I was blown away by the range and depth of this collection of contemporary portrait and figurative art by women.
I’d been looking for a good book on post-1960s portrait art for about a year. There was nothing in my library about that at all. The world has become more vibrant and diverse place in the past 60 years. Art materials have changed, art styles have changed. More people than ever have access to art materials. More styles of creativity are seen as art. We’ve begun to remove blinders and see the world and each other all over again.
I see a lot of contemporary art online, but nothing in depth, or that pulls it all together in a meaningful way. All the books I could find in my library were histories of portraiture that featured only the classic realistic styles and much art done for wealthy patrons. Which is fine, but what about what’s happening all over the world now?
I found the book Madam & Eve: Women Portraying Women by Liz Rideal and Kathleen Soriano about a month ago, and have been consulting it almost daily ever since. There’s so much to absorb from the paintings, photographs, constructions and performance art represented and discussed here. Some of it is gorgeous, some of it grotesque but all of it is new and intriguing to me.
In the Forward, the authors said they conceived of this from their personal views:
What I found in the book seemed a universal view, a wide range of what a portrait can mean in addition to a mere representation of what a person looks like. And women’s vision, historically, has been ignored, but it’s always been a most powerful view of who we are.
The first section of the book covers some history of women in the arts, beginning with Clara Peters, Still Life with Goblets, 1612, where her self-portrait is slyly hidden in the reflection on a goblet:
The book features one work by each artist represented, a brief descriptions of her work, and a bit of the story behind the image. It not only illuminates the particular painting, but gives insight into modern portraiture, and how women fit into the larger issues of the world — both the ideal and the reality:
It shows how women perceive themselves and each other, but also how we think society perceives us, and the way that distorts how we see ourselves.
There is such a wide range of work in these 220 odd pages that it’s hard to go through the whole book at once, but it’s easy to come back to it. It’s also a good book to sit with by the computer and look for more work by the artists.
Liz Rideal is an artist and Reader at Slade School of Fine Art, University College London and has worked for over thirty years with the National Portrait Gallery, London. Her artwork is held in public collections including Tate, V&A and the Yale Centre for British Art, USA. It has been exhibited widely in Europe and the USA. She is the author of Mirror Mirror: Self-portraits by Women Artists, Insights: Self-portraits, and How to Read Paintings.
Kathleen Soriano is an independent curator, broadcaster and Chair of the Liverpool Biennial. Formerly, Director of Exhibitions and Collections, National Portrait Gallery, London; Director, Compton Verney; and Director of Exhibitions at the Royal Academy of Arts, London.
I’ve requested that my library get a copy of this book. I don’t know how successful it will be since they have a low budget, but it’s worth a try because our libraries should have great books like this available for everyone.
This book was published by Laurence King Publishing in London. They have an incredible list of up-to-to date art books. I hope you look at their site and learn more about the art and books that are being produced now. How living artists see us is illuminating: we can find new visions of ourselves, new mysteries, and new questions.
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