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My Top Ten Contemporary Female British Artists

(Square Eyes..too much virtual world) Lockdown self portrait Angela Edwards

As a Christmas present to myself I purchased the book ‘A big important art book (now with women) by Danielle Krysa. Danielle founded the website the jealous curator in 2009 and her book published in 2018 seeks to inform and inspire women artists by both bringing other women artists to the fore and also setting brief project on the themes that they are grouped into. I found it to be insightful and inspirational and I think we could all do with a little of that going into our third lockdown!

The past decade has seen the rise and general gathering of momentum of a movement to correct and redress the balance of gender in the arts. Many of the biggest arts organisations have in the past decade dedicated large exhibitions purely to women artists. In this blog I wanted to narrow things down to British female artist to focus on the wonderful female talent that we have. There is so much to celebrate in female art, especially in Britain.

Contemporary female British artists are talented originators whose mesmerizing works inspire many.

It wasn’t easy to narrow the list of female artist talent in Britain. However, this list of my top ten contemporary female artists navigates a fantastic selection of what British female artists have to offer.

Lucy Mckenzie

Lucy McKenzie is a visual artist from Glasgow. Her work spans text both fiction and non-fiction, visual art, fashion and works beyond the artistic fold. McKenzie’s work is adaptive – drawing inspiration from her surroundings. Nowhere is this more evident than her early work which adapts language common in 1970s murals and her later visual art that portrays typical interiors and modern excesses.

McKenzie’s work is an expression of her desire to test the boundaries. Instead of allowing her artistic medium to define her or her work, she constantly breaks these limits by creating new and equally thought-provoking pieces that give us insight into the world through McKenzie’s eyes. For instance, she chooses to explore her work in what she calls visual culture instead of visual art.

Some of her defining work include a 1998 portrait of Olympian Olga Korbun, highlighting her defeat instead of her victory in a poignant fragmented painting with a “photo finish.”

“Behind the Scenes” by failing_angel is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Joan Eardley

It’s been over four decades since Joan Eardley’s passing, however, her influence is undeniable and her work profound. Although she is not as well-known as other British female contemporary artists, her work is being recognized and appreciated by a younger generation of artists, and rightly so.

Her work, which documents Scotland through her eyes, is expressive, empathetic, and compassionate. All of her paintings and drawings using her signature brusque brushwork told a broader story rather than focusing on a particular subject. Her portraits of the children of Scottish slums are a favourite of mine and particularly poignant.

Jenny Saville RA

Jenny Saville is a fundamental part of the fabric of contemporary art. Her work is vibrant, detailed, and unapologetically, avoiding nuance and tackling topics in an unforgiving manner that is integral to the themes she portrays. But this unabashed view of her subjects poetically navigates the fine line between the grotesque and the beautiful and is what shapes her as a leading innovator in contemporary art.

“Propped, Jenny Saville (1992) SNGoMA” by Prelèvman (écouvillon en créole) is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Her work is an ode to all that makes us human. And by calling attention to the human body – the realistic and yet slightly abstract paintings of the human form – she necessitates self-reflection on a broader scale. In fact, her heavy layered oil on canvas paintings feel almost as lifelike as the flesh she portrays.

“Jenny Saville in her Oxford studio” by dou_ble_you is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Anne Hardy

Hardy combines traditional paintings and sculptures to create a distinctive and mesmerizing photograph. These photographs give the illusion of a painting. However, using common and disposable pieces, Hardy creates scenes that she can capture. It is this construction and layers within her photographs that make them so intriguing.

“Anne Hardy @ Bellwether” by j-No is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Her work is perplexing and compels you into deep-thinking as it depicts ordinary landscapes but in a more theatrical and performative way. In 2019 she received a commission from  Tate Britain and produced The Depth of Darkness, the Return of the Light,

An installation draped outside transforming Tate Britain’s iconic facade into a marooned temple

 

When she talks about her work she says she works with left over things because they are free to become anything and the same is true of the space within her work. Her work is about creating atmosphere which is only felt when you are in her created spaces.

Watch her Tate podcast here…

https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/anne-hardy

 

Tate Britain’s pediment draped in lights for Hardy’s installation. Photograph: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

Tracey Emin RA

Tracy Emin’s subjects are provocative but not blatantly so. Instead, in creating self-reflective works, she creates art that navigates subjects like intercourse, love, hate, intimacy and the fine lines that weave these subjects together – the constant thread in these artworks being her experiences.

“Tracey Emin” by GDStinx is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Over the years, Tracey Emin, like many contemporary artists, has explored her creativity through various mediums including installation art, performance art, paintings and sculptures.

Emin continues to explore her art through her intimate experiences. However, as she matures these experiences are tamer and her retrospectives represent an acute and lingering look at these experiences as opposed to staring into the harsh glaring reality that was in full display in her earlier work.

But throughout it all, whether in earlier or later work, her perspective on each subject causes you to confront your biases, integrity, and state of mind.

Some of her notable pieces include Everyone I Ever Slept With (1995,  and I Promise To Love You, an installation of neon signs in Time Square in February of 2013 showed a maturing and an easing of the defiance of earlier work.

Her exhibition ‘The Loneliness of the Soul’ is at the Royal Academy until the end of Feb 2021.

