In this latest body of work, Clare Andrews has lifted her art to a different level. She has always been a wittily ironic visual commentator on events and institutions (sometimes wryly bitter, sometimes celebratory), and it has always been animated by an unabashed and sometimes angry feminist politics. Andrews’s art is political, directly so; her work is openly engaged with the social and political realities of our time, especially where they impinge on the everyday lives of women, in work, health, housework, etc. This should not be seen to suggest any kind of propagandist stridency, for stylistically Andrews has favoured what might be described as a comedic realism, and she has a remarkable gift for naturalistic observation. Her work has never lacked either poetry or visual wit.
’Deeds Not Words’ - the phrase is inscribed on the gravestone of Emily Davison, the suffragette who died flinging herself in front of the King’s horse in the 1913 Derby - is a remarkable project. In the centenary period of the greatest and bravest of the Suffragettes’ many direct actions, Andrews has undertaken an artistic commemoration of their struggle; and sought to make a sounding of its continuing resonance as the primary and quintessential feminist movement. It is no easy project, to take a series of iconic historical events and images, and without sentimentality or cliché, or simplistic and poignant portrayal, find a rhetorical language and symbolism adequate to its subject and its relevance to our own time.
She has achieved this by the adoption of an essentially abstract presentation, and the use of familiar (or seemingly familiar) images drawn from contemporary photography of Suffragette actions. Enlarging necessarily blurs and distorts in variously and strangely affective ways the already murky documentation of contemporary press and newsreel photography: it generalises the black and white found image into a shadowy, apparitional near-abstraction. More than any other contemporary artist, Francis Bacon exploited this process for its emotive effects, just as he recognised the shock-potency of a widely-known iconic image, such as that of Pope Innocent or of Eichmann in Jerusalem, set in abstract space.
Andrews has learnt from his powerful example, without imposing the visceral distortions of the flesh that characterise his work, or resorting to colour versions of the original black and white images. She has brought to her simplifying painterly representations of well-known images of actual events - the death of Davison, the arrest of Emmeline Pankhurst in 1914 - her own colour-key music; strictly formal, emblematic (her purple, white and green are the Suffragette ‘colours’, in the sense conveyed by the use of that term for a flag), rhythmically repetitive and boldly signifying.
The musical metaphor is apt: the group as an ensemble constitutesa suite on a theme, with variations, each piece relating to each other in formal and thematic terms; the whole having a cumulative unity and coherence. It brings Andrews’s presentation towards a level of abstraction that is new to her work, and which increases its political relevance the more for its (relative) lack of circumstantial narrative content. It is its emblematic clarity (a degree of generalising simplicity) that distances the suite from the documentary-actual and gives the images - as images - a more universal, symbolic, resonance. These paintings transfigure the suffragettes into what I would describe as representative figures: not so much historical ‘people’ as emblematic signs. Stylistic unity - the abstract orderings, recurrent colours and motifs, stylised figuration, deliberate configurations (triptychs, flag-like tricolour, etc) - increases the political applicability of the image-motifs, lifts them out of their time and into ours.
CLARE ANDREWS AND PAINTING;
ABANDONMENT AND LUMINOSITY.
Above all else, what we are confronted with in the work of Clare Andrews is painting. A painting of contrasts, in which large areas of metallic and flat colour create a "mise en scene" with the realistic fleeing figures; almost cartoon-like, almost photographic. Imperturbable, when faced with these extremes, the truly important figure in this body of work is painting itself. These are large paintings of a discursive nature which impress by their size and pictorial quality, displaying a visual sense trained to expand upon only those elements which are really of importance at any given moment.
The figurative is also a pictorial recourse. Its decodification is rigorously open-ended, and a reading of the work is personal to the individual spectator. The artist does not express an opinion and remains distanced from emotion. She does not create stories or construct narratives.
The work process and solitude - painting is a solitary activity and the practice of applying paint to canvas can be an arduous one. The end result of this daily toil is a work of impeccable quality and exquisite finish. There is also colour, and in Andrews' work the colour is of an unusual quality. It glows, vibrates, combines with and completes the grand scale of the canvases.They are pictures of scenographic dimensions which bring to mind old silent films.The immense golden surfaces work as luminous counterpoints to the flamenco-like agility of the mysterious scenes. Colour moulds the strangeness of these "double pictures", the fascination with the enigmatic, the silent eloquence of the quest, the creative spark.
Energy, generated by the colour, the radiance and the monumental scale of Clare Andrews' work, induces concentration and visual fascination with luminous wonder, together with the conviction that we are face to face with something special, unique and original.
'Silent Pictures' catalogue
This last statement comes from a 1988 work by the Guerrilla Girls. But in talking about painting, which I am, there is always the question of whether to paint is still valid in this day and age, ie., this art form, which is said to have died, is it still relevant?
Antonio Claudio Carvalho
'Precarious Eternity' catalogue