Leonor Fini, a Life Less than Ordinary

Leonor Fini (1907 –1996) was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, although her heritage was European and she spent her formative years in Trieste, Italy with her mother. The turbulent marriage of her parents aided in creating the young Fini as a rebellious and independent character who would later become an internationally recognised painter, designer and author.

Moving first to Milan then later to Paris in the early 1930s enabled her youthful talent to blossom and she was soon mingling with the Avant Garde elite of the Western art world. As a self-taught artist her early painting work began to explore an intriguing world of symbolism, mythology and sexuality, often focusing on the female form. Whether sphinxes, queens or demons, Fini’s expression would fast become entangled with the Surrealist movement and she began to exhibit both at home and abroad to great acclaim.

La fête secrète , 1964

As the artist gained a reputation for her work, the subject matter would often include erotic scenes of lesbianism, though Fini declared she herself was bisexual. Having had affairs with women, the artist drifted mostly between two male lovers and refused to settle for any form of traditional or typical lifestyle. Her work, in its frequent presentation of matriarchs and androgynous women seemed to mirror her own unique strength and individual style.

Le lecon de botanique, 1974.

Fini granted her viewers fascinating, sensual and bold female subjects extracted from the imagination of a female painter, in contrast to projections of male desire, fantasy and fear shaped by her surrealist contemporaries, such as Dali and Man Ray.

Sphinx Ariene, 1973

In her eccentricity, the painter also acquired twenty three cats who would sometimes share her dining table.

After a lifetime of exceptional creativity, Fini died in Paris in 1996 and her work is today an integral part of the finest art collections in the city, as well as in New York and London.

Leonor Fini (1907 –1996)

Ever true to her early nonconformity, the painter once stated,  “I always imagined I would have a life very different from the one that was imagined for me, but I understood from a very early time that I would have to revolt in order to make that life.” …And indeed she did.

Alma Thomas, Abstract Pioneer

Alma Thomas was born in the state of Georgia in the United States in 1892. At school she was a model student who shone in many subjects. The family later settled in Washington D.C in order for the gifted young Alma to live in a region which created more educational opportunities for African American youngsters.

The Eclipse, 1970

After leaving school, the future artist went into teaching and this was an area which she would stay close to her heart for the rest of her life. Given the chance to attend Howard University, a historically black centre of learning, it was here Thomas met influential tutor and artist Loïs Mailou Jones. Urged to study art and experiment in painting, Thomas began an early exploration of the area of abstraction. After graduation with a degree in the subject, Thomas went back to teaching.

Breeze Rustling Through Fall Flowers, 1968

It was not until her retirement in 1960 that Thomas became a full-time artist. Inspired by the abstract expressionism and colour-field painters of the age, she began to direct her work in a similar area. Exhibiting her work in 1966 at Howard University, she began to develop the brightly coloured mosaic style for which she became famous. Taking inspiration from the moon landings at the end of the decade, her abstract style continued. It was nature however which motivated Thomas to paint many of her works. Remembering the rural landscape of her home state, she captured impressions of the seasons, flowers and the elements among other aspects of the natural world in her following work. Her resulting paintings received much praise from critics.

Springtime in Washington, 1971

It was aged 81 that Thomas became the first African-American woman to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The artist continued to work and exhibit her work for the following seven years until her death in 1978. While not overtly political in an age of civil rights activism, Alma Thomas, nevertheless made huge inroads for African American artists into an art world run by the exclusively white and male art establishment.

Book Review: Photographer Tish Murtha’s ‘Juvenile Jazz Bands’

The third instalment of a book trilogy via Bluecoat Press reflecting the work of UK social documentary photographer Tish Murtha (1956-2013) is entitled ‘Juvenile Jazz Bands’. For those unsure as to what the title and subject matter refers, the jazz bands were marching troupes mainly involving young and adolescent girls, a particular phenomenon in 20th century working class British communities.

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Image from ‘Juvenile Jazz Bands’ by Tish Murtha © Ella Murtha, All rights reserved

Mainly focused in the mining towns of Wales, the Midlands and Tish’s own stomping ground of North East England, each band was representative of a particular neighbourhood. Trained to parade with military style precision, clad in colourful uniforms while playing instruments, including drums, kazoos and glockenspiels, the troupes would compete against each other in local and national competitions. The capturing of such a unique facet of cultural expression, would, in turn, become Tish Murtha’s first exhibition, a photographer destined to create a fascinating catalogue of work on the lives and experiences of often forgotten communities surviving on the margins of British life.

