ANNIE KEVANS: WOMEN AND THE HISTORY OF ART
by Anna McNay
2 June 2014
If asked to name three significant personages from the history of art, most people, almost across the board, will come forth with suggestions such as Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt van Rijn, Pablo Picasso and Damien Hirst.
Few will offer up names such as the Impressionist painter Mary Cassatt (1844-1926); Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979), co-founder, along with her husband Robert, of Orphism; first woman member of the Prussian Academy of Arts. Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945); or Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807), one of the two female founding members of the Royal Academy.
Women in the history of art have somehow repeatedly escaped the canon. Although this sad state of affairs has repeatedly been challenged over the last (nearly) half a century, kickstarted by art historian Linda Nochlin's seminal 1971 article, "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?", there is still an ongoing struggle to bring successful (and even less successful) women artists, past and present, on to an equal footing with their male contemporaries, in terms of recognition, exposure, and even just pay. Moreover, those with the power to change the knowledge of future generations, namely professors on Fine Arts courses, really do need to change their syllabus reading lists and refer to a much wider cross section of "great" names (and works) from the past.
Through her artistic endeavours, Annie Kevans (born 1972), who shot to fame when Charles Saatchi bought her entire degree show in 2004, has always found a way of re-representing history from an unbiased standpoint. Her latest series, Women and the History of Art, from which a thirty-strong selection is now on display at the Fine Art Society, is no different. Using thinned down oil paint on cream canvas paper, Kevans has created mere suggestions of the sitters.
Given that many of them are 16th and 17th century figures, she used self-portraits as her reference. Hair flowing loose or carefully and neatly coiffed; eyes gazing wistfully out at the viewer, only a couple of pairs glancing away; cherry red lips; earrings; bows and ruffs. Smeary, translucent, with a ghost-like quality - as if calling on the spirits of these women from time gone by, asking them to come and reclaim their rightful recognition. For each face is of an artist, successful and significant, yet, to many, unknown. A short biographical paragraph next to each canvas provides the basic information, but there is too much for the viewer to take in. 30 new names, 30 new faces, 30 new stories - an entire tome missing from his Encyclopaedia Britannica. This takes time to digest, time to readjust, time to relearn the history we have all been taught.
oil on paper