BCD#22

Blind Contour Drawing #22 – “Fingal” Gillian Ayres, 2005

Gillian Ayres was born in 1930 in Barnes, London and grew up in comfort due to her family’s hat making business. She developed interest in art early and enrolled at the age of 16 in the Camberwell School of Art and Crafts.

Ayres exhibited with Young Contemporaries in 1949 and with the London Group in 1951. Her first solo show was at Gallery One, London, in 1956. The following year she was commissioned to create a large-scale mural for South Hampstead High School for Girls. It was not appreciated at the time and was quickly covered with wallpaper. Luckily it was rediscovered in 1983 in nearly perfect condition.

She met her husband, Henry Mundy at school and they married in 1951. They had two sons and eventually divorced in 1981 but remained friends and continued to live together in the same house painting in their separate studios. Mundy and many of his friends were ex-servicemen, their distain towards traditionalists suited Ayres anti-authoritarian attitude and helped her find her voice in abstraction.

Ayres’ early works were usually made with thin vinyl paint with a limited palette. She matured as an artist in the 1950s, in the heyday of “experimental art.” Her rebellious nature helped her to become one of the first British admirers of Jackson Pollock.

Her later works in oil paint are very colourful and thick with paint. Her huge canvases were often worked on in sitting-rooms and bedrooms while her bantams, peacocks, cats and dogs roamed freely from her garden to the kitchen to the studio. The marks of their paws and claws may still be detected in some paintings.

In 1957 Ayres showed at the significant exhibition Metavisual, Tachiste, Abstract: Painting in England Today, at the Redfern gallery. She was the only woman in the Situation exhibition at the RBA Galleries in 1960, the first group show of British abstract art of the new decade.

Ayres worked part-time at the AIA Gallery from 1951-59 before starting to teach. She held a number of teaching positions through the 1960s and 1970s. In 1959, she was asked to teach at Bath Academy of Art, Corsham, for six weeks. They asked her to stay and she remained on the teaching staff until 1965.

In 1965 she became a senior lecturer at Saint Martin’s School of Art in London, she stayed there until 1978 when she became head of painting at Winchester School of Art in 1978, she was the first female teacher in the UK to this position. She left teaching in 1981, and moved north-west Wales to become a full-time painter. 1987 she relocated to the North Devon-Cornwall border where she remained for the rest of her life.

She smoked about 3 packs of cigarettes a day, worked throughout the night if she felt like it, gave money to friends, wasn’t much of a housekeeper, collected broken pieces of china and loved Elizabethan poetry. Her favourite painter was Rubens. Ayres ignored most advice, including medical and didn’t have much time for current affairs.

Ayres was one of Britain’s most significant abstract painters and has been described as courageous, independent, determined with a generous heart.

She died at the age of 88 near her beloved cottage and studio in North Devon. Her paintings and prints are held by major museums and galleries around the world.

Born: 1930, London
Died: 2018, North Devon

 

BCD #21

Blind Contour Drawing #21 – “Group IV, The Ten Largest, No. 7, Adulthood,” – Hilma af Klint 1907

Hilma af Klint was the fourth child of five to a Swedish naval commander and mathematician. The family spent summers at their manor on the island of Adelsö. She formed a strong connection to nature in these idyllic surroundings, which would later influence her work.

When the family moved to Stockholm, she studied at the Academy of Fine Arts of Stockholm, where she learned portraiture and landscape painting. In 1882, by the age of 20, she was admitted to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. After graduating with honors, she was awarded a scholarship in the form of an art studio, where her landscapes and portraits became the source of income and independence. The Scandinavian education system was well ahead of the French and German systems and allowed women into their Academies. It was not uncommon for women to make a living from their art.

Af Klint’s 10 year old sister, Hermina died in 1880. The grief and the loss sparked her interest in spiritualism and religion. She began meeting with ‘The Five’, or ‘De Fem’ – a group of five of female artists who met secretly to seek communication with mystic beings. Conducting séances and creating automatic drawings, they communed regularly with these spirits they called the “High Masters.”

Her knowledge of botany, geometry, mathematics, natural sciences, world religions and her interest in spiritually accumulated in what the art world now recognizes as the first abstract paintings in history. In 1906, she was painting and working in abstraction at least 5 years earlier before Vasily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich, Piet Mondrian, and others would create similar moves to rid their work of representational content.

She worked in private, selling her landscapes and portraits. She did not spend time promoting herself, publishing manifestos or participating in exhibitions as her contemporaries did. Even in her old age, she did not believe the world was ready for her work and included in her will that not a single item from her over 1,200 piece estate which included paintings, drawings and writings be shown until 20 years after her death.

She passed away on October 21, 1944 in the aftermath of a traffic accident, nearly 82 years old. When she died none of her abstract works had ever been shown to the public.

Since 2013, when the Modern Museum in Stockholm hosted an exhibition dedicated solely to her work, af Klint is now generally considered to be the pioneer and inventor of abstract art. Her first abstract work was painted in 1906.