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Image from ‘Juvenile Jazz Bands’ by Tish Murtha © Ella Murtha, All rights reserved

The book itself is once again organised by Tish’s daughter Ella, who has for the last years dedicated her time to posthumously promote the Tish Murtha Archive. Her introduction in this publication reflects not only the passion for her mission and the pain of her loss (her mother died suddenly in 2013), but also reflects a humanity central to Tish’s own much celebrated work. The photographer portrayed a depth of socio-political awareness involving the sort of sensitivity, humour, stoicism and endurance that only comes from someone who, as both an uncompromising artist and working-class woman and mother, lived in the very heart of the community she reflected.

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Image from ‘Juvenile Jazz Bands’ by Tish Murtha © Ella Murtha, All rights reserved

The photographic work collected here is a perfect insight into the world of the juvenile jazz band, from children practising on the waste grounds and in parks, to the formal training of the troupes and final competitions. The images, featuring a world mainly inhabited by girls, give a rare platform to young working class, female experience therefore. The dedication and also bonding of the girls is clearly revealed in Tish’s work. That young women were encouraged to work together and were celebrated for their loud and proud processions, while recognised/rewarded for their skills, was an unusual outlet for youthful female energy.

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Image from ‘Juvenile Jazz Bands’ by Tish Murtha © Ella Murtha, All rights reserved

Interestingly however, Tish was not a huge fan of this form of leisure activity herself. The photographer’s own views on the subject matter are reflected in her own words in the book and also perhaps, in the black and white images she conveyed. Tish viewed the bands as too militaristic in nature, reflecting a culture of ‘not stepping out of line’ in areas  in need of working class rebellion against policies of enforced economic and social deprivation. The photographer’s perception of the suppression of children’s individualism and imagination naturally also totally conflicted with her ideas of free expression, indicative of the artist’s own outlook.

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Image from ‘Juvenile Jazz Bands’ by Tish Murtha © Ella Murtha, All rights reserved

There is much joy and interest in Tish’s work here, nevertheless, found particularly in the children’s game playing in mock jazz bands, in contrast to the more serious and adult constructed world of training, travelling and judging. In play the children themselves are the creators of the narrative, often with anarchic humour, in opposition to the more sombre world of contrived troupe rivalry in competitions. The photographer cleverly offers us two worlds here, one that is liberated and funny and another that is more restrained and organised. As a reader and viewer, however, we can take so much from both thanks to Tish’s artistic talents.

This book is simply another fantastic opportunity to contemplate the work of one of the best UK social documentary photographers of the 20th century and her crucial reflections of working class life – feel free to see for yourselves.

https://bluecoatpress.co.uk/product/juvenile-jazz-bands/

‘Marxism will heal the sick’: Frida Kahlo and Karl Marx

Marxism will give health to the sick, Frida Kahlo, 1954 

One of the last paintings Frida Kahlo ever created was entitled ´Marxism will heal the sick` (1954).  Analysis of the painting, however, necessitates an understand of the artist herself, her motivation and personal context within an intriguing life and artistic career, culminating in this work which would be one of her final messages to the world.

Frida Kahlo was born in 1907, into an early 20th century global era of political upheaval, bloody revolutionary uprisings and world war. In turn, the artist´s native country did not escape such instability and in 1910 Mexico was plunged into revolution. Kahlo´s childhood progressed therefore, amid a backdrop of armed rebellion against the suppression of the peasant classes, calls for land reforms and nationalization of resources. The rebels also rejected a European-style cultural template as the ideal, in favour of promoting indigenous Mexican culture. The political fervour and reclaiming of a more authentic national identity not only informed Kahlo´s own political perspective but, in turn, would have a major influence on her later artworks.

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Marxism will give health to the sick, Frida Kahlo, 1954

By the time Frida was twenty years old she had already joined the Mexican Communist Party and here her relationship with Diego Rivera, a painter of revolutionary murals and fellow member of the Party (later expelled), intensified. To describe Rivera as the more politically influential partner, citing the difference in age and experience, is to do Kahlo an intellectual disservice however. Kahlo was from a middle-class family and therefore benefited from an education including a wide range of resources and reading. The artist´s father also encouraged his daughter in gaining full advantage of an education only made possible by the recent admittance of girls to preparatory schools during the revolution. Here the teenage artist was heavily involved with a group of socialists known as the Cachuchas. This small society of young intellectuals were known not only for their adolescent pranks, but also for their sharing of ideas on history, philosophy and the political theorizing of Marx.

