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A Woman Who Looks `Into and Through'

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A WOMAN artist doesn't have to make paintings or sculpture about her own femininity. A few years back, however, there was little doubt, when Scottish artist Gwen Hardie's work was shown publicly, that this was her subject. One writer - Marjorie Allthorpe-Guyton - described the ``real stuff'' of Hardie's work as ``the female's inner space.'' The same writer talked of her paintings as ``ideogrammatic projections of the artist's body image.''

These Hardie paintings were, not unlike Paleolithic cave paintings or aboriginal art, rather primitively stylized, even schematized. At the same time they were bouyant, jubilant works with the feeling near the surface. They were in no way clinical, and not at all anatomical in an academic, conventional way. They were works of imagination, however close to self-experience, and the last thing they seemed to do was illustrate some solemnly intense theory.

But the point then being made about Hardie's paintings was that - against the still-prevailing drift of millennia of male artists depicting female bodies - they were a woman's view of woman's body; an insider's view. They had a kind of innocence, and went beyond the merely banal depiction of the female form, either maternal or erotic, as in male art, because they were to do with her awareness and no one else's.

I recently had the opportunity of talking to Gwen Hardie in Edinburgh - where she had gone to the College of Art (1979-1983) before escaping, for the sake of challenge, to West Berlin.

Fischer Fine Art Ltd. of London and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art earlier this spring showed her recent paintings and sculpture. Displayed on the walls of the large gallery where we talked were sizeable monochrome oil paintings. It was hard to connect these with Hardie's earlier figurative works. She agreed: ``They're almost nonreferential, they exist within their own terms.''

The paintings of the human form, she said, had been from ``a nonvoyeuristic point of view, from within, expressed from oneself and one's own dynamics. They were always, in a way, myself, you know.'' She has come to feel these earlier paintings about her body were ``too fixed in their message - overloaded with meaning, in a kind of illustrated, literary way,'' but the reason she painted them still seems valid to her.

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