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Archive for the 'Inspiring Women' Category

The Lives They Lived

The New York Times has created a site for remembrance of people who are not with us any more, and the lives they lived. It’s meant to be “a celebration of life, not an expression of grief.”

Ethel Person

Zelda Kaplan

Eve Arnold

See more here.

Diana Athill

Quite an inspiring lady. In the Guardian, she talks about not being afraid of death, and Hunger Magazine has interviewed her, talking about how she’s been independent and self-sufficient all her life. Younger women need people like Diana to aspire to.

Beating Around the Bush

When three interns at Mother London were set the task of ‘rebranding feminism’ their directors may have imagined many things, but probably not ninety-three women’s nether regions on display in their East London HQ.

Project Bush is a photomontage of the brave ladies who stripped off for celebrity photographer Alisa Connan in order to make a statement about choice. How women tend their gardens is by no means the most important issue faced by women today, but it is synonymous with modern ideals and expectations. As such, the multitude of bushes on display were a symbol of what feminism speaks of today – an array of different choices, each valid in their own right, but, more importantly, chosen freely.

Project Bush cannot rebrand feminism or even define it, but it can present us with what we know already in a (conspicuously) new way.

The photomontage will be on display at Mother London’s HQ from 14-18 November.


My lovely friend, Natalia Podgorska just graduated from photography at London College of Communication, and I want to show you her final project, which I really like. It’s called ‘Storytellers’ and as she describes on her page it’s ‘an attempt to combine the act of performance and the post-performative body of art through the photographic medium.’

The project consists of a video piece and a series of photographs where the four storytellers, create, share and destroy a piece of reality  given to them, all at once.





For me, the photographs work really well together with the video as they become an extension of the story and expand it because we mix it with our memory of each person’s story and the aesthetic of the photographs. The photographs are highly sensual and the texture and colour of the food mixed with the dirty table possess an energy of something forbidden, like when your parents told you to stop playing with your food.

Check out Natalia’s other work here. I will also do an interview with her in the coming future.

Eileen Agar

Earlier this month I went to Tate Britain to see their ‘Library and Archive show and tell‘ with examples of the artist Eileen Agar‘s work and some of her love letters to and from fellow artist Paul Nash, with whom she had a passionate affair. I was very inspired by her thoughts and drawings. In particular by a snippet from her book ’A Look at My Life‘ which she wrote in collaboration with Andrew Lambirth in 1988, and where she describes her work method:

‘My own method is to put myself in a state of receptivity during the day. I sit about sometimes for a quarter of an hour or more, wondering what on earth I am doing, and then suddently I get an idea for something. Either it is the beginning of a title or just the germ of a visual image. Later on, if I am stuck with a half-finished painting, I might take a snooze and after that it comes together quite simply’ (p. 125)

Eileen Agar by Lucinda Douglas-Menzies / National Portrait Gallery, London

Two Lovers, 1931 by Eileen Agar

Family Trio, 1931 by Eileen Agar

The Reaper, 1938 by Eileen Agar

Overemphasised facial expressions

Once upon a time there was, and still is, a blog called Assez Vu. It is my personal blog and it’s kind of a digital collection of odd pictures and other finds from the past whose name literally means ‘I’ve seen enough’. Pretentious enough you might think, but Rimbaud made me do it. He said it first, not me. Well, where did the idea come from? Assez Vu was born out of another blog, or rather, out of a curious ‘visual experiment’ called Silent Ladies’ overemphasized facial expressions. The idea behind it was to find and post pictures that showed actors from silent movies in the act of ‘over-expressing’ themselves. Silent divas were the best: they could easily change from sophisticated smiles and languishing looks to raging and revengeful faces in a handful of seconds. They used their bodies and faces to make up for the lack of sound. Some of them looked realistic, others a bit odd!  Today, one thing is for certain, they are still very amusing.