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Above: Tina Modotti’s photograph of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, with members of the Artists’ Union, on the May Day March, Mexico City, 1929 to protest for workers rights and to show working class unity.

While the revolutionary events of the era, an informed education, in addition to politically motivated associates, all aided the formation of Kahlo’s Marxist ideals, it was perhaps her personal circumstances that created an extra dimension to her perspectives. As a child Kahlo had suffered from polio, contracting the disease at the age of six and as a result was forced to spend nine months in bed. As part of her recuperation, Kahlo fought back against both her disability and gendered expectations of the era by taking part in sports such as boxing, to strengthen the weakness created by her illness. The artist´s later only partial recovery from a catastrophic tram accident not only heavily impacted on her physically, but also aiding in forming her character and beliefs. Her ability to survive the tortuous aftermath of multiple devastating injuries emphasized her resilience in the face of extreme personal adversity. Both her pain and endurance were also often themes and motifs within many of her artworks, forming an empathetic link between Kahlo and all those who struggle and yet must fight to survive.

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A metaphorical relationship between Kahlo´s own disability and her politics is clearly evident in her painting ´Marxism will heal the sick´. The artist presents a self-portrait in orthopaedic leather corset, as an embodiment of the suffering of the masses under the oppression of US capitalist forces. As the artist portrays herself as gently embraced by the reassuring, god-like hands of Marx however, she is reflected as able to throw away her crutches, promoting an evangelic-like message regarding the healing properties of Marxism for society. Kahlo´s use of symbolism and iconography communicate as if a political poster with rather simplistic reading. The divided ´good and evil´ composition of the canvas with use of opposing and familiar icons of war and peace, in addition to the saintly Marx and the strangling of the US eagle, are clearly illustrating a specific political agenda.  Even Kahlo´s dress and commonly adopted naïve, brightly coloured folk style of painting, reflect the promotion of indigenous arts embraced by the Mexican Renaissance movement, and is symbolic of a cultural identity freed by revolution.

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Having spent decades producing many groundbreaking and what may be described as feminist self-portraits examining the physiological and often painful areas of her own life, from the disintegration of her marriage to her miscarriage, Kahlo`s move to a more overtly political stance was a form of resolution for the artist. As Kahlo´s commitment to the Communist Party grew, so did her wish to create a greater connection between her art and her political beliefs. The artist´s home had been an open house to many radical thinkers and her involvement with Trotsky, who sought refuge there, has been well documented. In the last days of her life she continued to be politically active, demonstrating against US imperialism in her wheelchair, despite the recent amputation of her leg and a deterioration in her general health. Kahlo died in 1954, leaving her painting unfinished. A rousing chorus of The International was sung at the painter´s funeral and her coffin was shrouded in the red flag with the Communist emblem of hammer and sickle.

Frida Kahlo

 

Kahlo, as a woman who defied expectations of sex and sexual orientation, as a Mexican, as a survivor of great personal trauma and disability, knew only too well the meaning of the struggle to be free, an ideal she perceived was embedded in Marxism. Her political beliefs in fact, in addition to her art, her country and her lifelong endurance, defined the artist. Kahlo apparently finally found her own inner peace within the message of her last painting, in which a lifetime of personal pain and political struggle are united. Kahlo’s paintings are famous for their tears, but as her life ebbed away, the painter reportedly said of this work “For the first time, I am not crying any more”.

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First published in Culture Matters, 2018  http://culturematters.org.uk/index.php/arts/visual-art/item/2739-marxism-will-heal-the-sick-frida-kahlo-and-karl-marx

 

Kara Walker, Black Lives & White Lies

Kara Walker is a U.S contemporary painter, silhouettist, installation artist, print-maker, and film-maker, known for her exploration of themes on race, gender role, violence and cultural identity.

