Sunday, 14 December 2014

Portfolio: Felicia Browne

Portfolio: Felicia Browne

“I am a member of the London Communists and can fight as well as any man.” It was with these words that Felicia Browne (1904-1936) demanded to be enlisted to fight on the Saragossa front after witnessing violence and the outbreak of war while in Spain in 1936 for the People’s Olympiad. The only British woman to play a combatant role in the conflict and, tragically, the first of more than 500 British volunteers to die in battle when she was killed by Fascists during a mission to blow up a rebel munitions train, Browne went on to become a potent symbol of the fight against Fascism, for which she had paid the ultimate sacrifice.

After her death, comrades found on her body a sketchbook full of drawings. These went on to be exhibited in London, raising funds for Spanish relief campaigns – thus Browne’s involvement in the battle against Fascism continued even after her death. Her efforts especially resonated with other women artists of her generation, encouraging them to stand up for what they believed in, create poster campaigns and independent artworks against Fascism, and even to enlist to fight on the ground in the years leading up to the Second World War.

Some of Browne’s sketches are on display in the exhibition Conscience and Conflict: British Artists and the Spanish Civil War, which runs at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, until 15 February 2015.


Why We Love: Jade Pollard-Crowe

Why We Love: Jade Pollard-Crowe

“It is really important that my work is from a black gay female,” says upcoming performer and artist Jade Pollard-Crowe. “Society sees ‘issues’ such as race, sexuality and gender as separate entities when, in reality, they combine to build our identities. I identify as a Lesbian (my sexuality) and Queer (my gender). A new personal word I’ve come up with is Stag – stud and, well, you work it out!”

DIVA first came across Jade at the RVT 150th birthday celebrations this summer, where she took part in the Duckie Summer School and performed a slick show, playing on her naturally androgynous physicality. “Many of us inhabit what I would describe as ‘the in between’,” she says. “I naturally feel masculine whilst claiming my femininity. I have learnt to embrace both energies. A close friend’s boyfriend confessed he feels I suit a beard better than he does!”

Jade’s performances are highly political and she’s been strongly influenced by queer theory and race politics. She studied Fine Art at Sheffield Hallam University, where her first performance, Boi-lesque – Performance 1, involved drag, yellow PVC, fierce music and a strip down to her binding and packed underwear.

Jade is both an artist and a performer. “The artist is who I am, it’s integral to my being and what keeps me going. The performer is my body as a medium utilised to express concerns I have.” And since those concerns affect us all, Jade is certainly a Stag to watch.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Interview with Maisie Broadhead

Maisie Broadhead: Interview

Maisie Broadhead: Peepers
The Royal Pavilion, Brighton
25 October 2014 – 1 March 2015

“His glory is forgotten, and his vices exaggerated.” – Princess Dorothea von Lieven, wife of the Russian ambassador to England, talking about her friend, George IV

Although holding a Masters in Jewellery from the Royal College of Art, it is for her photography that Maisie Broadhead (b1980) has become increasingly recognised and valued over the past few years. Drawing inspiration from Old Masters, she reworks well-known paintings, exploring their narratives, often with a contemporary twist. In 2012, her work was included in the National Gallery’s blockbuster show, Seduced by Art: Photography Past and Present. Her latest project, Peepers (2014), is currently on display in the sumptuous Music Room at Brighton’s Royal Pavilion, as the winner of Pavilion Contemporary 3. A larger-than-life photographic installation, the commission is playful, beautiful, thought-provoking and tinged with a sadness as the story of George IV (1762-1830), the Prince responsible for the building of the extravagant Pavilion, is revealed. Faces, in full 18th century regalia, pressed up close against the glass, loom down on visitors, gazing at them as they wander about. Women whisper, an older man looks on disapprovingly, a child stares nonchalantly. In Peepers, the gaze of the visitor is turned back upon itself.

Video round-up of Moniker and The Other Art Fair

Video round-up of Moniker and The Other Art Fair
Old Truman Brewery
16-19 October 2014

To watch this video round up, please go to:

Essay: Gareth Phillips. Search for 'Hiraeth'

An Essay on the work of Gareth Phillips
Gareth Phillips: Search for 'Hiraeth'

Gareth Phillips (b.1979) may not be a native Welsh speaker, but his identity as a dyn cymraeg (Welshman) could not be stronger, and, having grown up in the seaside town of Penarth, the Welsh coast forms an integral part of his life. A graduate of the University of Wales, Newport, where he studied Documentary Photography, Phillips now works as a freelance photographer, regularly commissioned by a number of newspapers and magazines. Nevertheless, he considers his photographic approach to embrace both the documentary and the artistic and he prefers not to be boxed in by any particular label. ‘Having the freedom to produce without limitations is what excites me as a photographer,’ he says.

From 2012-13, Phillips was working on a project called Y Tir Newydd (The New Land), ‘an artistic translation of the furthest points of the Welsh Landscape’. This flowed seamlessly into his current project, Hiraeth, conceived and produced for Ffotogallery’s 2014 summer showcase, Wish You Were Here, a triennial series of exhibitions and events seeking to nurture and support the work of early career, Wales-based photographic artists.