Florence Turner in “Daisy Doodad’s Dial” (1914)

Clara Bow in “Wings” (1927)

Marie Dressler, Marion Davies, Jane Winton in “The Patsy” (1928)

Louise Brooks in “Pandora’s Box” (1929)

Sylvia Sidney in “Fury” (1936)

Theda Bara in “Cleopatra” (1917)

Colleen Moore in “We Moderns” (1925)

Irma Vep (Musidora) in Les Vampires (1915-1916)

Pola Negri in “The Spanish Dancer” (1923)

Laura La Plante in “The Cat and the Canary” (1927)

And finally here is the lovely Marion Davies, making fun of her fellow actresses Mae Murray, Lillian Gish and Pola Negri by impersonating them in the movie ‘The Patsy’ (1928).

“Real” Mae Murray

“Fake” Mae Murray

“Real” Lillian Gish

“Fake” Lillian Gish

“Real” Pola Negri

“Fake” Pola Negri

The clip from The Patsy (1928):
YouTube Preview Image

The lady of dreams’ photo-collages

Grete Stern – Dream Nº 38, 1949

One can be born with a talent. Miss Grete Stern’s talent was that she could turn dreams into reality. Not bad huh? I know you wish you had this power too. But it was not always easy I tell you. Professor Freud would have found a lot to get his teeth into…because Grete Stern’s ‘reality turned-into-dreams’ are made up by surreal images of eyes detached from their face, pretty female bums, a giant tortoise-man in a suit and endless ladders, just to name a few. Now I bet you would like to know a little more about this German-born lady who used to wear round glasses.

Portrait of Grete Stern (Ringl with Glasses) by Ellen Auerbach, 1929

She moved to Argentina because of the Third Reich and there she contributed to a local women’s magazine, Idilio, with her photo-collages for a column entitled “Psychoanalysis will help you” (see, I knew our friend Sigmund must have had something to do with it!).

Grete Stern – Dream Nº 5, 1950

Grete Stern – photomontage

Grete Stern – Dream Nº 16, ca. 1950

Grete Stern – Dream Nº 1, 1948

Her photomontages, called Sueños (dreams), are an ideal conjunction between Dada collage and surreal photography and she had this peculiar ability to make the impossible possible, to release feelings and fears that, when looking at her work only once, is far more relieving than 10 psychologist sessions. In a row. Seeing is believing…

Grete Stern – photomontage

Grete Stern – photomontage

“Da Dandy” (1919), collage by Hannah Höch

“Observatory Time – The Lovers” (1936), by Man Ray

Grete Stern – Dream Nº 31, 1949

Grete Stern – photomontage

Grete Stern – Dream Nº 28, 1951

Grete Stern – photomontage, 1949

Grete Stern – Dream Nº42, 1949

Hanna Zelleke Collin

I first came across Hanna’s work while scouting artists for the SEART exhibition in Stockholm last September. The attraction to Letters for Nicola Tyson was lightning-bolt instant. In a painting that is at once delicate and powerful, Hanna has performed the unique trick of animating a figure in a strange, contorted position without denying its condition of being permanently locked in its own material substance. The representation of the human body appeals to the viewer on visual, physical, and emotional levels while allowing Hanna to grapple with complex issues of influence and existential angst in subtle and elegant ways.

In this active engagement with Nicola Tyson you are dealing with the complexity of inspiration or influence, an issue that a lot of artists have a great amount of difficulty coming to terms with as they fear the risk of appearing “derivative.” However, by tackling it head on you’ve actually liberated an individual expression. Can you discuss how you arrived at this point? Were you always explicitly aware of the inevitable dialogues you have with other artists or rather did it come out of the recognition that by sidestepping this issue you were actually limiting yourself?

I had been making films and I knew I wanted to paint, I was interested in the actual action of painting but I felt blocked and I didn’t know how to start. Then I began to realize a connection between me being stuck and a fear I had of being influenced by other artists. I felt I needed to explore this fear I needed to accept influence as a way of developing my own personal expression.

You prefer the physical action of painting to filmmaking?

