The Age of Abstraction: Women Artists

May 11 2016

Curator of the Ruskin Collection & Visual Art, Hannah Brignell, gives an insight into a display currently on show in the Graves Gallery: The Age of Abstraction - Women Artists

Abstraction caused a great shift in the art world at the beginning of the 1900s. Artists went from figurative subjects; landscapes, portraits, and still lifes to the unknown. They broke down the barriers of traditional art, departing from the representation of reality and instead playing with pattern and colour. Some artists still used objects as inspiration but others were more interested in finding out which colours and shapes could evoke emotion in the viewer.

The origins of abstraction can be traced back to post impressionism with artists such as Paul Gauguin, Georges Seurat, Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cézanne. These artists revolutionised the art world, bringing vibrant multi-coloured pallets and more expressive marks. The end of the 19th century saw fundamental changes in the advancement of technology and science. Artists were also changing, pulling their inspirations from the social preoccupations of western culture.

The display pulls together a selection of female artists from the Visual Art’s works on paper collection, focusing on prints, collages and drawings from the1960s through to the 80s. The works on display show the potential presented by abstraction, exploring the interesting visual effects that can be created using pattern, colour and line.

Sonia Delaunay, Gillian Ayres and Celia Sevitt all used objects as inspiration, they took everyday things and broke down their forms. Ayres often has reoccurring recognizable themes; of flowers, moon and stars. Whilst Delaunay, along with her husband Robert explored the interactions between colours, creating depth and movement in her work, creating almost musical characteristics. Delaunay worked with many materials including; interiors, costumes, textiles, print and paintings.

During the late 1950s many artists experimented with printmaking, and Birgid Skiold was at the forefront of raising the profile of this process. She opened the first open access studio for all artists to use and it became a popular site for many artists, including Michael Ayrton, Jim Dine, David Hockney and Victor Pasmore.

Many of the artists on display experimented with different materials and mark marking; artists such as Sandra Blow added materials into her paints to create different textures, whereas Gillian Ayres played around with thick paint, often using her hands or flicking paint to create different marks.

They also painted on a monumental scale and whilst researching into this display I went to see some of their larger work. Their sheer size took me by surprise, they captivate and tower above you - from the solid blocks of vibrant colours from Sandra Blow, to the thick impasto of contracting colours and maze of shapes by Ayres and a giant optical illusion from Jaray. They all hold a power that has been successfully translated into their prints, and despite their smaller size, the colours and visual dialogues are still present.

See our Age of Abstraction – Women Artists display at the Graves Gallery until Saturday 29 October.


Image: Visitor looking at Red Screen by Sandra Blow © Sandra Blow Estate. Image © Museums Sheffield 





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