Eileen Agar: Her Jewel-Like Paintings Stretched Surrealism

Eileen Agar: Her Jewel-Like Paintings Stretched Surrealism

The historical past of artwork by girls nonetheless has its secrets and techniques. Some latest revelations embrace the visionary summary painter Hilma af Klint of Sweden, the genius American quilter Rosie Lee Tompkins and Mary Delany, an 18th-century British polymath who created a few of Western artwork’s first collages.

The newest shock, no less than for Americans, is the multitasking British artist Eileen Agar (1899-1991) — a productive painter, collagist, sculptor, photographer and beachcomber (to collect supplies for assemblages) whose work might be seen in her first main solo present within the United States. Titled “Eileen Agar: Flowering of a Wing: Works, 1936 -1989,” this knockout is at Andrew Kreps Gallery (by means of Saturday). Its title, taken from one of many canvases right here, indicators Agar’s lifelong devotion to nature and to ambiguous meanings.

Agar could also be greatest recognized for her collages and their fusion of Surrealist creativeness and Cubist construction and geometry. But this present houses in on the work, which have a up to date air and are loads attention-grabbing sufficient. For one factor, they’re pretty collagelike (additionally mosaiclike) themselves, often centering on single types constructed from smaller shapes and motifs. And they showcase Agar’s brilliance as a colorist — which was uncommon for her technology of British artists — and maybe indebted to Matisse. Most of the work right here contain a number of shades of blue, as if haunted by Matisse’s “The Blue Window” (1913) within the Museum of Modern Art.

Some work are nearly nothing however blue, like a small 1970 canvas titled “Chess Head.” Its crenelated cylindrical head evokes the sport’s king, queen and knight and in addition resembles a birthday cake or a toddler’s toy. Several others have deep blue incandescent backgrounds, casting their scenes in a without end of summer season twilight.

This is the case with “Flowering of a Wing” (1966), the place the motion appears to contain a Victorian dressing robe in manly crimson patterns, being set upon by a big scalloped collar that progresses from yellow to crimson and to blue. The development suggests stage lighting simply past the portray’s backside edge — an illumination that offers its picture life.

The work additionally stress Agar’s familiarity with ornamental motifs, which can even have expanded her palette. Most work right here contain patterns or flattened floral motifs suggestive of textiles or ceramic vessels, as if Agar had been an everyday customer (which she wasn’t) to Charleston, the Seventeenth-century Sussex farmhouse that the Bloomsbury group started to style into a clumsy Gesamtkunstwerk in 1916.

Two figure-like piles of ornamental motifs appear to converse in “To a Nightingale” (1979) on a fragmented wrought iron balcony with ram’s horns curls that sometimes recommend faces. “Urn Burial” (1989) facilities on a tall, elaborately flowered vase in a coffin; subsequent to it stands one other ornate, however extra humanoid vessel.

Agar was born in Argentina in 1899, the center daughter of rich dad and mom — a Scottish industrialist who produced windmills and irrigation programs and an American biscuit heiress. She shortly proved to be rebellious, tantrum-prone and intensely excited by nature and drawing. When she was solely 6 or 7, her dad and mom packed her off to boarding college in Britain.

Upon their return to Britain, Agar’s dad and mom did all they may to discourage her from being an artist. But she was decided and broke freed from their management when she was 21 and studied artwork. In 1926 she met her life associate, the Hungarian author Joseph Bard, starting a peripatetic existence stuffed with acquainted names. A number of of them: Roland Penrose and Lee Miller who launched her to Picasso and Man Ray. She additionally loved friendships with Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and Paul Nash. With Nash — a battle artist, panorama painter and erstwhile Surrealist worthy of extra consideration — she had a chronic affair, that nonetheless left their major relationships intact.

Agar was arguably extra self-knowing and outgoing than many artists, and in addition wrote nicely. In 1988 she produced a memoir, “A Look at My Life” (in collaboration with the artist, critic and curator Andrew Lambirth). This pithy memoir particulars her social, intercourse and dealing life in addition to the British artwork scene earlier than and after World War II. A brand new version, to be launched in May by Thames & Hudson, ought to assist carry again her life and work in all their facets.

Bard died in 1975; Agar lived 16 extra years and appears by no means to have stopped working, or experimenting. Previously in 1940, she forayed right into a collection of portraits made utilizing dripped paint (like Janet Sobel, forward of Pollock). The instance right here is “Portrait,” from round 1949, wherein a wide-eyed, doll-like head emerges from a floor of roiled paint that’s in contrast to anything right here.

The downstairs gallery at Kreps holds a sort of coda: 4 landscapes of monstrous boulders that Agar painted in 1985 in an uncommon fashion of heightened, embellished realism. They are visibly based mostly on pictures (additionally right here) that Agar took in Brittany in 1936 which proved her perception that nature was the true supply of Surrealism.

Eileen Agar: Flowering of a Wing,Works: 1936 — 1989

Through Feb. 10 at Andrew Kreps Gallery, 22 Cortlandt Alley, Manhattan; 212-741-8849;



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