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She was born in 1969 in California, however her family moved to the state of Georgia when she was 13 years old due to her artist father’s work commitments. Her new home was an area that still held rallies by the white supremacist Klu Klux Klan, a shock to Walker after the more relaxed atmosphere of her early years. It was here that she faced regular racial abuse during her education. The young artist, therefore, was often afraid to address issues of race during this period in her artworks, however her youthful experiences would fortify her expression in later life, on a journey leading to international artistic acclaim.

Walker states of her early years;

“I was really trying to explore the problematics of making art as a young black woman, when constantly barraged and faced with a host of stereotypes about what it even means to be a young black woman.”

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After later gaining a Masters In Art at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1994, one of her first works to capture world attention was her 15 meter long panoramic frieze entitled ‘Gone: An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred b’tween the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart’ (1994). The work sought to rewrite a ‘Gone with the Wind’ style, mythological past on slavery and power relations by exploring, as the artist herself said “a sadomasochistic construct that underlies the American history narrative”.

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Walker sought to lay bare the injustices of racism and abuses of white cultural and economic power by using the medium of the black silhouette on a white background. The information for the viewer is literally in black and white, a metaphor for race, created as a powerful, stark and confrontational message. However, the medium of the silhouette also bypasses details, so is paradoxically unclear and potentially misleading. Walker states of her work;

“I really liked that association, there’s a similarity between the silhouette and other types of stereotyping, racial stereotyping in particular”.

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Continuing to create a huge body of work, Walker has reimagined, subverted and challenged ideas embedded in historical art and genre painting by exposing the rotten underbelly of a dark past.  She pays particular attention to the plight of African American women and the combined attacks of racism plus misogynistic abuse and in doing so, does not shy away from images such as rape.

Walker created a huge sculptural work using materials such as sugar during 2014 of a naked black woman in the form of the Sphinx entitled ‘A Subtlety’. It is a work that has layers of meaning. The story of Western sugar consumption is entwined with slavery, but the artwork not only reminds the viewer of the interactive relationship between capitalism, power and gross oppression. The positioning of the sculpture links to the abuse of women, a not so sweet consequence of white male power.

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Walker also does not hide from images of lynching or mutilation and many other horrors inflicted on those othered as subhuman. The artist’s work, however, was never intended to simply address a bygone age, but how historical attitudes and events relate to our present. Walker, herself, recognises the Black Lives Matters campaign as “the current incarnation of a civil rights movement” under the shadow of racist figures such as Trump. Her latest works explore not only the history of black oppression but also efforts to create change, which the artist reflects without sentiment and often in terms of nightmarish violence and grotesque suppression.

kara blog afrika.  The Republic of New Afrika at a Crossroads, 2016. Kara Walker

Whether in the fields of Southern states U.S. plantations or on the streets of Minneapolis, Walker captures a centuries long struggle. Her work is a shocking kick to the guts, created to express an absence of humanity, coupled with a vital and ever needed reminder of it. In doing so, Kara Walker is one of the most significant artists of our age.

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“As soon as you start telling the story of racism, you start reliving the story,” Walker states “You keep creating a monster that swallows you”.

Tove Jansson, Moomins Creator, Artist & Author.

Tove Jansson was born in the capital of Finland, Helsinki, the eldest of her siblings. Both her parents were artists and from a young age Tove aided her mother, illustrator Signe Hammarsten-Jansson, with her commissions. As an adolescent she began creating books with her own illustrations. It would be the start of a lifelong love affair with creativity for the future artist, illustrator and author.

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Signe Hammarsten-Jansson’s self portrait.

Tove’s enrolment at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1938, after studying art in her homeland, would eventually lead to exhibitions of her work. During the pre World War 2 era, Tove would regularly have illustrations published in magazines. It was at this time, the artist began to be involved with Garm, an anti-fascist Finnish-Swedish satirical magazine for whom she created many illustrations.

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Tove’s illustrations for ‘Garm‘ magazine (c.1939)

Although she was once briefly engaged, Tove met her life partner Tuulikki Pietilä, a US born, Finnish graphic artist who was also a professor in Seattle, during the 1950s. The two began working on projects together, a circumstance that would later lead to a deep romantic connection. Same-sex relationships were illegal in Finland at the time and would remain so until as late as 1971. Their early love affair had to be hidden and at first demonstrated through coded messages and discreet meetings.

