Sunday, 24 June 2018

Chipping away - to find an invisible woman

Otley, the town adjacent to where I live, is celebrating the 300th birthday of its famous son Thomas Chippendale. There's loads of stuff going on to mark the furniture maker's life - tours, talks, events - even an ale has been named in his honour: Chippend'Ale.
While I have no issue with Otley parading its pride in Tom, there are two significant others who, in my opinion, stand out due to their apparent insignificance. His wives.

Thomas married Catherine Redshaw in 1748 and Wikipedia states "and they had five boys and four girls." Catherine died in 1772; in 1777 he married Elizabeth Davis and "fathered three more children". There is plenty of information on Thomas Chippendale on the 'net; unsurprisingly not so much - in fact virtually nothing - on the women who popped out his offspring. Catherine is mentioned on, as being a wife and mother, listing the names of her nine children. Elizabeth can also be found on the same site where her life is also reduced to a summary consisting of her birth date, death date and names of children.

Of course this is no surprise. Throughout history, the roles of women have been belittled, ignored and erased. Women have always been 50% of the population, but only feature in around 0.5% of recorded history. Dr Bettany Hughes, award-winning historian, author and broadcaster, puts this down to the expansion of civilisations. "At the birth of civilised society, you have these very highly productive and sophisticated, settlements, with women having great status; they are high priestesses, they have property rights and own land, they write poetry- but these new civilisations want to expand. So – broadly speaking – when that happens, what you need is muscle power, and society becomes more militarised. The balance of power shifts."

So while men leave their wives and children at home to go off to battle, to fight other men who have left their wives and children at home, military power and macho posturing muscle in on the lives of women, diminishing their roles and enforcing the rules of patriarchy.

For at least 3,500 years, the stories of women have been written out of history. In art, business, politics, architecture, medicine and so on, it's the men who are remembered in books and on Wikipedia. 18th century British statesman Lord George Lyttelton, in his poem Advice the a Lady, 1773 advised:

Seek to be good, but aim not to be great;
A woman's noblest station is retreat.

Behind every great man there's a great woman was adopted as a slogan for the 1960/70s feminist movement, first having been used in the 1940s. Less used in more recent years as the imagery of women being behind men is open to misinterpretation.

"A woman's place is in the home."
"Men make houses, women make homes."

Catherine and Elizabeth were real people. They were living, breathing women whose gender imprisoned them, for better or for worse, into a life of domestic chores, breeding and child rearing. While Thomas was out showing off his posh furniture, they were most probably stuck at home up to their arms in laundry, food preparation and dirty nappies (or whatever the alternative was at the time).
We only ever hear about the women in the lives of famous men due to their sprogging abilities; they fade into the background as their husbands enjoy the limelight.

As an artist and researcher, I have taken the example of Catherine to create an 'invisible woman' out of Perspex. Catherine is part of my MA graduation show.

My work combines Perspex creations of women in iconic artworks and theoretical research into the implied sexism written by curators for art gallery wall labels for paintings of women artists and sitters.

Friday, 26 January 2018

Gross or not

Check out 'George Gross', advised my tutor, and I dutifully obliged.
We had been discussing my next academic essay, a 5000 word synopsis of Dada, the YBAs and MAVA. *  I had also talked about my lastest creative work using photoshop.
Typing into my pc at home, I discovered George Gross - a pulp fiction artist who lived from 1909 to 2003. Hmm, I wonder what this has to do with Dada etc I thought as my screen filled with images not unlike the saucy postcards I recalled seeing on seaside holidays. Nonplussed, I was however inspired by this artwork that I don't think I had come across before and thus created:

After having a bit of fun, I went back to find out more about George only to discover that there was actually another artist called ... George Grosz. This George lived from 1893 to 1959  was the one my tutor had meant as he had connections to Dada. His paintings appeared to me to have elements of collage and anti-art, which appealed.

Coincidentally, it looks as if both Georges enjoyed objectifying the women/the female body in their works so I've decided to do a bit of role play and swap them around to redress the balance.

Here's to George and George.

 MAVA. * For more information see

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Leaky Roof art show at Bradford College

