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Seven artists scintillate in 81:18 exhibition in London

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Carolyn Gowdy.

Seven artists scintillate in 81:18 exhibition in London

By James Brewer

Long-lasting friendships forged by art students in London more than three decades ago are celebrated in an exhibition of their current work in the West End.

It is called, by way of a palindrome (something that reads the same backwards as forwards) 81:18, a reference to the bonds formed at the Royal College of Art in Kensington around 1981, which have endured into 2018, and without doubt will do so for many years ahead.

Ideal Woman? By Carolyn Gowdy.

Participating in the show, at the Framers Gallery in Windmill Street in the West End, were Monica Cornforth, Carolyn Gowdy, Christine Simpson, Claire Harper, Rod Judkins, Pat Naylor and Gill Bradley.

They began to talk in 2017 about putting on something to remind them of their cheery youthful days, thanks to the inspiration of their former RCA tutor Linda Kitson; and Sir Quentin Blake, another tutor, offered his sponsorship. Both personalities are foremost representatives of British art.

Sir Quentin was head of the RCA illustration department at the time, and in the display at the Framers Gallery varying traditions of illustration are to the fore, one of the great strengths of this loosely-connected group. Linda Kitson taught at top London art colleges and was an official war artist during the 1982 Falklands conflict.

Tanker. By Carolyn Gowdy.

The careers and disciplines of the seven featured alumni have diverged, but, said Carolyn Gowdy: “I love that everyone’s art is very different and yet there is this common thread, affinity somehow. I suppose we are like some sort of art family and this has felt like a true celebration.”

Carolyn has a distinctive style evoking a world of dreams, but one which is rooted in the contradictions of the individual’s role in society, and the gender downplaying of women. She expresses this through her limited edition, hand-coloured etchings which have additional hand-drawn and collage elements. In keeping with her open-minded view of the world, the imagery is pointed but never exclusive. A viewer cannot help but sympathise with the idiosyncratic characters striving to keep their heads above psychological water.  She is rightly identified as much poet and philosopher as Illustrator and artist.

.Gill Bradley.

This is seen memorably in her compelling series Theatre of Women. These limited edition, hand-coloured etchings and collages are based on her early works begun after she arrived in London to take a place at the Royal College of Art and inspired by Simone de Beauvoir’s classic feminist exposition The Second Sex, which analyses the subordination of women through the ages.

Over the years Carolyn has added images to her series. She said: “Various gender equality issues are as relevant today as when I first began the series. Alas, in our patriarchal society women are still viewed as a ‘second sex’ in so many subliminal ways.”

From the series Taking the Plunge. By Gill Bradley.

She captions each work with short and sometimes ironic titles, such as Ideal Woman? as a commentary on drudgery and Tanker, perhaps symbolising resistance to all that life throws at the female.

Her artist’s statement says: “My art is not just a form of creative expression. It’s a form of exploration. It’s a way of being. I consider it’s my job, as an artist, to look for beauty, grace, magic and wonder everywhere. This gives me a sense of purpose and helps me keep in touch with my gratitude for what is.  It reminds me that the miracle of life is something to celebrate… Humanity is most definitely a work in progress. It is important to keep learning and to ask questions. I really don’t want to miss a beat of the extraordinary adventure that is life.”

Carolyn grew up in Seattle, where she attended the University of Washington, and later moved east to Rhode Island School of Design before winning a scholarship to study for an MA at the Royal College of Art, where she was immediately impressed by a spirit of rebelliousness in the air alongside British tradition and pageantry.

Christine Simpson.

Carolyn is preparing for a solo exhibition, Carolyn Gowdy’s Scrapbook, at Gallery 286, 286 Earl’s Court Road, London SW5, from Oct 9-31, 2018. www.gallery286.com

A versatile colleague is Gill Bradley, who has ranged across illustration, animation, children’s books, film direction and motion graphics.

One of her most remarkable series goes by the title Taking the Plunge. This includes 10 sympathetic portraits in water-colour of  women at a leisure centre swimming pool – the subjects have lived in or near Grenfell Tower, the 24-storey block of flats in North Kensington in which 72 people perished and more than 70 were injured when it was destroyed by fire in June 2017. The survivors exercise in the pool each Sunday morning as part of a therapeutic regime to ease the trauma.

Part of Scottishness series.

Another series by Gill is Portraits of Portobello, recording characters in an area where she has lived for many years, since being a student at Camberwell School of Art and Crafts and the RCA. She is determined to continue to mine artistically this rich seam of humanity. Historical portraiture fascinates too: a series of philosophers represents such greats as Socrates and Wittgenstein.

In another part of the gallery, printmaker Christine Simpson chronicles a change in her lifestyle five years earlier, when she moved to Edinburgh from Ealing, west London. She got to know the Scottish capital on a family visit, and decided it was the place for her.

Unusually, in her collage and lino works, she focuses on just a part of the traditional attire, in this instance worn by pipers during their parades.

Claire Harper.

Christine admitted: “Tartan, kilts, bagpipes, and haggis may be clichés, but really do run through Scottish life.  Every day in the city, kilts can be seen, and bagpipes can be heard. New friends eat shortbread, make porridge, and grow raspberries. This collection of prints is my celebration of Scottishness.”

She is thrilled by the processions along the Royal Mile and captures vignettes such as piper Thomas Wilson with Mackenzie tartan, Indian Maharajah pipes, and knitted hose dress.

Claire Harper is intrigued by the recurring imagery found in fairy tales such as those of the Brothers Grimm, a treasury which dates from 1812, and like her contemporaries uses printmaking and collage, in this case to evince striking patterns.

Carolyn Gowdy’s Wake Up Call reflected in gallery window.

Claire says that she “gathers inspiration from the intuitive interpretation of narratives, memories and observations… much of my thinking has its roots in the histories, rituals and myths of the countryside,” that is, the southwest of England. Her themes include man and beast, the bizarre, costumes, the mythical and the theatrical arena.

A lecturer in illustration at Plymouth University, Claire has made experimental animated films which were shown at the Tate Gallery in London and at Lisbon Film Festival. She has worked extensively in editorial, advertising and publishing.

8:18 is at The Framers Gallery, 36 Windmill Street, London W1, until September 29, 2018.

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