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Tuulikki and Tove (c.1960)

Tove’s first Moomins book, The Moomins and the Great Flood, was created in 1945 at the end of a very grim period of European and global history involving two world wars and the unleashing of atomic bombs on Japan. Her early books often metaphorically reflected such times as a result. In her first work Tove invented a forested world beset with hidden dangers for her Moomin characters to navigate, while her second, Comet in Moominland (1946), contemplated a world of catastrophes and natural disasters. Highlighting the darkness often found in traditional folk and fairytales, the books however, would also reflect the relationships of family members and the values of kinship. In this way Tove explored themes for children and adults without simple sentimentality, but an honest awareness of life as consisting of both light and shade… and the world in-between.

“I love borders….Twilight is the border between day and night, and the shore is the border between sea and land. The border is longing: when both have fallen in love but still haven’t said anything. The border is to be on the way. It is the way that is the most important thing.”― Tove Jansson

The Moomin characters related to Tove’s own family. The wise and practical Too-Ticky, however, who was introduced in Moominland Midwinter (1957), was based on her lover who had inspired and motivated her to write the book. It was a work which incorporated a theme of the dread of winter corresponding with Tove’s own depression, only to end with the eventual and inevitable light of spring. In turn, Tove saw herself as a combination of Moomintroll, a character portrayed as a dreamer and a thinker and the fiery and irritable Little My.

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Moomintroll and Too-Ticky 

Tove’s female characters were often far from stereotypical. The mischievous Little My, for example, represented a girlhood that could be bold and defiant. Meanwhile Too-Ticky, reflected a gender non-conformity and skilful practicality far from common in the era the character was created. Both, in turn, highlighting Tove’s own perceptive insights and progressive ideas.

In the 1960s, the partners created their own house on a small uninhabited island in the Gulf of Finland. Klovharu would became their summer home for almost 30 years. Tove and Tuulikki captured many of their experiences there on 8 mm film, documentation of romantic lives entwined in nature and creativity.

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Klovharu Island

Their alternating urban life was spent in the city of Helsinki, in adjoining apartments with connecting studios.

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Tove Jansson in her Helsinki home and studio,1956

In addition to her continuing Moomin books, Tove was a painter who worked in both impressionist and abstract styles and had a number of exhibitions. She was also a serious writer and, in addition collaborated in many theatrical works, including creating set designs for the Finnish National Ballet.

Jansson died in 2001 aged 86 years old, leaving a heart broken Tuulikki who survived her for eight more years.

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Tove’s legacy includes leaving the world with a lifetime of successful creative endeavours which have continued to fascinate and enthral people without barriers of age. The artist, author and illustrator herself once stated wisely …

“It is simply this: do not tire, never lose interest, never grow indifferent—lose your invaluable curiosity and you let yourself die. It’s as simple as that.”

Tove Jansson (1914-2001)

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Little My

Käthe Kollwitz, A Vision of Humanity

Käthe Kollwitz was born in 1867 into a large Prussian family, whose religious concerns and passion for socialist politics would hugely influence her future work as an artist. As a child Kollwitz began to reveal a particular talent for drawing, a skill that would later become central to her life and eventually recognised and revered globally.

Encouraged by family support, Kollwitz developed her artistic gifts first in the home and then in her studies at the Women’s Art School in Munich. Here she was further inspired by the social concerns of the age and Kollwitz began to reflect the struggles of the working classes.

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The Weavers’ Revolt, ‘March of the Weavers’, 1893-1897

As the artist developed her artistic style, she found herself more attracted to printmaking, utilising lithographic techniques, woodcuts and etchings, rather than the more fashionable painting genre, in addition to viewing herself as a draughtswoman.

Kollwitz later moved to Berlin after marrying her doctor husband Karl. Through his practice attending to the poor of the city, the artist drew on her knowledge and understanding of the workers and the peasant community. Depictions of proletariat uprisings, the pain of poverty, toil, sacrifice and loss, became constant and highly emotive themes, emphasized in the artist’s stark, graphic compositions.

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Kollwitz’s 1903 etching Outbreak focuses on rebel peasant leader ‘Black Anna’ who incited a historic revolt. The idea of the female revolutionary appealed to Kollwitz so much that she created Anna in her own image in a series of work.

Kollwitz’s portrayal of her fellow women perhaps became the most striking phenomena within her body of work. The artist was able, for example, to capture and convey the strengths, anxieties and suffering of women by combining such elements as sensitivity and stoicism.