Born: October 26, 1862, Solna, Sweden
Died: October 21, 1944, Danderyd Municipality, Sweden

BCD#8

Blind Contour Drawing #8 “Girl on a Hill “ Prudence Heward 1929

Despite the popularity of landscape painting during her lifetime, Prudence Heward was a Canadian painter primarily known for her figure painting of defiant women.

She used bold and rich colours that challenged conventional representations of passivity and created portraits of complex, brooding and independent modern women. Many of her subjects returned the viewer’s gaze. She also painted nude subjects and one painting titled “Hester” (1937) of a naked black woman provoked hostile reactions in the press.

Born into a wealthy family, Heward took her first drawing lesson at the age of twelve and soon started painting at the Art Association of Montreal. After living out World War I in England as a volunteer with the Red Cross, she returned to the Art Association in 1918.

For two summers, Heward painted with Maurice Cullen in the rural areas outside Montreal. In 1925, she went to Paris under a scholarship. There, she met another Canadian student, Isabel McLaughlin, who became her lifelong friend. The two returned to Paris in 1929 and took sketching classes at the Scandinavian Academy, before traveling together to the Mediterranean town of Cagnes.

Heward’s first major success was in 1929 when she won first prize at the Willingdon Arts Competition for “Girl on a Hill.” This piece depicts the modern dancer Louise McLea. It is remarkably modern for McLea is posing with dirty bare feet and is challenging you with her gaze.

Heward’s works were selected for numerous international exhibitions. She was invited to exhibit her work with the Group of Seven in 1928 and again in 1931, and held her first solo exhibition in 1932 at the Scott Galleries, Montreal.

She was associated with the Beaver Hall Group; a founding member of the Canadian Group of Painters and Contemporary Arts Society, and a member of the Federation of Canadian Artists.

In 1947, Heward died at age 50 in Los Angeles, while seeking treatment for the asthma that had plagued her all her life. While frail in a physical sense, she was as robust and defiant as many of her subjects when it came to her dedication to her work. Her work continues to draw attention from art historians due to the issues she revealed about class, gender and race in Canadian society.

The National Gallery of Canada held a memorial exhibition in 1948, the year following her death.

Born Montreal, Quebec July 2 1896

Died Los Angeles, California, March 19 1947

 

 

 

BCD#7

Blind contour drawing #7 “Les Faucheurs” Natalia Goncharova 1907

Natalia Goncharova is one of the most highly regarded Russian painters of the 20th century. She was bold, confident and passionate about her country.

Goncharova worked in various styles of the avant-garde movements of the early 20th century but what remained constant was the influence of traditional Russian folk art and icon painting.

She came from a prosperous family of architects and spent much time of her growing up at her grandmother’s country estate. She decided to attend university, which at the time was not a common path for women and mid way through her schooling, in 1901, she transferred to the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture.

There she met her lifelong love and fellow artist, Mikhail Larionov. The couple explored different visual styles and ideology, eventually pioneering an art movement called Rayonism. Drawing from Russian thoughts around Futurism, they created a painting style that expressed energy and movement like rays of light.

The couple started an artist collective called ‘Donkey’s Tail’, which included Marc Chagall and Kazimir Malevich.

She was invited to show work in Paris at the Salon d’Automne in 1906 and subsequently helped arrange a reciprocal show in Russia bringing Gauguin, van Gogh, Cezanne and Matisse to her home country for the first time.

Her paintings portrayed peasants at work, cutting hay, shaving ice, washing, and weaving. She gave her subjects, mostly women almost religious statue and strength. She paired the secular with the religious and was criticized for it. Much of her work was considered blasphemy by the church which only added to the controversy around her as she was unmarried and living with a man.

In 1910, two nudes and a painting called The God(dess) of Fertility were declared pornographic and confiscated by the police. She was put on trial for pornography, yet was acquitted. Goncharova and Larinov set a precedent for performance art that was not further developed until the 1970s. Together, the artists would appear naked in public with their bodies painted! She often wore men’s clothing, loved tattoos and sometimes went topless in public with designs painted on her breasts.

By 1913 she was invited to go to Paris to design costumes and staging of a production of the Ballets Russes. It was a huge success but just after the premiere, WWI began. She served in the army and was influenced by her travels to Rome and to Spain, where she met Picasso. After the war she continued to work with ballet and theatre productions and kept up with her painting.

She became secluded in her Paris apartment not able to return to Russia due to the Russian Revolution and not feeling part of the city’s art scene.

During World War II she traveled and designed for ten ballets in South Africa, and, after the war, divided her time and work between London and Paris. During the 1950’s, she suffered from severe arthritis and had to tie her brush to her hand but she continued to paint and sought inspiration from current events. Her later work is an exploration of abstraction, including a series dedicated to the Russian satellite, Sputnik.

Her work was rediscovered in 1954 and in 1961, a year before her death the British Arts Council mounted a retrospective of her work and Larionov’s work that included paintings and theatre designs.

Quote: “ Decorative painting? Poetic poetry, musical music. Nonsense. All painting is decorative, if it adorns, beautifies.”

Born: June 21, 1881 – Nagaevo, Tula Province, Russia

Died: October 17, 1962 – Paris, France