A number of my favourite artists happen to be women as well so I thought I would write a post about them and their work. As always, there might be a bit of a bias towards the depiction of birds in the work I’ve chosen, but I’m sure my dear reader will understand!
I have known this Mary Fedden pencil drawing of a cuckoo for a long time. The quality of the pencil marks, the use of space in the drawing and the composition conjure up something both dynamic and understated.
Mary Fedden is most certainly an artist who works with her own set of shapes, often distorting the reality of things. Her birds tend to be chunkier than in reality and often inhabit simplifed worlds of mark and shape.
After visiting Orkney for the first time this summer I have been enjoying looking through Sylvia Wishart – a study, published by the Pier Arts Centre. Wishart’s work has a strong sense of place, a sensitive use of colour and an other-worldly quality to it. For many years her work developed in an abstract direction, although always remaining derived from the landscape and history of the areas of Orkney she lived in.
In the following two quotes Wishart describes how a momentary occurrence proved the beginning of a significant body of work for her and a change of direction:
‘About twelve years ago a friend dropped in when I was out and with a felt tip pen drew on the window, amongst other things, a bird. This for the first time made me consciously look at the window, as well as through it and led to a series of paintings including this bird. I never washed it off, it just faded away. And ever since, that has led to a fascination with images found on the window pane, beyond and behind, leading inevitably to that ambiguity of space that has always held me.’
‘I had come back to ‘appearances’, after a long period of simplifying or ‘abstracting’. Now when three starlings alight on the fence I just draw them and I’m never sure if they are in the house or outside it, because there’s a blackbird at the back window and he’s been projected onto the front! All endlessly intriguing!’
It is always informative reading how ideas for subjects begin. I like in this story how Wishart not only finds a new subject matter to grapple with – the reflected window – but also finds herself returning to observational work. It is notable that by returning to observing reality she makes probably her most bizarre and strange series of pieces.
As Philip Guston says: ‘The visible world…is abstract and mysterious enough. I don’t think one needs to depart from it in order to make art’.
Kiki Smith is an artist who is interested in the human body, mythology and the natural world. Her depictions of birds often contain strange narratives. Despite trawling the net I was unable to find much information about where either of the images below derived from. They are beautifully delicate and intriguing works – Smith has a particular love of drawing fur, feathers and hair which often feature in her drawn work.
The following two paintings are both titled Sandpipers in Alnmouth and are by Winifred Nicholson. Both works contain a strong sense of a moment captured; although the birds are quite clumsily described, the geometric shapes they make give a strong sense of movement and lightness to them. The dynamic movement of the flock is offset by the stillness of the scene beyond – the well-balanced composition along with the limited palette of colours provide a sense of tranquility.
It is interesting that the artist produced two paintings of the same image – I wonder if the top one might have been painted on the spot or as a study for the second one which seems more designed (I prefer the top one for its feeling of immediacy).
And finally, a couple of paintings by Mary Newcomb, an artist who always brings a fresh point of view to things. Her work contains a great sense of colour and design, along with a lightness of touch and a poetic vision of the world.
This first painting is called A hedge in November and is a work I have been familiar with for a while. Every time I look at it I am astounded by how Newcomb has managed to capture such a strong sense of a wintery hedge through such unrepresentational means. In the berry tree on the left, the strong colours in the stems against the grey background contrast intensely with the heavy black forms of the berries. The beautifully silhouetted thorn branches on the right side of the canvas add to the form of the hedge and give a sense of space to the piece.
This painting, entitled Collared doves lifted by light, is new to me. My interpretation of the image is these are two doves on a blue-painted bird bath surrounded by red flowers. Once again there is a beautiful combination of abstract colour and form plus that noticing of an insignificant moment, which has been transformed into something beautiful, intriguing and fragile under the expert eye of Newcomb.
As always it is both nourishing and uplifting to see the work of other artists – I hope you have enjoyed this insight into some of the people who inspire me.