Yes, the physical experience of painting. I wanted to make works that were physically direct and I wanted the movement of the hand to be an element of expression. I was searching for a connection between the pictures, the action of making them, and the thoughts or feelings that surrounded this process. The issue of influence all started for me when I was in New York and I came across the work of Nicola Tyson. I was extremely fascinated by her paintings and even though I couldn’t see the connection between her paintings and the way I was painting at that time, I tried to understand that my intense fascination had to mean that there was something worth exploring. I realized I wasn’t supposed to recreate her paintings but instead to see her paintings through my own perspective, and from that perspective I was meant to develop my own paintings in a specific direction. It became clear that I could open myself up to all of the artists that I hadn’t previously been able to find direct connections to and this started a process in which my paintings moved through all the different stages of art history. At one stage I was even doing these old model paintings! By wanting to use paint in a physically direct way all these things came to the surface and even though I wasn’t always aware of it I just tried to allow myself to work in an intuitive way and to handle what came up without asking too many questions. What I really wanted to understand was this problem of influence…

Surely there is much more complexity than just being directly influenced by somebody. You saw this exhibition of Nicola Tyson in New York and you didn’t quite relate to it but it allowed you to come to this realization that influence is absorbed in a more indirect manner.

The interesting thing about influence is that I did relate to it, but I couldn’t understand it.

So it appealed to you on an emotional level, but you didn’t see a direct connection in your work?

Exactly. I realized that I didn’t need to see a direct connection in my painting for it to have had an influence. I think every process starts with a source, it’s the same source every time but this source can be explained in different ways and these ways depend on where you are at a particular moment and at that moment I was very focused on getting closer to my own personal expression.

Where does this source exist? Do you mean as something that comes from a complex place in your mind?

I guess all I mean is a basic creativity. It’s a place that I think everything comes from, and it’s hard to explain but I guess it’s really just as simple as what we call creativity.

We can think about a source that is abstract versus a physical source of an object painting – the fruit bowl in a still life, for example. But you’re more interested in a (as you say, basic) source that is more personal and intuitive?

Well, I think even when it’s a fruit bowl in a still life, you still have to choose the specifics of the still life, which colors you use, the perspective, the light, the arrangement of the fruit, all of these choices come from a source of basic creativity. Even though I’m working with pictures that are more representative of an internal experience the source is the same as if I was painting from life. This particular painting is actually based on a photograph.

Can you explain how this painting evolved technically?

At the time I had already started painting figures in strange or complicated physical positions, I found that I was very interested in the particular position of the figure in this painting. I had my boyfriend photograph me…

So the figure is you?

Yes, it started with me. It started with a photograph of me and then I developed it into the painting. I had a procedural plan but I had no idea what the outcome would be. There was something I was interested in discovering but I didn’t have a plan about how it was supposed to look, rather just an idea about how I was going to make it, which I think I followed that in the making of this painting. Like most plans, although you don’t know exactly how it’s supposed to end, you do have an idea of what you want to express or what you want to reach. But the process is very important. As it was for the paintings that I did in the build up to this painting…

How do those paintings compare to the final painting? Are they very different?

They are each a part of the same process but they are all somewhat different. The figures are in different positions or colors. They all express a connection that is very important to me – a connection between the physical and the psychological.

Why do you think painting is the perfect medium for you? You mentioned that you worked in film, how did you move away from that? Why did you go back to painting?

I actually started off with painting then I became interested in video, but the videos I made were always quite painterly, they are very much about movement and colors. I just find that there are endless possibilities with painting. Maybe if you preferred another medium you would see it in the same way that I see painting, but to me painting is the endless medium.

There is something particularly visceral about painting that seems to really come out in your work, there’s an open possibility for it to be very bodily and very direct.

Yes, exactly. This is very important. I explored photography as well but, like with films, photographs are taken from some common and known reality, even though I manipulated my own films and photographs, and even though I made them abstract at some points you never move away from the fact that they are directly taken from an external reality. I think that painting is, in a way, the next step because it is a reality too, but not one that we see. Painting is how I express the space between the physical and the psychological that I mentioned before.

There is something darkly sexual and psychoanalytically raw about this figure, how does your experience as a woman tie in here?

People say I express human relationships and that there is a sexual element in my paintings. Being a woman is of course crucial to my identity and I also see it as closely related to the issue of influence. In my fear of being influenced by other artists I also recognized a fear the level of my personality that had to do with being affected by others. This is a problem that concerns women in very specific ways, when there are so many ideas and opinions about how a woman should be or act you have to become very strong to maintain your identity.