It was a perfect title for an art show.
Leaky Roof, presented by students at Bradford School of Art, was so named due to the water which flooded the studio whenever it rained heavily. On the day of the preview in June,it had been sunny and there was little trace of the streams of water which had threatened to turn the event into a damp squib, apart from one or two strategically placed buckets beside the artworks.
Dealing with inclement weather was only one of the obstacles which students of fine art had grappled with in the months leading up to the show. The head technician who in previous years had been vital to the show's preparation had quit two weeks previously; and there was a dearth of tutors - due to sickness and retirement. Only one tutor had been available - albeit forced to work extra hours - to oversee the setting up of the culmination of students' three years of hard work.
Two days before the show was due to open, one student approached the head of the school to plead for something to be done. Water was leaking through the roof and pooling around the digital prints which he had been preparing for display.
An artist prepares her work for display amid
flood issues
The gutters were blocked, he was told, and then the usual mantra - there's no money for repairs.
Bradford College recently spent £50 million on creating its new Hockney building and the new Advanced Technologies Centre with  the view that the new campuses would "continue the College’s ongoing commitment to positively contribute to the regeneration of Bradford, its people and its industries." The new buildings are shiny and new and when it rains, the roofs do not leak.
The art school, however, is based in the Lister Building which dates back to the early 1900s. Despite undergoing a £2.8m refurbishment to accommodate a café and exhibition area, the roof still leaks. The buckets catching drips could be mistaken as artwork. Toilets are often closed as they are inaccessible due to the puddles of water.
Despite too much water and too few tutors, this year's event was nonetheless a showcase of talent with work created by BA art students displayed alongside fashion, graphics, textiles and 3D make-up and effects. (However, the textile show had to be moved from its regular spot in the exhibition gallery to the cafe to avoid the leaks.)
Art photographer and sculptor Charman Clark created 'Brompton -Behind Closed Doors', an eerie yet intriguing look at houses. Along with her sublime digital images and laser cut edifices, Charman hid models of five handmade ceramic houses in various locations near her home. Visitors were able to log on to her website for the co-ordinates and if found, were asked to post a picture on her website.
Ian Dashper stripped away layers to look at gender in his breathtaking display which comprised of large digital screenprints and full-sized porcelain casts of a 'female' and 'male' shoe. Ann Driver, who came to the end of her part-time course after six years in the art college, focused on empathy and her ceramic hanging 'rags' stir up emotions with their bleak beauty.
Krzysztof Olejniczak created a 'ghost of forest' painting as a homage to his father, who worked as a woodcutter for many years. He also made an eye-catching slice of miniature life with tiny model people depicted on various floors in a building, looking at pictures in an art gallery, lying face-down on a bed, and in the shower. Apryl Sharp's ethereal collages offer hints of Victoriana while Pauline Cooke's lines and squiggles were delicately presented on fabric.

Charman Clark

Ann Driver 

Krzysztof Olejniczak

Ian Dashper

Apryl Sharp

Krzysztof Olejniczak

Water, water, everywhere

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Duchamp and me.


I know how Duchamp felt.

100 years ago, his urinal 'Fountain' was submitted for an art exhibition in New York and was rejected. My offering - created in Duchamp's honour - was also deemed unworthy ... of a plinth at this year's Bradford Open Art show.

Not for a minute would I even begin to liken my work, entitled Toilet with Stool, with Marcel's minimalist marvel. He got there first, I'll grant him that. And I very much doubt that my creation will ever be recognised as iconic. Duchamp started it all, back in 1917, by selecting a quotidian item, repositioning it and calling it 'Readymade Art'. 

 As artist Ryan Gander says: Art is like a mountain without a summit: an artist can climb up and find the 'corpse of an art', take its adrenalin, water, food etc and then carry on.  
I simply took inspiration from the grandmaster.

How could my offering possibly be refused? When I submitted my random assemblage, I thought it could not be rejected, given the importance of the anniversary of the beginning of conceptual art. The irony is not lost, however, that it was shunned.

2017 marks the century since Marcel Duchamp submitted his urinal 'Fountain' to an art exhibition. He bought the urinal from a sanitary ware firm and presented it on its back rather than upright, signed and dated it ‘R. Mutt 1917’. He then submitted it as an artwork to the newly established Society of Independent Artists that he himself had helped found.

The society’s board of directors, who were obliged by their constitution to accept all submissions from its members, rejected it, saying that a piece of sanitary ware - something associated with bodily waste - could not be considered a work of art and was ‘indecent’. Duchamp resigned in protest against the board taking it upon itself to veto and effectively censor an artist’s work.

I spotted my rather sad looking toilet in a skip outside the college building where I was studying for a BA in Fine Art. The little voice in my head told me to walk away, which I actually managed to do. But it was still there some days later and I couldn't resist, so I arranged for it to be collected by the college porter who insisted I cleaned it thoroughly first before he trolleyed it into the art department. I set about considering what to do with the knackered - and heavy - loo; playing with puns (bog standard, toilet humour) and adding mannequin heads, arms and oddments to the bowl. Eventually, for the end of year show, I scrawled M. Rutt 2106 on the side and placed it on a stool. The object could only be viewed through a peephole (pee - geddit?) 'toilet' eye sign (see pictures) in the installation room, lit by a small bulb. In this way I was cleverly (in my mind, anyway) mimicking both Duchamp's iconic work and his final piece Étant donnés  which could only be seen by peering through an aperture.
I do not know why my artwork was rejected by whomever at the Bradford Open. The curator says they do not give feedback. 

On collecting my toilet and stool from Cartwright Hall, I was however honoured to find that they had been stored in the print room, sharing space with a Lichtenstein and a Hamilton, among other greats.

The original Fountain was both vandalised and then lost, but a few replicas are still in existence, including one at the Tate Modern in London.

My toilet is going back in the skip.