Wolverhampton Art Gallery to November 16th
Pallant House, Chichester 30 November 2013- 9 February 2014
Pauline Boty, Colour Her Gone, Oil on canvas, 1962
Pauline Boty (1938-66) was a key member of British Pop. Friend and colleague of David Hockney, Peter Blake and Derek Boshier (with whom she exhibited) she was a talented and ambitious artist and also a beautiful, hip and charismatic player on the swinging cultural scene of 60s London. She produced a vibrant body of collages and paintings that both celebrate and critique mass cultural experience and explore themes of female sexuality, gender, race and politics. Yet when she died aged only 28 from cancer in 1966 she disappeared from cultural view – no work was exhibited in the UK for nearly 30 years..
This exhibition and the accompanying book of the same title Pauline Boty : Pop Artist and Woman by co-curator, Dr Sue Tate, reinstates Boty at the forefront of the British Pop Art movement.
The exhibition features paintings, collages and ephemera from public and private collections including rarely seen pieces that have not been exhibited for 40 years.
It follows Boty’s artistic progression from her early experimentation with various media such as painting and stained glass to a series of sexually and politically-charged paintings and collages. It demonstrates how her oeuvre enriches the male-dominated sphere of Pop Art with a female perspective and her life enhancing embrace of both hi and low culture. We see Marcel Proust and Marilyn Monroe, Lenin and Elvis Presley; paintings feature both contemporary events such as the Cuban revolution and the assassination of JFK and a joyous depiction of the pleasures dancing to pop music.
Unlike many of her female counterparts, Boty was not afraid to embrace her sexuality in her life and work. One of the exhibition’s highlights is Colour Her Gone (1962), a painting based on a photograph of Pop culture icon Marilyn Monroe with whom Boty closely identified. Monroe was a fascinating subject for Boty because of her provocative yet vulnerable sexuality.
Born in South London in 1938, Boty first studied at Wimbledon School of Art and then the Royal College. Sociable, charismatic and popular, Boty was a striking figure, dubbed the ‘Wimbledon Bardot’ on account of her extreme good looks. Yet her glamorous appearance often meant that she struggled to be taken seriously, despite her passionate engagement with politics and the intellectual life of the college.
During her time at the RCA, Boty published her poetry in an alternative student magazine, acted in college reviews, and was a knowledgeable presence at the film society. She was also an active participant in Anti-Ugly Action, a group of students who protested against new British architecture that they considered offensive and of poor quality. She was, however, advised not to apply for the School of Painting as it was considered too difficult for a mere girl to get a place and indeed the statistics demonstrates women did have to be better than men by the College’s own criteria of the bestowal of First class degrees. Studying in The School of Stained Glass she was outside the maelstrom of Pop activity and her development as a Pop artist stalled.
However, after leaving the RCA 1961, Boty exhibited in what has since been described as the first ever Pop Art exhibition, ‘Blake, Boty, Porter, Reeve’, at the AIA Gallery in 1961, receiving positive attention in the national press for the Pop sensibility of her collages. The following year she was one of the four artists profiled in Ken Russell’s landmark 1962 documentary on English Pop Art, Pop Goes The Easel. This innovative and influential film for the BBC’s Monitor series placed Boty at the centre of emergent British Pop and her pop voice developed apace.
Pop Goes the Easel also marked the beginning acting career that included TV and stage appearances. Although acting was lucrative, it distracted her from painting, which remained her main priority. The press picked up on her glamorous actress persona, often undermining her legitimacy as an artist by referring to her physical charms.
Boty had a prescient grasp of gender politics which she articulated in witty radio monologues and which runs throughout her work. She wanted to collapse the binary opposition between sexual woman and serious artist and reached for a visual language to express a female subjectivity and autonomous female sexuality as it is embodied and felt. These are issues that are highly pertinent to a current generation and it is perhaps only now, in the wake of feminist understandings and in the context of post modern ideas that her work can truly resonate.
On September 27th there will be a symposium to discuss Women and Pop. see