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