Cordelia Oliver photograph copy
Cordelia Oliver, ‘Self-Portrait’, 1944, oil on canvas, Guthrie Award Winner. The Glasgow School of Art Archives & Collections. Courtesy David Oliver

Women Painting began as a conversation between friends. Over the course of twenty years, our discussions often centred on artists we admired: why some painters were better known than others, which artists came up most often in teaching, the role of art history in art education, how to question canonical histories of art in the examples we use with students. Both of us (Marianne a painter, Susannah an art historian) have worked in art schools in Scotland over extended periods. Through our many conversations about art and painting, we became aware that many of the artists we most admired were rarely referred to in teaching, nor were they represented in survey shows of Scottish art or present in the standard histories of Scottish art on course reading lists. What started as an anecdotal, informal discussion slowly developed into something bigger and we decided to embark on ‘a project’ which has become Women Painting.

To date, the project exists in an academic journal (a special issue of Visual Culture in Britain, titled Women Painting: Scottish Art 1940-1980, published earlier this year), a forthcoming exhibition on the work of Pat Douthwaite in collaboration with curator Louise Briggs, date to be confirmed, and this collected group of texts, poems and images in MAP. The title of the project was borrowed (with permission) from the painter Moyna Flannigan, offering us a way to denote our interest in women’s creative practice while avoiding the baggage associated with the terms ‘women artists’ or ‘women painters’. Rather than a reductive prefix, women painting suggests action and agency.

Figure 2 Lil Neilson A Place for 4 Women Photograph by Joanne Tatham and Tom O Sullivan April 16 2019 Catterline copy
Lil Neilson, ‘A Place 4 Women’. Photo: Joanne Tatham & Tom O’Sullivan, 16 April, 2019, Catterline

The journal features articles on the work of Carole Gibbons, Lys Hansen, Pat Douthwaite, Lil Neilson, Bet Low and Cordelia Oliver (by Debi Banerjee, Marianne Greated, Kyla McDonald, Joanne Tatham & Tom O’Sullivan, Jenny Brownrigg and Susannah Thompson, respectively) and we hope to focus on a wider range of artists as the project expands and develops. Over the last few years, we have been intrigued to see inter-generational affinities highlighted between artists who work or live in Scotland: works by Bet Low were included in the 2010 installation by Karla Black at Inverleith House; exhibitions bringing together the work of Carole Gibbons, Lucy Stein and Manuela Gernedel (as reported in an article by the latter two in MAP in 2012), took place at Gimpel Fils, London and 24 St Vincent Crescent, Glasgow, both 2012; and, most recently, paintings by Sylvia Wishart and Wilhemina Barns-Graham were included as part of Sara Barker’s exhibition All Clouds are Clocks, All Clocks are Clouds, at Leeds Art Gallery, 2020. Joanne Tatham and Tom O’Sullivan have likewise responded to the work of Lil Neilson in a range of projects and artworks over fifteen years, most recently in their novelistic response to Neilson’s archive in the Book Works publication The Bitter Cup (2019). A shorter adaptation of the book forms the basis for their journal article for Women Painting.

MAP offers us the opportunity to extend our readership beyond the confines and limitations of academic publishing (not least the cost of accessing the journal outside institutional subscriptions). In line with the ethos of the project, it is also fitting that MAP has consistently brought to the fore artists in its commissioning and project-based work, often implicitly, as a resolutely feminist enterprise—the MAP-initiated project, A Feminist Chorus (2014) was one of very few examples of recent exhibitions and projects to have intervened in the dominant narratives of twentieth century art in relation to acknowledging the integral role of women in the development of art in Scotland, along with 21 Revolutions—(Glasgow Women's Library, Intermedia, CCA, 2012), Studio 58: Women Artists in Glasgow since WW2 (Glasgow School of Art, 2012), Modern Scottish Women (National Galleries of Scotland, 2016). Another compelling reason for our approach to MAP was that its founding editor, Alice Bain, had direct experience of many of the artists, organisations and publications to which we refer in the journal. Her longstanding role as a writer and editor in Scotland, working variously for Third Eye Centre, National Galleries of Scotland, The List, The Herald etc, brought her into close contact with some of the artists whose work we discuss in the journal, in particular her fellow critic Cordelia Oliver.

Alice and co-editor Laura Edbrook have been firm supporters of our project and the links to MAP are numerous. The author of one of the poems we have selected for this parallel project is a response to the work of Joan Eardley by poet and writer Daisy Lafarge, former reviews editor at MAP. We are delighted to re-publish a companion piece on Eardley by the late, celebrated Glasgow poet Edwin Morgan (another contributor to MAP), one of several he published in response to her paintings. Daisy's poem was written in April 2017 after visiting A Sense of Place—a retrospective of Eardley's work at Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. The biographical details in the poem draw on archival material included in the exhibition. And we also welcome a portrait of Edinburgh-based painter Mardi Barrie by writer and critic Lauren Dyer Amazeen, whose interest in Barrie’s paintings resulted in detailed primary research through interviews, archives and catalogues to form a descriptive encounter with a fascinating painter.

Through our co-edited journal, the forthcoming exhibition on Douthwaite, this collaboration with MAP and ongoing activities, Women Painting attempts to rip through the canvas ceiling anew, putting women in the frame. Whether or not they can be found in dominant accounts or surveys of Scottish art, our aim is to call attention to artists whose imaginative, idiosyncratic and sometimes radical practices formed an integral part of the development of painting in Scotland in the twentieth century and whose legacies continue to inform artists today.

***

Susannah Thompson is an art historian, writer and critic based in Glasgow. She is Head of Doctoral Studies at The Glasgow School of Art. Her research focuses on creative and experimental approaches to art criticism and writing about visual art, contemporary art in Scotland and feminism and visual culture.

Marianne Greated is an artist and painter who has exhibited locally and internationally including solo exhibitions in the UK, Belarus, Greece and India. She is Acting Head of Painting and Printmaking at The Glasgow School of Art and has been a Lecturer in Painting and Printmaking since 2005.

The other three articles from this mini series can be found in the archive selection below from 2pm 8 May 2020.