From different angles, the view of the successive layers formed by folding a sheaf of handmade paper in Jacki Parry’s (b. 1941) artwork is reminiscent of pages of a book as well as petals of a rose. Displayed on a polished black surface reflecting surrounding artworks and the architecture of the gallery, The Book and the Rose – A New Book (1988) brings to mind what is commonly termed the Mackintosh rose, a motif that appears in the gallery’s building designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868 – 1928). Occupying a central position in the exhibition Studio 58: Women Artists in Glasgow since WWII, the symbolism that emerges in this context prompts one to think about an altered view of current art historical legacies, for a new book to be written.
Curated by Sarah Lowndes, author of Social Sculpture: The Rise of the Glasgow Art Scene, for the Mackintosh Museum, the exhibition that runs till 30 September 2012 presents artworks and documentation of women artists in Glasgow from the late 1930s. Titled after a studio in the Mackintosh Building that was historically dedicated as a workspace for women students, selected artists had either studied or taught at The Glasgow School of Art. As survey exhibitions tend to be, the way of framing raises questions – from the implication of contextualizing women artists in Glasgow through the lens of their association with the art school, and the absence of women architects particularly given the strong associations between the school and city to architecture. Alongside the exhibition is a publication due for release later in the year together with a symposium, from which these and other issues and themes might emerge. Already, the exhibition’s goal is a challenging one, and developed as a response to the underrepresentation of women’s art in a city that now enjoys a strong presence of women artists, it is perhaps of no surprise that the exhibition features over 100 works by more than 50 artists. These are broadly organised along the themes of landscape / still life and body / self, and the mediums of printed matter and photography / film.
While the works by Hanneline Visnes (b. 1972) and Mary Viola Paterson (1899 – 1981) share thematic representations of elements of nature, the display of the works alongside each other highlights the way artists in different periods have considered their works vis-à-vis the economic aspects of painting and printmaking. An artist whose portfolio includes landscape oil paintings, Paterson also designed patterns for commercial fabric printing, and included in the exhibition are two linocut prints, including Lobsters and Sea Shells (c.1930s). Visnes works with images that shift between ornamentation and meaning, tampering with patterns drawn from decorative objects and materials.
Two paintings by Carol Rhodes (b. 1959) with an aerial view of landscapes are also featured in the still life / landscape strand. The origins of the landscapes are ambiguous to the viewer and the view from above instills the sense of vastness that is reached with distance. At the same time, the textures and shades that distinguish the kind of terrain represented gives one an experience of proximity, of being able to navigate across the undulating plains.
Several of the artworks in the self / body strand deal with the possibilities of negotiating established codes in behaviors, language and representations of women. A glance at three recent works by Kate Davis (b. 1977) from a numbered series Disgrace appear to have pencil scrawls on pages of an art catalogue featuring nude studies of the female figure. A closer look reveal outlines of what seems to be a hand, and a foot, hinting at repeated traces of a body in motion. These works recall an earlier film by Kate Davis also titled Disgrace (2008). It assembled stills from a performance where Davis drew her body over projections of female nude drawings by Modigliani, as a recording of how a present body interacts with female representations in art history.
Positioned close to Davis’ works, at the end of the wall, is a mannequin wearing a garment from Adele Patrick’s (b. 1961) collection produced for her MA Design Degree show in 1986, detailed with ‘self-defence’ gauntlets and ‘vagina dentata’ stockings. The sketchbook of these designs are on view in one of several glass cabinets. These glass cabinets offer a mode of presentation where artworks and historical documentation come together, offering an insight into the working methods, influences, collaborators and supporting institutions, and the significance of women artists in the broader cultural field, such as Patrick who co-founded the Glasgow Women’s Library over two decades ago, of which photographs from the 1990s are also on display.