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Women in Art History cyanotypes / catch up

November 10, 2021

Hi everyone, I’m Scarlett Ford. I’m currently a Level 5 Fine Art student at the University of Wolverhampton and one of the Multistory Blast! Creative Network (BCN) bursary recipients. So exciting!

For this bursary I have continued to work on a project I started around Easter 2021, called Women in Art History that is made up of cyanotype portraits of women artists who have historically been overlooked. Perhaps this is because of being overshadowed by their partners, or maybe their socio-economic situation.

I have chosen to work with cyanotypes for this series because firstly I love how aged the images look; it’s as though they are found images. The process of making them is incredibly satisfying too; the way the images slowly reveal themselves when I rinse off the cyanotype reflects what I am trying to do in the project conceptually. Seeing the women’s faces slowly become clear is honestly magical. It’s also more sustainable than other photographic methods. I don’t see the point of making work fighting for a better future, while destroying our own in the process. The use of the colour blue was also intentional. Blue historically has been quite an honorific colour, one that was used in paintings of important people as it was a difficult pigment to come by. Making the work of these women in blue felt right, as I want to honour them and their stories.

All of these cyanotypes have been made from my home. Although returning to university this semester gave me access to their darkroom, I actually prefer making them in a domestic setting because of the intimacy of the fact that they are made in my home instead of in an institution. (I thought a lot about Boris Groys and the idea of how the context of where the artwork is made is important.) Originally, I made them at home out of practicality. Covid-19 had made accessing art school facilities difficult and I wanted to push my practice as much as I could from home. I love the idea of making work that seems too big or difficult for my home space. There is a beauty in the humble nature in which these images were made, in a cramped studio with a UV light under a desk. Setting up my own darkroom space and teaching myself how to make cyanotypes enthralled and empowered me. Also making these images at home, where women are traditionally confined to their domestic roles feels important. 

I have been making these cyanotypes on handmade paper I bought; however, I’m currently trying to make my own paper out of cotton pulp. I tried it using ripped up scrap office paper but as you can see in this photo… that did not go as planned!!

Failed handmade paper cyanotype, 2021 © Scarlett Ford

Alongside the cyanotypes I am also writing text to educate viewers about the women and their stories. One of my lecturers had the intriguing idea of writing from the first person – from beyond the grave as though I am the women. This idea excited and scared me as it was different to what I had first thought of doing. Usually if I am scared of an idea it’s a good one! It was difficult at first but I’ve really enjoyed this playful approach. To help me understand how each individual woman spoke I have been researching quotes of theirs to see how they used words. I have interwoven some of their quotes into the actual writing so that it sounds more authentic to their voice.

Here is a draft of me writing as Lee Krasner

“Hans Hofmann (an annoying lecturer from my art school) once said about my work, ‘This is so good you wouldn’t know it was done by a woman’… charming guy. My husband’s friend Clement Greenberg was never a big fan of my work, nor was Peggy Guggenheim for that matter. My point is that as long as you have drive and determination then so be it, the rest will work out for itself; you don’t always have to have major figures in the art world back you. Focus on your work, you have to brush a lot of that stuff out of the way so you don’t get lost in the jungle.”

I have lots of ideas of how to get this work out there. I believe that art is more than the artifact. The conversations we have around it are crucial. I plan to have small prints made with images of the cyanotypes on the front and the experimental writing on the back. I also want to speak to school pupils about my project because I think it’s important to inspire the young artists of the future.

The Multistory mentoring I have received for this bursary has been SO COOL. To have a woman curator helping me with my project has been so inspiring. I love the fact that I am getting to work with innovative women within the arts; helping me to become a better artist and a better person!

Once the bursary period is over, I will continue to work on this project because it is an ongoing part of my practice now. I love the idea of looking behind the curtain and unearthing untold stories/histories. The pure joy and empowerment I have experienced when telling art dealers, auctioneers, gallery owners, lecturers these women’s stories has been incredible. I want to encourage an open dialogue so that we can learn from our past mistakes. Let’s change the institution from the inside! I endeavour to critically assess the canon of art history; we have a lot of work to do.

Women featured in the project so far:

Lee Krasner

Lee Miller

Elaine de Kooning

Amrita Sher-Gil

Baroness von Freytag-Loringhoven

Shigeko Kubota

Leonora Carrington

Eva Hesse

Ana Mendieta

If you want to hear more from my bursary, a few weeks ago I did a catch-up episode on my podcast Feel Free Creatively, you can listen to it on the link here.

If you have any questions about the project, or just my practice in general, feel free to contact me.

Socials

Instagram – @scarlettart18 – (I will be posting more about this series on my IG)

Website – scarlettford.co.uk

Podcast – https://feelfreecreatively.buzzsprout.com/

Linkedin – https://uk.linkedin.com/in/scarlett-ford-485795208

Email – scarlettart18@gmail.com


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