And shows her work alongside that of Edvard Munch. The works by Munch were carefully chosen by Emin from the archives in Oslo, Norway.

“Tracey Emin’s Bed, Tate Britain” by peripathetic is licensed underCC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Chantal Joffe RA

Vibrant, abstract, and animated, Chantal Joffe’s portraits are as multifaceted as her subjects, as she accurately conveys the story of the individual in her broad and fluid brushstrokes.

“Esme with a Striped Blanket, 2005 Oil on canvas 30 x 30 cm 11 3/4 x 11 3/4 in (CJ 525)” by The Lowry, Salford is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Painting from photographs, Joffe makes each of her many portraits a vivid and exhaustive portrayal of her subjects. Although she exclusively paints portraits, each is vastly different from the next, allowing her to create an unending tale which can have many interpretations yet no clear definition.

“Chantal Joffe, 2017” by The Lowry, Salford is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The Victoria Miro gallery will be holding an exhibition of Joffe’s work from the 27 Jan-6 March 2021.. The show contains new work looking at ageing and relationships between different generations of women.

Rachel Whiteread

Turner Prize winner Rachel Whiteread’s sculptures cause us to confront life’s most common objects in a new light. Born in Ilford, London, Rachel’s work is a poignant reflection of the negative spaces that surround us and a constant reminder of the things we don’t notice but are always there.

Her very first large-scale cast titled Ghost would take viewers on a journey into the negative spaces Rachel magnifies – turning the intangible into something tangible. But this fascination with negative spaces continues in later pieces like Untitled (House) where we get to see the glimpse of how these negative spaces impact our lives. Now demolished, the cast was a fitting depiction of the condemned London terrace home as the last remaining dwelling of its kind in the road. It’s pieces like these that showcase just how reflective yet macabre Whiteread’s sculptures can be.

“Cabin by Rachel Whiteread” by PMillera4 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

With work as groundbreaking as this – that causes us to reflect on our view on the smallest – seemingly insignificant – objects of life, Whiteread is a critical part of British art.

“‘Embankment’ by Rachel Whiteread, Turbine Hall, Tate Modern” byLoz Flowers is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Annie Kevans

Although Kevans was born and brought up in the Cote d’Azure her parents were British and her watery portraits very much echo the style of Marleen Dumas.

“Annie Kevans: Manumission @ Perry Rubenstein” by j-No is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

She produces her portraits in series, looking at alternative histories. She calls them anti-portraits stating that they may or may not be based on real documentation. In her boys series she portrays dictators as children, it is less to do with how they specifically looked and more to do with the Innocence of childhood.

Her paintings, unlike traditional portraits are painted on paper and her series The history of Art, show women artists that she believes have been overlooked by art historians, even though in some cases they were more successful than their male counterparts. She chose her subjects by researching the commissions they had received and exhibitions they had taken part in. Artists included Sonia Delaunay, Dorothea Tanning, Frida Kahlo and Angelica Kauffman one of the founding female artists of the Royal academy.

Kevans has had solo exhibitions in London, New York, San Francisco, Antwerp and Edinburgh. And has participated in group shows at the barbican and the Royal academy.

“Annie Kevans: Manumission @ Perry Rubenstein” by j-No is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Cornelia Parker RA

Acclaimed not only because of her magnificent works but because of the message behind them, Parker’s sculptures are a distinguished mix of light and darkness, hatred and love, war and peace. Her work explores the contrasts that live within the same body and can co-exist  simultaneously without disrupting each other.

Examining Cornelia Parker’s sculptures it is evident that she recreates specific moments in her installations and sculptures. Parker allows the viewer to hone in on a split second that forms part of the story of life and the world that surrounds us. And while displaying that split second forces us to notice the moment that ignites the message within her work. Nowhere is this clearer than Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991) a piece that recreates the explosion of a garden shed. The dark pieces of the shed being lit from within.

 

“Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991) by Cornelia Parker at the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester #GalleryInThePark” bydullhunk is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Cecily Brown

An explosive blend of colour and shape is always a defining feature in Cecily Brown’s  paintings.

Although very labyrinthine, all of her paintings have very distinctive figures that highlight the story she portrays in her work. It’s these purposeful brushstrokes that allow her to experiment with composition while creating structure and ensure viewers remain transfixed, constantly deciphering the purpose of each brushstroke and the meaning behind the complexity.

“Cecily Brown” by rocor is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

She says of her work that she wants to make forms that are either just dissolving or in the process of just becoming something and to play with the relationship between the eye and the brain. The work contains both figurative and abstract forms.

“My digital painting after Cecily Brown’s 2012 oil and acrylic painting, ‘Untitled (Blood Thicker Than Water).'” by p0ps Harlowis licensed under CC BY 2.0

A list celebrating contemporary female British artists will be constantly evolving. But the aforementioned women form the foundation of contemporary art in Britain, contributing significant works and unveiling new styles that inspire other artists. Hopefully these women artists along with many others will encourage the long overdue correction in the number of women artists in comparison to men that are held in high esteem and documented in art history books of the future.

Another book purchase over the festive season was Great Women Artists Published by Phaidon in 2019 with an introduction by Rebecca Morrill. It contains a brief overview of 400 women artists. You can also listen to some inspirational podcast at Great women artists by Katy Hessel.

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