To read the rest of this essay, please go to: 

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Display: Sadie Lee

Display: Sadie Lee

Just what do lesbians do in bed? According to classical paintings, they hover close together, arranged in aesthetically pleasing contortions, apparently enjoying blissful arousal by barely touching. Typically, they will bedded in a pleasant pastoral landscape or ancient marble Mediterranean Palacio, with Cupid and his various cherubs hovering nearby.

In her new series of work, specially commissioned for the GFEST Gaywise FESTival Visual Arts Exhibition, Sadie Lee (born 1967) challenges and subverts this classical imagery, reimagining some of the 18th century Rococo artist François Boucher’s works, with both a lesbian gaze and female empathy. Introducing a certain element of kink, and building on a personal interest in pornography, she rewrites this sterilised version of lesbian sex as an I Modi for the iPhone generation. Her use of vintage imagery from 1970s porn mags echoes the classical masters’ borrowing of imagery from past works as well as their use of models, who were all but sex workers. By expressing the subject’s genuine pleasure, however, Lee introduces an important – and previously absent – element to her versions of these images: empathy with the model. As a lesbian artist, there is also a strong sense of desire. Beautiful yet explicit, her works teeter on the oft debated line between the erotic and pornographic.

GFEST Gaywise FESTival Visual Arts Exhibition:
Menier Gallery, 51 Southwark Street, London SE1 1RU
10 - 22 November 2014

A panel discussion on LGBT 'Myths and Mythology' in art – past, present and future – featuring Sadie Lee, Anna McNay and others, will take place at the Menier Gallery on 21st November at 6pm. The event is free but tickets must be booked through the GFEST website.

Sadie Lee’s artwork on facebook:

Friday, 21 November 2014

Video Review of Allen Jones RA at the Royal Academy of Arts

Allen Jones RA
Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington Gardens, London
13 November 2014 – 25 January 2015

Risking the wrath of many, London’s Royal Academy is playing host to a long-overdue thematic overview of the controversial works of British pop artist Allen Jones.

Best known for his iconic furniture pieces – Table, Hat Stand and Chair (all 1969) – the latter of which was attacked with paint stripper by feminist campaigners in 1986, Jones’s work encompasses far more than just these furore-inducing sculptures. From beautifully crafted drawings to vibrant large-scale fauve-style paintings to painted steel sculptures, his range of media is wide, but his focus and subject matter remain consistent.

Jones’s fascination with the figure and sexuality emerged early on in his works, with pieces such as Hermaphrodite (1963) and Untitled (Man Woman) (1963) showing a fusion of forms that is later picked up in his paintings and sculptures of couples dancing, bodies close, becoming one. Repeated emblems recur, such as legs, which take centre stage in paintings like First Step (1966) and Drama (1966) – both with the entwining of male and female counterparts – and 3D pieces such as Secretary (1972). But it is legs in motion that really fascinate Jones, and his dance works are apparently so accurate that one critic claimed to be able to recognise which dance was being carried out by each sculptural pair.

Jones, who began painting at the height of abstract expressionism, sought to prove that figuration was not dead. He wanted to extract the figure from the flat surface of the canvas. His steel sculptures involve bending and twisting of metal to create the shapes of individuals and couples. Maquettes for these can be enjoyed in a small room in which his studio shelving is replicated – an insight into the workings of his mind and hand.

Further such insights can be seen in some of the storyboards and sketches displayed in the room of drawings – each image a step towards the final scenario depicted large in the finished painted works, many of which involve dense and complex scenarios, full of movement.

Movement is key to Jones, and his experimentations with representing motion can also be seen in his Bus paintings, where the tilt and blur give the idea of the energy of the vehicle passing by.

Continuing with the idea of dance, the final room is bisected by a chorus line of sculptures, starting with Red Ballerina (1982), which relates to the paintings and sculptures in the previous rooms, and progressing through Hat Stand, London Hollywood (1979) and Refrigerator (2002), to the more recent commissions with Kate Moss – resulting in the photograph Body Armour (2013), in which the model wears Jones’s 1976 metallic body cast Cover Story – and Darcey Bussell, and ending with a new work produced for the Royal Academy, To be or not to be (2014), in which the figure steps completely away from the ground.

Curious Woman (1965) represents one of Jones’s early attempts to lift the figure out of a 2D representation. He bought the breasts from a joke shop in New York, but then had some trouble using the resin to cast them, as it kept heating up and melting them. Luckily, it was winter and he found a solution by opening the window and placing them in a snow bank on his window ledge, thus enabling the casting process.

Jones has often been the subject of attack for sexist, objectifying works. Ironically, his choice of fetish clothing on many of his sculptures keeps his work fresh and timeless. Playboy has, indeed, been the source of much of his material, but his response to it is actually very tongue-in-cheek and his representations of the female form consider it from all angles, as a kind of icon. Love it or hate it, Jones’s work still has the power to shock, 50 years after it was made. He is a key figure in British art history and a Royal Academician well deserving of this exuberant show.