Blog, Exhibitions

Dorothea Tanning the best female twentieth century artist you’ve never heard of.

Her work is currently on show at Tate Modern. Tanning is one of a number of unjustly overlooked female artists whose work has been reassessed in recent years.

Birthday 1942 oil paint on canvas (Self Portrait)

The show’s curator, Ann Coxon, says that Tanning not only suffered from the sexism of the Surrealist movement but also from her own resistance to being labeled as a feminist artist. This meant that she, in effect, excluded herself from the feminist exhibitions of surrealist art in the late 1980’s and 1990’s.

Her time has now come, as she fits in well with the Tate’s mission to display the work of twentieth century female artists.

At the start of her career Tanning was a surrealist painter. She was totally hooked on the idea after seeing the groundbreaking exhibition ‘Fantastic Art, Dada and surrealism at the Museum of Modern Art. This prompted her to visit Paris in 1939, a trip that was cut short by the German invasion. Tanning was able to meet many of the surrealists, including her future husband Max Ernst, when they fled the Nazis for New York.

Tannings 1940’s work is surrealist but also includes a great deal of dramatic gothic touches. The painting that has been used as the exhibition’s poster is amazing and much smaller than you expect it to be.

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik 1943

Eine Klien Nachtmusik (1943) has two girls in Victorian dress fighting a giant tentacled sunflower along a hotel corridor. As with many of Tannings paintings there are a number of doors- inviting you the viewer in.

Alyce Mahon, the exhibitions co-curator says ‘ The door is a talisman for the power of art over the spectator’.

In the 1950’s and 60’s Tanning moved away from Surrealism towards abstraction. Her paintings showed entwined figures which appear to loom out of a blue grey fog.

Poached Trout

Her work is usually accompanied by amusing titles, sometimes in French sometimes in English.  This woman had a sense of humour! As well as paintings and sculpture Tanning also designed for the theatre.

One room in the exhibition is named Maternities. Tanning did not have children but spoke of maternity in a broader sense and sometimes likened artworks to creative offspring. Some of her drawings from this time remind me very much of the raw, minimal vital drawings of Tracy Emin.

The last section of the exhibition shows Tanning’s move into soft sculpture. It is important to remember that she was a pioneer in this method of creativity way ahead of her time and prefiguring the work of Sarah Lucas and Louise Bourgeois. The Installation Hotel du Pavot : chamber 202, is magnificent and shocking all at the same time with its organic shaped forms, bodies?, bursting through the walls.

Installation Hotel du Pavot : chamber 202

Dorothea Tanning is at Tate Modern until June 9th 2019. A great Exhibition not to be missed.

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Meet the Maker: Hilary Simon

 

Francescas flowers close up copy

Silk painter, curator, artist and costume designer are just some of the fields of excellence for which Hilary Simon is known. You just need to peek into her house, a riot of colour, and you know you are in for a visual treat. I went to visit her in her home to see where she works.2C2A6051

Hilary is a human Magpie, the house is jam packed with colourful ephemera picked up on her travels plus lots of examples of her own work. Oh I forgot to mention she also runs fabulous guided tours to both Mexico and Peru.

J.B. Tell me a bit about your background and how you got into Silk painting.

H.S. I trained in Costume design at Croydon Art School but I was always interested in textiles. As soon as I had the opportunity and had saved enough money I took myself off to Java to learn about Batik. I stayed for 3 months.

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J.B.Who trained you to do silk painting?

H.S. No one, I taught myself.

On my return from Java I learned about a silk painting technique practiced in France. I went to Paris and bought up the dyes and the resist gum, and with a book, started painting on silk and made cushions for Liberty’s and then Harvey Nichols bought some too. I had a fashion show with a range of silk painted clothes and a stall at Chelsea Craft Fair

.Oaxaca landscape close up copy

J.B. It sounds like your career was really taking off.

H.S. Although it sounds really good and they were great commissions they were not bringing in enough income. I was doing freelance costume design for films and I still do that occasionally. When I had my first baby I started doing craft fairs, selling my silk paintings. A job then came up as a Costume Supervisor at GMTV working three days a week. This was great as it gave a stable income whilst at the same time lots of time to do my own work.

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J.B. In what way was your work developing?