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In her 1942 work Seed for the Planting Must Not be Ground Kollwitz highlights an anti- war message utilising the female subject, the mother, as the embodiment of protection against the folly of human waste. There is no sentimental or delicate femininity here, but an impacting vision of solidity and determination. Kollwitz lost her own son in World War I and her grandson in World War II. Her work was therefore profoundly relevant to her own experience as a woman.

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Kollwitz also created over fifty self-portraits in her lifetime, without vanity but with a complex sense of self examination.

The artist sadly died in 1945 only two weeks before the end of the Second World War and much of her work was lost in an allied bombing raid. However, her surviving artworks have inspired generations of art lovers.

Kollwitz herself once stated:

”I am in the world to change the world”

…and indeed, she did.

The Story of Gerda and Lili

The artist Gerda Wegener (née Gottlieb) was born in semi-rural Denmark into a conservative and religious family. As a young woman with a promising artistic talent, she was later allowed to attend the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen. It was here, in 1904, that Gerda first met fellow artist and landscape painter who’s given name was Einar Magnus Andreas Wegener, but who would later become globally known as Lili Elbe.

It is believed they married at the ages of 19 and 22 years old.

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Gerda Wegener

After Gerda graduated in 1907 the couple travelled around Europe, eventually settling in Paris. The artist hoped that the French capital would offer her an artistic opportunity in the world of fashion. Gerda’s work was shown at various exhibitions and she eventually gained a living in advertising creating posters. Here she developed a specific art deco figurative style. Her work, often featuring women and erotica, was considered too risqué in her homeland, but was readily accepted in the more relaxed atmosphere of Bohemian Paris.

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Gerda Wegener, A Summer Day-detail, 1927

Gerda and her partner soon became well acquainted with the dancers, intellectuals, fellow artists and the radical lifestyle of the capital. It was at this time that Elbe began to present as Lili. The artist, like Gerda, had also worked as an illustrator to earn money and had been a successful landscape painter, even exhibiting at the Salon in Paris, but had ceased painting believing it was part of a former life.

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Poples along Hobro Fjord, 1908 signed in Elbe’s former name.

Gerda, however, continued in her work, sometimes utilising Lili as model. Little did her viewers know the story behind her new muse. The circumstances of their complex bond both on a personal and artistic level was somewhat unconventional, even for the relaxed atmosphere of Paris in the early 20th century.

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Lili Elbe, 1926

The couple continued a close relationship for many years despite Lili often being explained as a cousin of Gerda’s. In 1930 Lili became one of the first people to undergo reassignment surgery and became celebrated by many as a pioneering transsexual (a term appropriate to the era). However, due to complications involved in further surgical interventions Lili died. Elbe’s autobiography was published posthumously in 1933.

By this time Gerda had become involved in a new relationship which evolved into an unhappy marriage and a period of time spent in North Africa. Later divorced, she spent the last years of her life alone.

The story of Gerda and Lili, which inspired the film ‘The Danish Girl’, has been perceived by many as challenging the typical gendered power dynamics of artist master and model. Gerda’s work has also been praised for her bold depictions of independent women, including lesbian erotica, created from the female rather than typically male gaze.

 

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“Lili y Gerda” by Gerda Wegener

 

The entwined bond of artist Gerda and former artist Lili, is certainly one of historical interest, and has a significant place in the history of both culture and art.

Adding the Blue: the collected oil paintings of Chrissie Hynde – A book review

Giving yourself to painting is easier if you don’t live with someone. Get a cat instead.” Chrissie Hynde.

Without formal training musician Chrissie Hynde began painting in her later years. As with many women in the arts, she started when her children left home and a space in her life opened to accommodate time for the genre. Having been enthused by art from an early age, Hynde recalls that it was her saviour subject at school. Her life, however took her down the route of music with her band The Pretenders as she became a pioneering and iconic female figure in the post punk, rock scene.

Adding the Blue is a newly created book featuring a collection of oil paintings created by Hynde in recent years. Displayed chronologically, this includes numerous still lifes, nudes, landscapes, self-portraits and portraits of friends and family, in addition to a host of abstract works painted by the artist in both her London and French studios. While attractively displayed in colourful full-page presentation, what defines the book is not only the quality of the paintings-and it is certainly quite a vibrant talent that Hynde possesses, but also the insights provided by her own accompanying texts.