You focus very much on being present in your painting process, does this focus spill over into your ideas about feminine power? Do you believe women overcome being complicated by ideas of how we should be by being fully present in our actions?

Well these actions are produced through the decisions we make. A decision could be anything, it’s about how you talk, walk, what you wear, what you do with your life, from the small to the big there are always these decisions and sometimes (or most of the time) you are not actually the one making your own decisions because you are so influenced by your surroundings. I think that these influences are extremely important and not always a bad thing but at a certain level you have to be aware about how they affect you and then make the decision again about whether you want to be affected or not. This demands an extremely strong position because of course we cannot be aware of all the things that affect us and form our individual perspective. The complicated or uncomfortable position of the figure in my painting relates to the position we are in when we are trying to get in touch with our own personal identities while also struggling with the influence of our surroundings. The painting has a lot to do with surroundings.

You mean psychological surroundings? Or physical?

Both. Everything. People, ideas, events, relationships, things that happen and things that don’t happen… It’s about the difficulty of coming to terms with the elements that form your identity.

This issue of decisionmaking is interesting, we don’t usually consider the minute decisions that we make on a daily basis, like how to cut your steak or which routes we take when walking in the city, but maybe it is in these unconscious decisions that we can experience pockets of freedom from societal control. Michel de Certeau discusses this in The Practice of Everyday Life: although an urban space is very much created as a structure of power, a pedestrian will move and take shortcuts through the streets in ways that are somewhat free or at least never fully determined by the planning authorities.

Yes, but I would argue that breaking it down even further we might see that these decisions are also influenced or controlled, although we are less aware of it. It’s not necessarily bad thing.

What are you up to now? You graduated from the Konstfack, you showed this painting at the SEART show last September, have you made any plans?

I have been very focused on painting, working in the studio and developing my personal expression. I would like to go on to do a Master’s degree but before that I need to see what directions I take in the paintings I’m working on now.

How do the paintings you’re working on now relate to this one we’ve been talking about?

They are closely connected. I’m still very concerned with the human body but there are more people in the paintings now, they are interacting with each other sometimes they’re dancing, but they’re always in complicated positions.

See more of Hanna’s work on her website here, and on the SEART page here.

Kate Carew, “The Only Woman Caricaturist”

Kate Carew Caricature

In the late 1800′s /early 1900 it was not easy to be a woman, especially if you were a woman with a talent. In a time when women didn’t even have voting rights, how could they be independent women artists? No way, impossible…

Yet there are some exceptions, one of them being the Californian Mary Williams (also known by the pseudonym “Kate Carew”). Kate Carew was an illustrator, “The Only Woman Caricaturist” as she was soon labelled.

Kate Carew and a caricature of herself

Her career began in New York, to where she had just moved. One day while at the theatre she found herself doodling a caricature sketch of one of the actors on a leaflet. When back home she found it and decided to send it to a newspaper, the “New York World”. Incredibly, the work caught the attention of the young editors of the paper and in a matter of days she was hired. She had her own column twice a week that featured caricatures of people at the theatre peppered with witty, humorous comments.

‘At the Theatres by Kate Carew’ caricature (1910)

Kate was an unconventional woman for her time and had such an extraordinary life. She continued making illustrations for the “New York World” – to which she became a regular contributor – and for other newspapers and travelled a lot between Europe and the States for both work and pleasure. She also married three times!

Kate Carew at work

The Angel Child comics by Kate Carew

Her most famous work is probably the series of illustrated interviews she made for the “New York World”. The list of her celebrity encounters is long and includes the like of Pablo Picasso, Mark Twain, Emile Zola, W. B. Yeats, Sarah Bernhardt, Theda Bara, along with countless others. The original and intimate chats she had with those famous people are always accompanied by lovely ink caricatures of them done by her. But here are some juicy bits from the interviews…

Mark Twain, writer

“The trouble with us in America,” said Mark Twain, “is that we haven’t learned to speak the truth.”

