implicated – part-voyeur, part-witness- intruding upon a private hell, or party to a hedonistic gathering some would rather remain hidden.
The challenge for artists working in this mode, where a level of passion is foregrounded, is to make this expression inclusive, to not only acknowledge the viewer/spectator but also ask them to see some aspect of themselves therein. Otherwise it is essential albeit meaningless catharsis. Good art is very rarely merely a personal expression of individual, personal experience.
“Screw your courage to the sticking-place, and we’ll not fail.”[Lady Macbeth]
Artists are privileged to have the opportunity to share their feelings with a willing, often informed and sensitive audience. They can occasionally be a tough crowd, but there’s little to gain from heckling a painting. This privilege is earned through having the courage to share. It is also a privilege to bear witness, a pleasure reassuringly indexical of freedom. The exchange is set, as is the task of empathy.
This title could be taken as a plaintive call, a cri de Coeur, a rallying cry. It is emotive and provocative. Rather than aim to encapsulate the work within, titles are a prime opportunity to make some noise and grab the attention, to burn brighter in a market-place of such torches. It worked well for ‘Cocaine Orgasm’, proving that we are by nature moths to the flame of controversy. The truth, the matter, is more nuanced of course. Like Nigella Lawson’s Mexican Lasagne there are many layers of subtle and surprising flavour to be discovered. If lasagne is not to your taste, I refer you to Lorraine Pascal’s Millefeuille.
“Express yourself so you can respect yourself.” [Madonna Ciccone]
Let’s briefly concern ourselves with the ways we choose/are compelled to express ourselves creatively – principally picture-making, because this lies at the very heart of this show. There is clear evidence of stepping in and out of the work, shifting from subjective to objective, assessing the results without interrupting the even flow of energy. Like Helen Frankenthaler and Lee Krasner, whose expressive work had a lyricism in its abstraction, and humanity in the luscious pools of rich colour, there is a suggestion of timeless floating in Frances Lewis’ paintings and prints. Images of female figures are twisted in discomfort, adopting animal characteristics, like snapshots from a dream-state as sense jostles with nonsense, with the aim of untangling and bringing order to random and familiar stimuli. The work is rendered expressively and gesturally, with skill and a languid grace, and in high colour as if an altered state of mind, a trance that opens the pathway from subconscious to making. The intensity is palpable. For all the appearance of a shamanistic invoking of deep-lying spirits, this is not so much a human being having a spiritual experience as a spiritual being having a human experience. We know these anxieties and irrational fears and we each have ways of attempting to manage them.
Iris Harris has the rare gift of creating an air of intimacy, yet there are powerful, punchy statements within. The large number of small works invites us in, as though we are entering an old-fashioned parlour to peer closer at the intricate detail. Selected newspaper clippings, stitched and sewn to the canvas, shock us out of our cosy reverie, bringing us hurriedly back to the here and now as well as intelligently marking specific periods of time. There are echoes of Rosemarie Trockel’s beguiling sculpture ‘Balaklava’, where what might be considered traditional women’s craft combines with something altogether more sinister. Political comment is so often more potent when couched within, and emerging from, the homely and familiar.
In opposition to traditional English reserve Jade Morris is always prepared to raise issues of personal and global significance publicly. There is an understated power and confidence in her work, whether it is painting, photography or the written word. She is both blithely empowered and empowering. This piece uses the materiality of a veil to not only remind us of the thin fabric that protects the modesty of Goddesses and nymphs in paintings of times past, but also to introduce the idea of ‘the reveal’ at its most intimate. There is the dalliance with sensuality and femininity before the overt sexuality beneath, the ultimate display of womanhood. It is a brave piece for it opens some controversial boxes.
Of her role as Selina Meyer in ‘Veep’, Julia Louis-Dreyfus says,” I don’t think of Selina as a female politician any more than I think of being a female driver when I’m driving. Of course, issues about being female arise, but fundamentally she’s a politician. There are certain specific areas to explore…being a woman.”
There is understandable hesitation to judge in terms of a binary scale of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ because stereotypes are notoriously brittle. Interesting women have been here all the time- some people just aren’t looking hard enough.