H.S. I started making greetings cards and had an exhibition of painting on silk. I showed at Chelsea Craft Fair.

J.B. How did you get into running workshops?

H.S. Because of the contacts I made when I was exhibiting, I was invited to start teaching workshops. The first ones were at The Polka Children’s Theatre when my children were very young. Later I worked at the Eden Project and then I taught at Art in Action for many years. I still teach at the fashion and Textile Museum and at some of the London Art Schools. I also run weekend courses at West Dean College.

I have taught at Wildfibre in Los Angeles https://www.wildfiberstudio.com/

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J.B. How do you make your contacts for work?

H.S. I am always on the look out, for example My trip to Guatemala, was from showing at Art in Action in Oxford, when someone told me about an American arts centre in Antigua called ARTGUAT http://www.artguat.org/I contacted the owner, photographer Liza Fourre, and gave a 10 day workshop there two years running.

Inspired by my time in Guatemala, I later had a Solo exhibition of 55 paintings at the Stephen Bartley Gallery, Old Church Street, Chelsea.

To fund my visits to Mexico whilst I was researching, I gave tours in Mexico for Day of the Dead. I have run a workshop in Mexico in Guadalajara at ‘Hard to Find’ arts centre http://htf.org.mx/.and at CaSa,Centre of Arts San Agustin,Oaxaca.http://www.mexicoescultura.com/recinto/57071/en/san-agustin-arts-center-oaxaca.html

J.B. How did you get into curating exhibitions?

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H.S. Having done many tours in Mexico I became aware that no one had done an exhibition about Rebozo’s that are hand woven on a back strap loom. I thought I would create an exhibition.  A rebozo is a hand woven garment ,with ikat design. Its characteristic is the hand laced fringe.The rebozo evolved with the influence of the Spanish, and the weaving skill of the artisans creating this garment. The artist Frida Kahlo wore them. It was a great idea. I just didn’t realize that it would take so long from the initial concept to the actual exhibition. The Fashion and Textile Museum in London was my choice of museums. It was there that I set my heart. It was designed by, Mexican architect, Ricardo Legorreta. I met Ricardo in Mexico City before he died. We made a shrine for him in the exhibition.

My Mexican Shrine close up copy

Exhibitions are expensive especially travelling ones. I managed to get funding and support from a number of different organizations, including the Anglo Mexican Foundation, The British Council, The Mexican Embassy and the Fashion and Textile Museum.   I bought Mexican’s over to the UK to demonstrate the skill needed to make a Rebozo. All in all it took 5 years from the initial idea to the London exhibition in 2014. It also showed in Mexico City in 2015.

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J.B. Are you thinking of running any other exhibitions?

H.S. I am currently working on an idea to exhibit Peruvian Costume. The working title is “Weavers in the sky’ although this may change.

J.B. What made you choose Peru?

H.S. They are outstanding weavers and there is currently a great interest in Peruvian crafts, particularly the weaving, culture and cuisine.

J.B. Where do you get the inspiration for your work?

H.S. My inspiration comes from my travels, decorative things such as textiles embroideries, shrines, bright colours, textures and different cultures.

J.B. Who are your design heroes?

H.S. Andrew Logan, Zandra Rhodes, Molly Parkin, Missoni Leonora Carrington. I am influenced by Mexicans including  Diego Rivera, Francisco Toledo.

J.B. If you were starting on your education and career choices again, what would you do?

H.S. I would always be an artist, but it’s a hard life.

J.B. What are the benefits and downsides about working from home?

H.S. The upside is that I love being on my own and being able to work whenever I feel like it, even quite late into the night. There are no distractions from other people and I don’t waste time travelling. The downside is I don’t get the critical information that I would if I were working with or near to other artists.

J.B. Apart from Peru what other projects are you currently working on?

H.S. I was commissioned  by the Swedish church to paint two, four feet long, panels of the tree of life. These were for the vicar to wear. I posted the finished design on face book and out of the blue was asked to come up with another Tree of Life Design for a Classical CD sleeve for musician Morgan Szymanski. I have just finished this. I have recently completed some Silk squares that I will soon be selling and I am constantly working on new designs.El Arbol de la VidaFE8A7467 copy

J.B. Thank you for a glimpse into your artistic life.

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