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Art Notes - Great Women Artists Phyllida Barlow 1944-2023

March is International Women’s Month - Yeah we get a whole month!

Did you know that here in the UK there are more statues named John than there are statues of women? There are also more statues of animals in Edinburgh than there are of women? - Kate Mosse.

It's way past time we all paid more attention to women artists and one that came to me attention this month (I know I am often late to the party so forgive me if this is old news to you) is Phylllida Barlow.

Barlow was a British sculptor and all round fascinating woman, who died earlier this month and has rightly so, been the focus of the UK art world this month.

Just a few reasons to love Barlow -

Apparently she never cleaned - we have something in common!

Her CV from the mid 80's lists one of the venues for her exhibition - 'Finsbury Park school playground!

She was a straight talking, urgent and funny woman with a sense of ' I haven't got time to fuck about, and that's what I think' Richard Wentworth, artist and friend of Barlow.

Barlow was brought to my attention by Katy Hessel, who is certainly doing her bit to raise the profile of women artists. Hessel is an author and has a great podcast - Great Women Artists (NB - she smiles a lot when she is talking, but I'll forgive her because the content is fab!) Hessel does some great interviews and covers woman artists I've not heard of before, and is opening doors onto so much amazing talent - past and present. Well worth a listen - and there's a book Too!

Hessel recently did a great spotlight on Barlow, who didn't get the nod from the art scene until her early 70's, after working as an art teacher for 40 years.

Reading about her life and seeing her work, Barlow sounds like an amazing woman, who gives encouragement to all of us older woman artists! This Guardian article gives us a little insight into how and why she forged her bold and dynamic art.

Barlow represented the UK at the Venice Biennale in 2017 and having known little about this extraordinary art affair until recently, it's definitely on my bucket list now. Her approach to this enormous challenge is fascinating and these two films give us an insight into her creative mind and boundless love of her art making. The Folly & The Making of the Folly

Barlow was is quoted as saying - Not to be afraid is my biggest desire.

This strikes me as an odd sentiment coming from one who seems to me to have courage as one of her very many qualities. But none of us knows an artist just from the snippets we see and read.

Slightly aside, as a result of researching Barlow I discovered the marvellous Kate Mosse - author, historian and woman's advocate. Her books are now on my extensive list of things to read! She has a UK tour on at the moment ending on April 12th, which looks really interesting, especially if you enjoy historical twists and turns.

Mosse is one busy lady and amongst her many achievements she is the founder of the global campaign #WomanInHistory, aimed at presenting the 'extraordinary women in whose footsteps we walk'. And in celebration of her 60th birthday she launched a monthly book review on YouTube ‘Mosse on a Monday’, where she reviews two fiction and two non fiction books in a most wonderful way! No more excuses for uninspiring reads!

Going back to Barlow for a moment. I have loved finding out about her. The glorious colours and combinations of her work and the distressed look of the materials remind me of joyful fair grounds. While the use of everyday and discarded objects used to create these tippy-toppy giants, inspires me to raid my recycling bin!

Her indomitable energy despite being older than most artists we are exposed to reminded me a little of Anna Weber. Both driven and fearless in their creation of large, unique sculptures. I also admire the honesty she creates in her work, I think that's what I'd call it. The creation of hollow pillars for example, that are split open to show their construction, Unlike so many bronze sculptures that appear solid entities but which are in fact as hollow as an Easter egg.

Most of all, I admire her persistence in making art for the love of it, because she was driven to answer her own questions and not for the acclaim that finally found her.

If you'd like to see and read more about her work I have collated a Great Woman Artist Pinterest Board which has some great images, videos and articles, that can lead you down your own rabbit hole adventure.


Just so you know - I paint, I am not an art critic or expert. Not even close, in fact I know very little about the arts. Art and the arts didn’t feature in my upbringing or education. Art wasn't a 'proper subject' and there were no museums or gallery trips. Just the way it was!

So we’ve established I am no expert, but since leaving the world of ‘proper work’ in 2019, I have become engrossed in my own work as an artist and also in exploring the art world, past and present.

Intimidating yes! Fascinating, definitely! All consuming, absolutely!

And it has never been a better time to explore the world of art. The internet, YouTube, Newsletters, Podcasts - all accessible ways to gain more insight, education and entertainment.

There's a lot about art I don't understand, but I don't have to. It's how art makes us feel, that's the important thing!

So my Artist Notes are simply my musings and collections from the rabbit holes I frequently fall down. Thanks to the real experts who share their knowledge and passion on all things arty, we can all grow and learn a little more about some of the people who make our world a richer place. Thanks Phylida!

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