“Lying is not an art, not that I have ever been able to discover and I have tried hard all my life. It is a device of primitive intelligences. The best liars are savages and children. The most cultured people speak the truth as often as they think of it, and enjoy hearing it spoken by others. In heaven I shouldn’t wonder but they use the truth ‘most all the time.”

To read the full interview, click here.

Mark Twain and his caricature by Kate

Sarah Bernhardt, actress

“Is it possible, Mme. Bernhardt, to do anything great in art without having experienced a great love?”

“Oh, yes. To portray the passions one need not have lived the reality. That would be too sad. Think what we poor players would be compelled to suffer oh, la! La! If it were love alone, that would be agreeable; but there are wicked passions to be portrayed and crimes to be committed. An artist must be able to express all with truth, because within himself in the imagination he is capable of all. Then sometimes it is innocence that one portrays. Oh, an actress may play the part of a nun excellently without experiencing the purity of a nun.”

“Shu-u-u-err!” she trilled, with the most writhing and eloquent of shrugs; “shu-u-u-err! Ce grand amour n’est pas indispensable au grand art!”

Sarah Bernhardt and her caricature by Kate

W. B. Yeats, Irishman and poet

Mr. (Henry) Lucy, in discussing English and American humour, said:
“Our humor is certainly kinder. We are not as savage as you; your humour always has a butt.”
It was not many weeks later that I asked Mr. Yeats what he thought of American humour.

“It’s very unlike English humour,” he said quickly, “in being good-humoured. English humour always has a butt.”

“Dear me! That’s a precise contradiction of what Mr. Lucy said,” I gasped.

“Oh, but Mr. Lucy’s an Englishman and I’m not!” Retorted the poet with a shrug of his high shoulders and a laugh of sardonic enjoyment.

William Butler Yeats and his caricature by Kate

Pablo Picasso, artist

“Some of your women are walking to Washington to ask for a vote,” he informed me, solemnly. “For me I find that rather ridiculous. How many hours will it take them to get to Washington?”

“Hours!” I exclaimed. “Why, it will take them days. I don’t know how many, but several, certainly.”

“Perhaps you also are a suffragette”, he suggested.

“I am”, I acknowledged, with pride, “or rather I am a suffragist.”

“And the difference?” he queried like a puzzled boy.

I explained it to the best of my ability.

“You do not break windows, then, eh?” he questioned gravely.

“Not many”, I assured him cheerfully. “Have you any suffragettes in Spain, or don’t you have any votes there, anyhow?”

“Oh yes, we have votes there”, and he seemed shocked at my lack of knowledge of sunny Spain; “but I think there are no suffragettes, and I think I am glad.”

To read the full interview, click here.


Simone Weil

Among the many professions Simone Weil (1909-1943) undertook during her short life were factory worker, teacher and soldier. Principally a philosopher, Weil sought to draw people’s attention to the oppressed, the poor, the starving and the outcast people of society, writing, “attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity”.

Simone Weil

From a young age Weil acted with unguarded selflessness showing her to be a sensitive and highly astute thinker. At the age of six she refused to eat any more than the quantity of food allowed for the soldiers fighting during the First World War and refused to eat any sugar.

At the age of ten Weil had declared herself a Bolshevik and became involved in politics out of sympathy for the working class. Engaging with the ideas proposed by Leon Trotsky and the Russian Bolshevik party, she even arranged for Trotsky to stay in her parents’ house in 1933, while he was visiting Paris in secret.

Simone Weil, a soldier during the Spanish Civil War (1936)

Embracing all religions, Weil was fascinated by mysticism and befriended many religious clerics. With a deep spirituality she was empowered with an objectivity and clarity of mind that inspired many of the great writers, politicians and philosophers of her day. Meditating in Simone Weil’s room before going to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957, Albert Camus described her as ‘the only great spirit of our times’ and Susan Sontag described her as one of the most uncompromising and troubling witnesses to the modern travail of the spirit.

Simone Weil embraced a struggle against the conventions gender and her social convention. One of the most rigorously moral and compassionate thinkers of her day, she is as an emblem of female courage and success, and “a giant of reflection”.