Friday, 24 September 2010

Mary Fairclough

First up is the British artist, Mary Fairclough. Born in Bristol in 1913, her career began only a few years before the outbreak of war with a striking concentration on the human face and figure. Peasant women, Roma, native north Americans, a character from Gilbert & Sullivan are all in the youthful mix.

Here she takes on Howard Coster who took the photograph of Grey Owl during his speaking tour of Britain in 1935. Cropping Coster's image, she moves the head into the top right hand corner, turning his gaze away from the viewer and turning Grey Owl into something more like a Nigerian sculpture, both expressionist and backwoods with nothing stagey about it, unless we detect the heroic pose of a matinee idol. There certainly is the sense of the big screen.

It could almost be an American print of the thirties. Ironically, she had made him look more real than he was. It eventually turned out that Grey Owl had been brought up in Hastings.

There is a similar sense of drama in the classic colour linocut called 'Glamorous Night'. A woman is left alone whilst others whirl behind her like truncated DH Lawrence dervishes. She gazes down sadly as a bearded man approaches. Perhaps he is a revolutionary leader. This is a peasantry that has broken out into the jazz age.

Not content with making linocut look like wood engraving, she also masters colour woodcut for a drole image of Poobah from Gilbert and Sullivan's 'The Mikado', a tour de force of folds. She creates another subtly fractured image, astutely avoiding a pastiche of Japanese art by choosing a theatrical subject. The topknot and the irises are equally inspired.

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