While sharing anecdotes relating to her artworks, Hynde’s commentary states she approaches her painting as she created her music, with unpretentious enthusiasm.

It’s pretty much like writing songs. I might know what I want to write about, but generally I just dive in and see what’s down there” – Chrissie Hynde

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Hynde expresses feelings of being outside the world of art and artists. Considering her incredibly successful survival in a hugely male dominated music business where women have always been treated as ‘outsiders’, she does not fear rejection in her current role as painter however. Within her appealingly pragmatic and insightful statements within the book, Hynde claims her earlier life encompassing menial jobs gave her a humble perspective and gratitude for her present creative life.

Her work presented here at times recalls the flat modernist organisation of Picasso combined with the colour palate of Matisse. In terms of female artists, the flower studies of Georgia O’Keefe and the still lifes of Suzanne Valadon come to mind, with suggestions of the expressionist figures of contemporary artist like Nicole Eisenman. What the book reflects is how Hynde’s work has progressed with an authenticity mirrored in the honest reflections of her accompanying commentary. Hynde’s nudes are created, for example without the need to beautify, while reflecting a refreshing awareness of real humanity in their vulnerability and awkwardness at times. Her abstract work, in turn, has evolved in boldness, with a uniting of geometric and organic shapes incorporated in increasing balanced compositions.

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Art is a way of connecting to the divine”-Chrissie Hynde

Her portrait work is especially expressive, created with thought to character and mood which avoids sentimentality or fawning. The painting of Hynde’s friend, dancer Michael Clark, for example, reflects a heartfelt intensity perhaps only conveyed by someone close to the subject. Her self-portraits such as Thursday Self 1 and 2 created with sharp angular, chiselled features and stretched pink muscle sinews, likewise present an intriguing impression of the artist, devoid of any sense of self-aggrandisement or vanity.

Conveyed in a book that is both a visual and informative treat, Hynde clearly enjoys her paintings, creating a body of work that communicates in a candid and meaningful way.

Most importantly Adding the Blue not only offers an intriguing insight into the development of the work of Chrissie Hynde as an emerging painter. It provides an accessible approach that thankfully avoids the usual language and clichés of the art book, appropriately reflective of the artist herself…. certainly worth our attention.

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More information

https://www.genesis-publications.com/book/9781905662531/adding-the-blue

The Abortion Pastels, Paula Rego

In 1998 Portuguese born artist Paula Rego created a series of work entitled Untitled. The Abortion Pastels.  Rego created her work in response to a referendum to legalise abortion in Portugal, which was very narrowly defeated. Each canvas depicted the image of a woman undergoing an unsafe abortion.

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Rego was born in Portugal in 1935, into what she describes as a repressive, middle-class Portuguese life in which women were highly encouraged to do nothing, while working-class women were forced to do everything. The painter recalls girlhood as a time of learning obedience to men, in addition to secretive and confused messages about puberty, sexual abstention and female propriety.  Then fascist Portugal was described by her father as a ‘killer society for women’.

After leaving her homeland in the late 1950’s to attend London’s Slade School of Fine Art, Rego recollected an era including coerced sexual encounters leading to secretive and often tortuous back street abortions. In turn, her Abortion series would be both inspired by her own experiences and that of her fellow female students, utilising what she had witnessed growing up around the small Portuguese villages of her formative years.

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While Rego’s series depicted a theme uncommon in a Western cannon of art often only concerned with the idealisation of womanhood, its harsh realism exposed a hushed up, yet very real world for many women. The artist, however, did not reflect any particular emotion, nor are her subjects portrayed as passive victims. In fact their eyes often gaze blankly outwards at the viewer, thus putting the emphasis of judgement, of guilt, of collusion on those passively spectating.

The artist’s brutal images question the idea of ‘respectability’ in what she believed was a denial of reality for many women. Rego was enraged at her country’s inability to truly face up to the experience of women who would have abortions with or without choice, and whether legal or not. She recalled the women who had died.

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Rego’s Abortion series is an intentionally unnerving and uncomfortable experience as a result. When the series was exhibited in the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, Rego recalled the whispered secrets of women in the gallery while looking at her artworks. In turn, after being exhibited, her work is stated to have been integral in changing public opinion.

“It is imperative women have a choice” Rego stated.

Abortion laws in Portugal were liberalised to a greater extent on April 10, 2007.