For this list, I’ve chosen my top five female artists. I have tried to select artists who are relevant to the feminist cause, either through their portrayal of women in their work or through the themes they explore. They aren’t in any particular order; I’d find it really difficult to pick a favourite! I’ve included examples of their artwork too.
Warning for nudity ahead (all in the interests of artistic expression, of course!). Also, I’d like to offer a trigger warning – Frida’s story contains a description of her traumatic car accident and Artemisia’s story discusses the trial of her rapist Agostino Tossi, so skip these sections if these incidents will upset you.
Frida Kahlo – Frida was born in 1907, in Mexico City. At the age of 18, she was in a serious car crash which left her in a full body cast for three months and caused severe complications for her until her death in 1954. An iron handrail pierced her abdomen during the crash, preventing her from carrying children to full-term and resulting in multiple miscarriages; her emotional response to this infertility is depicted in some of her artwork. Her stylistic attitudes to the female form and to her own experiences as a woman are uncompromising – what I love about Frida was her willingness to portray “ugly” themes in her work, often with deliberate emphasis. Her painting Henry Ford Hospital (below right) is painted onto a sheet of metal, symbolising the harsh clinical atmosphere of the hospital after a miscarriage. She was openly bisexual and had a tempestuous relationship with fellow artist Diego Rivera; Frida lived just as unapologetically as she painted.
Laura Callaghan – Laura is an Irish illustrator based in South London. Her artwork is composed of bold black outlines and bright colours, hand-drawn with watercolours, Indian ink and isograph pen. She generally draws women – bookish women in vintage print dresses, exploring record shops and eating pizza. What’s not to love? Each piece is full of tiny details, from the spines of books to the posters on the walls (generally proving that the ladies in her art have great taste in literature). My favourite piece by her is The Wall (below right), depicting a girl crouching on her bed beside a boy, the wall behind covered entirely in posters, stickers and medals. From these clues, we can piece together the girl’s identity. Her website is: http://www.lauracallaghanillustration.com/
Artemisia Gentileschi – Artemisia was an Italian Baroque painter. Female painters struggled to be accepted by patrons and artistic peers during this period, but today she is recognised as one of the finest and most progressive artists of her generation. Her father allowed her to use his workshop and she demonstrated much more skill than any of her brothers. When she was eighteen, she was raped by Agostino Tassi, who was hired by her father to tutor her. The trial was infamous due to Artemisia’s active involvement in Tassi’s prosecution. Horrifically, she was tortured using thumbscrews and was subjected to gynaecological examinations to verify her testimony. This traumatic experience influenced Artemisia’s later works – she often painted strong women who suffered in mythology and in the Bible. Her best-known work, Judith Slaying Holofernes (below left), depicts the character Judith from the Old Testament beheading the Assyrian general Holofernes. Artemisia painted herself as Judith and Tassi as Holofernes, making the painting an outlet for her private anger.
Tracey Emin – Tracey is a prominent British artist. Her work takes many different forms, ranging from sculpture to photography to larger installations. In 1995, her installation Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963 – 1995 (below right)was exhibited at the South London Gallery. It is a blue tent with names appliqued on the interior, including those of lovers, relatives and two numbered fetuses which she had aborted. Another notoriously intimate piece is My Bed (below centre), which features Tracey’s unmade bed. The bed was presented in the state it was left in after Tracey spent several days lying in it, feeling depressed and suicidal due to relationship difficulties. Initially, it caused media outrage due to the inclusion of condoms, menstrual stains and a pair of Tracey’s knickers! I love how personal and emotional her art is; any work that features text often has spelling mistakes or has fragmented sentences, giving the impression that it is part of her inner monologue.
Kimberly Frisch – Kimberly is a young American artist and animator. I love her children’s illustration and especially the way she draws women. The stills below come from my favourite piece of animation by her – her trailer “Pele and Hi’iaka”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0lB-pJRT5n8. It explores the myth of the Hawaiian volcano goddess Pele, who is said to live in the Kilauea volcano, and her relationship with her loyal younger sister Hi’iaka. It’s a beautiful short film, showcasing a key part of Hawaiian mythology and portraying Pele in both of her divine roles – as the creator and “mother” of Hawaii but also as a fierce fire goddess. You can find her other projects here: http://cargocollective.com/kimberlyfrisch/.
Who is your favourite female artist? Let me know in the comments! Please like this or share on Facebook/Twitter if you enjoyed the article. You can follow my blog using the blue button or the sign-up form on the right. Thank you for reading!